1997 Chevrolet Cavalier
by Laura Heilig--Woman on Wheels
SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide
Okay, so I admit it. I'm not the best shifter in the world. When you are used to driving an automatic every day, you get out of the habit. It may be the most economical way to buy a car, but shifting is definitely an art form. I have to admit though, I wish I would have had this Chevy Cavalier when I was learning how to drive a car, because it tells you when to shift. In fact, if I had to sum up my test drive of the Cavalier in two words, they would be: Starter Car.
Cavalier has been a staple of the Chevy line for many years, but up until the last few years it was not a nice looking car. This time Chevy did not sacrifice beauty for affordability. Cavalier is a very sleek looking car. I was surprised how many people approached me to ask about this car. Most of them thought it was a new sports car, not a compact. The deck lid spoiler, deluxe trunk trim, and body side moldings create an aerodynamic sporty look.
Where Cavalier loses its sport facade is when you look into the interior. Their choice for upholstery leaves a lot to be desired. The seats were decked in gray with red splotches all over them, a choice they call graphite sport cloth. I highly recommend you do not choose this upholstery and pay the extra money, whatever it is, to get a nicer looking interior. It looks like someone was murdered in it.
Driving this car was very pleasant. The seats are extremely comfortable for an economy car, unlike the Neon with its flat, contour-less seats. Cavalier also has great visibility through all of its windows. The armrests molded on the door were perfectly placed and added support on my long drives to work. For a two-door coupe, the back seat is very large and could quite conceivably fit three people comfortably. This seat also folds down to add to the already large trunk space.
Small cars are great because with their limited interior space, you can usually find everything very easily. Cavalier is no exception. The console is cleverly thought out to provide plenty of pockets for those extra driving accessories and a set of deep, stable cup holders. The stick shift is very small and takes some time getting used to, but I liked its ease of handling and shorter shifting movements. This Cavalier has two large mirrors on the passenger and driver visors and is equipped with a keyless remote. The lighter is very poorly placed under the steering wheel. For those of you who would consistently use the lighter for your phone, CD player, or radar detector, this feature is very inconvenient.
The Cavalier corners very well, due in part to its sport suspension and MacPherson struts. Chevy has also designed a very powerful 2.4-liter engine. The Z24 gets an average 33 mpg on the highway, 23 mpg in the city. The engine is sophisticated enough to want to run itself. In fact, a light on the dash goes on when the engine has hit 2100 rpm to let you know it is time to shift. For a beginning, five-speed manual transmission driver or someone concerned with optimum fuel economy, this feature is very helpful; however, for people who opt to shift at a higher rpm, this light soon becomes annoying. The engine also complains loudly if it is not running in a higher gear.
I enjoy guessing how much a car is while I am driving it, waiting until the last day to check the actual price. Compared to my estimates, most cars are way too overpriced for what they show me on the road. The Cavalier's price nailed my estimate almost perfectly. Starting at $14,500 and ranging to $16,300 with options, Cavalier is competitive in its class. Spending the extra money for the better option packages is well worth it for this car, but if this is your first car, you could probably live without the high performance engine, the power windows and locks, and the keyless remote.