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The Chevy Lumina would be the perfect illustration for the "car" entry in an encyclopedia. Forthright and foursquare, the standard Lumina has all of the basics and none of the frills. It is sturdy, reliable, roomy, and inexpensive. It scores near the top of the charts in crashworthiness and at the bottom in theft rates.
With traits like those, you won't be surprised to learn that the Lumina gets little respect from car buffs. Neither will you be surprised to learn that the Lumina was among the top ten in sales last year. A good honest car at a good honest price will always have a market.
But another thing that never fades away is the desire of engineers to add performance. This year, Lumina engineers pieced together the new Lumina LTZ, a high-powered sporty edition for buyers who need the room of a Lumina but yearn for a little more verve.
In keeping with its "stick-to-the-basics" design philosphy, the Lumina provides competent ride and handling. Ride quality leans to the soft side, but not egregiously so. The standard power steering gives the driver a reasonably accurate steering feel. The standard suspension soaks up bumps without adding too much floatiness.
This generation Lumina, which appeared in the 1995 model year, was originally engineered to replace the Caprice, so the engineers went out of their way to give it the substantial, somewhat isolated feel of a traditional full-size domestic sedan. The handling will seem slightly remote to someone used to more nimble imports, but it is predictable and gets the job done without any complaints or melodrama.
The standard engine is the same as last year's, a 160-horsepower 3.1-liter V6 that delivers enough power for comfortable passing and maneuvering. It is mated with GM's smooth 4T60-E four-speed automatic transmission.
Those looking for more performance can opt for the new LTZ. The complete LTZ package includes a 215-hp 3.4-liter V6, paired with the new 4T65-E four-speed transmission, designed to accommodate the extra power.
Complementing the larger engine is a suspension package for a firmer, more controlled ride. The LTZ also features premium P225/60R-16 touring tires for more traction, as well as the better stopping power of ABS with four-wheel disc brakes, instead of the basic disc/drum combination.
The LTZ is priced in two steps. The base price of $19,995 includes the appearance and convenience items. Add in the 3.4-liter engine, heavier transmission, sport suspension and tires, and the price rises to $22,241.
Both engines feature money-saving maintenance aspects such as 100,000-mile spark plugs and 5-year/100,000-mile coolant.
There is no denying that on the pizzazz-o-meter, the standard Lumina scores about one step above a resting heart rate. The LTZ performance package boosts the excitment level, but it still won't be mistaken for a Bavarian sport sedan.
Nonetheless, there is a lot to be said for a solid, intelligently equipped, reliable, modestly priced car. The Lumina fits that bill very nicely.