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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.
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.