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We've always thought the Chevy Lumina would be the perfect illustration for the generic "car" entry in an encyclopedia. The Lumina has all of the basics and none of the frills. It is sturdy, reliable, roomy, and inexpensive. It scores at 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-10 cars in sales last year. A solid car at a solid price will always have a market.
For 1998, the Lumina continues in its honest ways, although it has picked up a few frills. OnStar, GM's nifty navigation, security and personal service system, can be added as an option. And the performance-oriented LTZ model, which debuted last year, has a better, more reliable powertrain package this year.
In keeping with its stick-to-the-basics design philosophy, the Lumina provides competent ride and handling. Ride quality leans to the soft side, but body roll has been reduced in the '98 models, thanks to thicker front stabilizer bars.
The exceptionally rigid body structure contributes a solid confidence to the handling. 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 typical 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 melodrama.
The standard engine is the same as last year's, a 160-horsepower 3.1-liter V6 that delivers plenty of power for comfortable passing and maneuvering. It is mated with GM's smooth 4T60-E four-speed automatic transmission.
The LTZ package, which suffered some launch pains in '97, is finally looking like a real option. The LTZ package debuted last year with a 215-horsepower 3.4-liter V6, but production problems emerged fitting the engine to the car. Chevy finally abandoned the 3.4-liter and went with the trusty 3.8-liter 3800 Series II V6.
The 3800 Series II is a superior choice. It makes 15 less horsepower than the 3.4, but it has more torque. Overall, it is a more reliable, better-performing powerplant. It is the same engine used in the Buick LeSabre, Oldsmobile Intrigue, and Pontiac Grand Prix GT and Bonneville.
Complementing the LTZ's larger engine is a suspension designed for a firmer, more controlled ride. Premium P225/60R-16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A blackwall touring tires improve grip, while four-wheel disc brakes with ABS provide better stopping power.
The LTZ is priced in two steps. The base LTZ price of $20,295 includes the appearance items. For $500 more, you get the 3800 engine, firmer suspension, and heavy-duty 4T65-E four-speed transmission, options we highly recommend.
Both engines feature money-saving maintenance aspects such as 100,000-mile spark plugs and 5-year/100,000-mile coolant. The stainless steel exhaust system reduces corrosion and replacement costs.
There is no denying that on the pizzazz meter, the standard Lumina scores just one step above a resting heart rate. The LTZ performance package boosts the excitement level, but it still won't be mistaken for a Bavarian sports sedan.
Nonetheless, there is a lot to be said for a solid, well-designed, intelligently equipped, reliable, modestly priced car. The Lumina fits that bill. Buyers looking for roomy transportation who prefer to spend their money on things other than a car would do well to take a close look at the Lumina.