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Chevrolet Cavalier offers improved handling and a smoother ride than last year's model. For 2003, the Cavalier gets a sporty new exterior and new safety features. All models come with GM's newly developed Ecotec 2.2-liter engine, which offers responsive performance, excellent fuel economy, and cleaner emissions.
Cavalier handles winding roads well, with little body lean in the corners. It rides well on rough roads, damping road vibration. The revised chassis makes the 2003 Cavalier feel tighter than last year's models, and there's good throttle response from the four-cylinder engine.
Coupes and sedans are available. The coupes look sportier, while the sedans offer the advantage of four doors and roomier rear seats. Cavalier LS models start at $15,480 and include power windows, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, and other convenience features most of us now take for granted. LS Sport models come with sport suspensions and special trim. XM Satellite Radio and OnStar are available.
The new Ecotec 2.2-liter engine offers delightfully responsive performance, particularly when paired with the five-speed manual transmission. This newly developed four-cylinder engine, used in all 2003 Cavalier models, generates 140 horsepower at 5600 rpm. The Cavalier has enough power for confident passing and merging into busy highway traffic.
The Ecotec engine features dual overhead camshafts 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. That's a little less powerful than last year's optional 2.4-liter engine, but the new 2.2-liter Ecotec gets much better fuel economy with an EPA-estimated 25/33 mpg City/Highway and it offers lower emissions. GM designed the engine to offer smooth, quiet operation, which it does, though it doesn't feel quite as smooth as a Toyota engine.
The five-speed manual transmission, built by renowned German gearbox maker 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.
Cavalier handles well. It's relatively flat in the corners, with little body lean. Power steering is light and responsive: Cavalier quickly turns in for corners. Ride and handling have been improved for 2003 by stiffening the structure of the car, and re-tuning the suspension for a sportier, more controlled ride.
The chassis did feel more rigid, more secure when driving quickly down a rough back roads in a 2003 LS Sport Sedan. The revised suspension dampened road vibration reasonably well. Hitting a series of bumps didn't generate the aftershocks ("bah-lah-lah") 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.
Chevrolet Cavalier is markedly improved for 2003. Handling is sportier and more controlled. Ride quality is smoother and the car feels more solid than last year's model.