Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Chevrolet Cavalier is designed to offer a compelling value. Relatively unchanged for 2004, the Cavalier will be replaced for 2005 with an all-new compact called the Cobalt. Buyers should watch for rebates and other incentives on 2004 Chevrolet Cavaliers. Last year's (2003) styling revisions freshened the looks of the Cavalier.
Coupes and sedans are available. The coupes look sportier, while the sedans offer the advantage of four doors and roomier rear seats. Otherwise, they are essentially the same. Cavalier's base retail price is $14,045. However, LS models are better equipped, with power windows, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, and other convenience features most of us now take for granted, and an LS sedan starts at $15,815. LS Sport models come with sport suspensions and special trim. XM Satellite Radio and OnStar are available.
Coupe or sedan, the Cavalier handles well, with little body lean in the corners, and it rides well, doing a good job of damping road vibration on rough roads. The chassis was revised for 2003. All Cavaliers are powered by GM's newly developed Ecotec 2.2-liter engine, which offers responsive performance, excellent fuel economy, and low emissions.
Chevrolet Cavalier two-door Coupe and four-door Sedan are trimmed about the same and their dimensions are essentially the same. Comparably equipped sedans retail $200 higher.
Three trim levels are available, base, LS, LS Sport. As mentioned, all are powered by the Ecotec 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all models. A four-speed automatic ($815) is optional.
Base Cavalier Coupe ($14,045) and Sedan ($14,245) come standard with air conditioning and an AM/FM stereo. These are base models with wind-up windows, manual locks, manually operated mirrors, 14-inch wheels and rear drum brakes.
LS Coupe ($15,615) and LS Sedan ($15,815) add sport cloth bucket seats, power windows, mirrors and locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, a premium CD stereo, four-wheel antilock disc brakes (ABS), 15-inch wheels, body-color bumpers and side moldings, and other convenience features.
LS Sport Coupe ($17,020) and LS Sport Sedan ($17,220) get a sports suspension, 16-inch chromed aluminum wheels with performance tires, a leather-wrapped shifter, and special exterior trim.
Side-impact airbags ($350) are optional and are designed to protect torso and thorax (but not the head). OnStar is optional ($695). Should an airbag deploy, OnStar automatically notifies the system's battery of operators over its wireless network and pinpoints the car's location using the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network. OnStar operators will dispatch emergency crews if the driver does not respond to their calls. OnStar can also unlock your doors remotely should you lock the keys in the car, and OnStar operators can dispatch roadside assistance or direct you to the nearest gas station or that Italian restaurant you can't seem to find. OnStar Personal Calling acts as a hand-free cellular telephone using the Verizon Wireless system.
Styling revisions freshened the appearance of the Chevy Cavalier for 2003. For 2004, a gold Chevy bowtie replaces last year's silver crossbar applique. Otherwise, its appearance is unchanged. The front and rear of the car were redesigned for 2003, and the LS Sport model received new rocker moldings and integrated fog lamps. The front end displays Chevy's new gold bowtie emblem. Bright colors are available, including Rally Yellow and Sunburst Orange Metallic.
The Cavalier is an attractive car with flowing lines, rounded fenders and a low-to-the-road attitude. Relatively slender A-pillars and C-pillars enhance driver visibility and contribute to the light, airy feel of the upper body. Dual side mirrors are tucked nicely into the A-pillar.
The Coupes look sportier than the Sedans. LS Sport models stand out with body-color door handles and mirrors, Sport front and rear fascia, integrated fog lamps, lower rocker moldings, a rear spoiler, chrome exhaust outlet, and 16-inch chromed aluminum wheels with performance tires.
Chevrolet Cavalier has a nice interior design and the interior materials appear to be of decent quality. A hood over the instruments sweeps organically over to the passenger side giving it a contemporary appearance. The thick, contoured steering wheel in the LS Sport Sedan feels good. Power window switches are located on the center console, however, harder to find and more awkward to operate than when they're on the door. The driver's window has an Auto-Down feature.
Cavalier offers interior roominess comparable for the class. Sedan models have a little more headroom and shoulder room in front than the Coupes, but legroom is identical. The LS seats are contoured and comfortable, but side support could be better for cornering. Five cup holders are provided.
The back seat is surprisingly roomy in the Sedan. There's decent rear headroom, albeit a bit restricted on the outboard side. The rear seat folds down and is split 60/40 for added versatility. The Coupe offers less room in the back seats, but they are still quite usable. LS Sport Coupes get an easy-entry front passenger seat, improving access to the back. GM's LATCH system (Lower Anchor and Tethers for CHildren) allows installation of compatible child-safety seats without using the seatbelt.
An AM/FM/CD/MP3 player ($150) is available for 2004 models. XM Satellite Radio ($325 plus subscription) is also available, eliminating the need to change from your favorite music stations when traveling. The 24-hour news channels are available along with sports programming and a hundred other stations.
The Chevy Cavalier isn't the sportiest of compacts nor the most luxurious nor the most up to date, but it offers competent performance and is selling at compelling prices.
The Ecotec 2.2-liter engine offers responsive performance, particularly when paired with the five-speed manual transmission. This newly developed four-cylinder engine generates 140 horsepower at 5600 rpm, enough power for confident passing and merging into busy highway traffic. It's a modern, double overhead-cam engine with four valves per cylinder, the favored arrangement nowadays for good throttle response and power. Much of this response is a result of the Cavalier's torque, that force that propels the car away from intersections and up hills. The Ecotec delivers 150 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. It also gets an EPA-estimated 25/33 mpg City/Highway and produces low emissions. It offers smooth, quiet operation, though it doesn't feel as smooth as a Toyota engine.
The five-speed manual transmission built by Getrag offers pleasant shifting and we enjoyed it. The optional four-speed automatic transmission works well around town, keeping the engine in its best operating range at lower speeds.
The Cavalier handles well. It's relatively flat in the corners, with little body lean. The power steering is light and responsive and the Cavalier quickly turns in for corners. Ride and handling were improved for 2003 by stiffening the structure of the car, and re-tuning the suspension for a sportier, more controlled ride.
We found the chassis felt rigid and secure when driving quickly down a rough back roads. The revised suspension dampened road vibration reasonably well. Hitting a series of bumps didn't generate the aftershocks associated with older domestic compact cars. You feel the bumps, but it seems more controlled than it did in the pre-2003 models. The tires, even the performance tires on the LS Sport Sedan, seemed to lack grip when the car was driven hard. Handling was predictable, however. Accelerating hard from a standstill while making a turn generated some torque steer, that tugging sensation of the steering wheel that's often part of powerful, front-wheel-drive cars, but it was easy to control.
The brake pedal feels nice and firm and the brakes are responsive. Cavalier uses disc brakes in front, drum brakes in the rear, instead of the preferred and more expensive rear disc brakes. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) come standard on LS models. Slam on the brakes and the ABS steps in, bringing the Cavalier to an undramatic stop. ABS can be a real ally in an emergency maneuver because it allows the driver to steer the car in a panic braking situation. Just remember to keep hard pedal pressure on the brakes and don't forget to steer.
The Chevrolet Cavalier offers value. Ride and handling are surprisingly good, improved over pre-2003 models. Watch for incentives as dealers sell down the 2004 models in preparation for the launch of an all-new compact for the 2005 model year.
Cavalier Coupe ($14,045); Coupe LS ($15,615); Coupe LS Sport ($17,020); Sedan ($14,245); Sedan LS ($15,815); Sedan LS Sport ($17,220).
Options As Tested
side-impact airbags ($350); AM/FM/CD/MP3 system with 6 speakers ($150); XM Satellite Radio ($325); OnStar Safe & Sound package ($695).
Chevrolet Cavalier LS Sport Sedan ($17,220).
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