Category Archives: Chevrolet

2003 Chevrolet Impala LS Sedan (450)

Overview:
This week I went the extra miles to test the 2003 Chevrolet Impala LS Sedan, so I went on the road through the central valley of California, up through Monterey / Carmel, the beautiful State Capitol – Sacramento, the breathtaking Mount Shasta and the blue, blue lake it forms.

Then north to Alaska… just kidding, actually northeast to Klamath Falls, Oregon. The ad you older critters will remember is the song “see the USA… in your Chevrolet – America the greatest land of all…” Jingles were the sounds of the mid century. Remember the Mission Pak jingle? “Say the magic word, say Mission Pak, and it’s on its merry way. No gift so right, so gay, so bright, give the Mission Pak magic way.” I used to be a Public Accountant and worked on the audit of Mission Pak and met the man who wrote that jingle.

When I can squeeze in a road trip I do it to get the real flavor of how good a road car I’m testing. This Impala didn’t let me down. It was comfortable and the ride was solid. In comparison I just received an email from a reader who just bought a 2003 VW Beetle and agreed with my criticism of the seat construction. I think I said the seats were horrible in that 2002 VW Beetle that I drove through the Pacific Northwest. But it was clear the seats were a problem in the first 30 miles. The real problem is that even though the reader bought a year newer 2003 the seats were still uncomfortable in his opinion. I can only conclude that reader and I must be the only two who have complained about the seats in the Beetle. Otherwise I’m sure VW would surely fix them.

General Info:

Parts – US, Canada.
 
Assembly – Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
 
Class:  – Large
 
Cars: – Astro, Avalanche, Blazer, Cavalier, Corvette, Express, Impala, Malibu, Monte Carlo, S10 Pickup ,     Silverado, SSR.

Handling & Performance:

For the money this Impala is a great road car. Lots of power from the 200 horses available to pull the mountains and hills over the pass from LA to Bakersfield referred to as the Grapevine, as well as the mountain gateway Siskyou’s between California and Oregon.

Styling:

Cookie cutter – that is so typical of cars today. Unexciting but nice.

Fit and Finish:

Very Good.

Conveniences:

Trunk entry is a little cumbersome with the high opening and the protruding bumper. I kept getting my clothes dirty reaching in.

Cost:

Competitive and in line with inflation. You may recall that money doubles every 10 years at 7%. I bought a new Chevy Malibu in 1967 for $2,500. You do the math and it should come out at $26,000. Today’s Malibu has an MSRP $18-20,000, so there is a lot of value for the money in today’s cars.

Consumer Recommendation:

Price shop this one, because this class of family sedan competition will push hard for the sale and you’re literally in the drivers seat.

The Competition:

Mitsubishi Galant $18-24,000, Ford Taurus $20-24,000, Honda Accord $16-28,000, Toyota Camry $19-25,000, Chevrolet Impala $21-24,000, Subaru Legacy $20-25,000, Dodge Intrepid $21-25,000, Buick LeSabre $26-31,000, Oldsmobile Intrigue $23-28,000, Chrysler Concorde $23-29,000, Nissan Maxima $27-29,000, Volkswagen Passat $22-38,000, Pontiac Bonneville $27-34,000.

Good News:

Good mileage, good price, comfortable, roomy, powerful.

Bad News:

Difficult access to trunk space.

Standard Equipment:

3.8 liter 200 hp V6 front wheel drive engine, 4-speed auto trans, 4-wheel independent suspension with abs disc brakes, traction control, tire inflation monitor, theft deterrent system, daytime running lights, rear child seat latch, fog lights, power trunk opener, power mirrors, dual zone air conditioning, cruise control, tilt leather wrapped steering wheel, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, stereo with cassette, cloth seats, 6-way power driver seat, split folding rear seat.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $24,135.

2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (397)

Overview:
This weeks Corvette Z06 brought a lot of looks and oooh’s and aaah’s but at the end of the day it’s just an old fashioned muscle car. Wow, did I say that? Yea, I guess that’s the truth.

Sure I was looking forward to testing this car, but it did remind me of my youth and how we were always impressed with brute force and big block V8’s. But that’s all there was then. That was the best there was. But since those good old days American Car makers can’t seem to abandon the old technology and move European and Japanese engine technology that uses variable valve timing, for example. American power plants simply have failed to mature.

You only need to drive European and Japanese sports cars to appreciate the maturity available in today’s auto world. Two that come to mind are the Acura NSX and the Porsche Boxster S. Although they are also two seater cars, unlike the Vette they are both mid-engine cars, with better control characteristics. They are wonderful performers too, but with a lot more class.

Oh, you’re right, and a lot more money. You got me. I agree that you get a better price to performance ratio in the Corvette. But that is true of most domestic versus import cars, and why I almost always lean toward American built “anything”.

General Info:

Parts –  USA

Assembly – USA

Class:  – Two Seater

Cars: – Coupe, Convertible, and Z06.

Handling & Performance:

0-60 in 4 seconds will flat give you a generous adrenalin rush. Wow says it all. Even in the rain I always felt confident the car would keep me out of trouble, thanks to the “Active Handling” system that controls driver over steering. Weight distribution has also been improved by incorporating the transmission and differential in the rear axle.

It takes the corners like it were on rails, but with a much more bouncy ride than I care for. And if money weren’t an issue I’d surely lean toward buying the Boxster S for a little more and if I were loaded (cash) the Porsche 911 or the Ferrari would get the nod.

Styling:

This is the best Corvette design since its introduction in 1953. That was the cats meow then and appealed to the macho gear head guys in high school. The Ford Thunderbird of the day was a girl’s car. Corvette has earned a place in the world as perhaps the most recognizable and distinctive looking “All American” car in the world. And when you go to Europe don’t bother looking for Porsche on the autobahn. You are more likely to see a Corvette. After all, over there it is an “Import” sport car from America.

Fit and Finish:

Much improved from the typical Corvette of the past that tended to be a bucket of bolts shortly after you drove it off the showroom floor. The big engines just seem to shake them to death. And what do you expect from engines and drive trains that are not very well balanced. You only need to crank one up and set at idle and listen to your teeth chatter. Not so in the Boxster or NSX. They are smooth and well mannered.

Conveniences:

Storage spots are limited because, after all, it is a two seater, but the trunk / cargo area is good relative to other two seaters. But when it comes to standard features Corvette beats out the competition that cost 2-3 times more.

Cost:

Unquestionably the best for a high performance sports cars.

Consumer Recommendation:

If you’re into performance and want to replace your pacemaker, this will do the trick.  Corvette comes in Coupe/T-Top, Z06 or Convertible. And let’s get real; money is a factor for 99% of us so if you want high performance this is, hands down, the best buy.

I have driven all except the Ferrari 360 and Lotus Esprit. The only Ferrari products I’ve driven were the older GTB and Daytona, so I left those blank in the rating below. This subjective ranking factors in price very heavily.

Manufacturer Recommendations:

Although you’ve tightened up the bailing wire a bit and added more chewing gum to hold it together and quiet it down, more fine-tuning is needed. I understand from engineers that Corvette doesn’t balance the crank and fly wheel and thus they run rougher than others.

The Competition:

(1) Corvette Z06 $41-50,000, (2) Acura NSX $89,000, (3) Dodge Viper $72,000, () Ferrari 360 $141-171,000, () Lotus Esprit $89,000, (4) Porsche 911 $68-180,000.

Good News:

Far and away the best price to performance ratio of any sports car in the world.

Bad News:

Still loosy-goosy, hard ride and rough engine at idle.

Standard Equipment:

5.7 liter 405 horsepower V8 engine, 6-speed manual trans, active handling, traction control, power ABS disc brakes, speed sensitive power steering, dual air bags, remote keyless entry and theft deterrent system, power mirrors, stereo with CD player, climate control, head up display (tach and speedometer projected on windshield), cruise control, leather, tilt leather wrapped wheel, power seat, windows and locks and remote fuel and deck lid opening.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $49,705.

2002 Chevrolet Avalanche (367)

Overview:
This week I drove the Chevrolet Avalanche for 2002. As you probably know this is a new product for GM and a gutsy move to give the automotive enthusiast something different and unique.

I just love the ads they’ve come up with and the general feel I get from GM for “Adventure” and something “New”. The recent move to hire the designer of the PT Cruiser by Chrysler indicates Chevrolet is on the move. This switchable truck to SUV is really cool, albeit a little pricey.

My love affair with the automobile is surely shared by many and probably results from the fact it is an icon of the last vestiges of freedom. Cars have become necessities around suburbia and the escape to the country and off-roading craze points to the need we have to be free. Well, you don’t need this Avalanche for comuting to work, but if you’re an outdoors person this is the hot ticket. Your dream and vision of getting out of Dodge (any big city USA) just got more exciting. It may not lead you to a utopia but it will take you off the beaten paths of big city life into the wilderness with ease and comfort and convenience. These are made to order with the hunter, fisherman or any out of doors folks clearly in the mind of the designers.

Handling & Performance:

Outstanding. Mileage sucks, but it is a big V8 and you just have to pay for that strong powerful equipment made to do so much. I tested it off road in the logging country of northern Oregon, and you get that feeling of security and confidence it is a truck up to the task.

Styling:

New, different, daring. I like your all American style GM.

Fit and Finish:

Rugged feel and almost too pretty to be such a work horse.

Conveniences:

Hunters and fishermen will love the large storage containers in the sides of the cargo area for icing down their catch with dry or wet ice or simply use as built in coolers for drinks. The cargo box is secured and although the plastic panels must be dealt with to fully utilize the 8 foot box it is a one of a kind and really does the best job of providing consumers with a sport utility and a full size pickup. For example, this box will hold 4X8 sheets of plywood, which is a true test of whether or not it is a full size box.

Cost:

Real pricey when heavily loaded at $36,000 with options like adding leather and power seats, off-road package including special wheels and tires, specially tuned shocks and springs, locking rear differential, skid shields, or conveniences like climate control air and OnStar communications system, all of which will add about $2600.

Recommendation:

If you’re in the market for a sport utility that is also a full sized pickup truck, there is no competition outside GM. The Cadillac Escalade seems more of an afterthought. I suspect others will enter the market if buyers like it as much as I do. This is a specialty vehicle that is rugged like the Hummer but with much more utility for average off road use.

The Competition:

Cadillac Escalade EXT $ 49,245, Ford F-150 Super Crew $26-34,405 (and all other Super Crew designs, but not really in the same league).

Good News:

New exciting styling, switches easily from an SUV to Pickup, powerful V8, and smooth ride.

Bad News:

Pricey, specialty vehicle, poor gas mileage.

Standard Equipment:

5.3 liter V8 engine, 4-speed auto trans, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, dual front and side air bags, theft deterrent ignition lock, driver lockout prevention, trailering package, lock underbody spare tire, stainless steel exhaust, speed sensitive steering, locking tailgate with rigid cargo cover, lockable storage areas, bumper steps and cargo area grab handles, removable cargo rubber mat.

Gas Stats:

13 City and 17 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $ 33,245.

2002 Chevrolet Trail Blazer (357)

Overview:
This week we’re looking at the 2002 Chevy Trail Blazer. Can you believe the year is just about gone? In any case, it’s been a while since I drove this model, and when I think of an SUV I always think of the Blazer as a major contender right behind the granddaddy of them all, the Jeep. Also, I owned one back in the 1980’s when there were very few SUV’s being produced and by only a few carmakers.

Today just about every manufacturer has entered the market that is simply too large to ignore even if this huge gas-guzzler is sure to run into trouble when gas prices rise to world levels. I suspect car companies have decided we’ll learn to live with the cost increases and eat less or sleep in the rear of our beloved SUV. I don’t think so, but only time will tell.

Not much has changed in the overall features and functionality of the SUV except the 4X4 is more transparent to the driver. Most are “on-demand” now and of course they are more luxurious as the popularity of this versatile “Car/Truck” spreads to the rich and famous. They now can buy a high end Mercedes, Cadillac, Lexus, BMW, Infiniti, Lincoln and even Hummer at prices ranging from $50-100,000.

Of course when you spend that much for the vehicle, gas prices and poor vehicle gas economy aren’t as important. That’s what I call a regressive tax. Lower income folks pay proportionately more to drive to work if they opt for the safety and convenience of the SUV’s they made popular.

Handling & Performance:

hey all handle pretty much the same unless you believe the poor roll over rating Mitsubishi’s SUV got recently. I drove it and never felt in danger, but then I’ve also driven the Ford SUV’s with Firestone tires and don’t see what all the hoopla is about either. I did however agree with the roll over problems of the Suzuki Samari several years ago because they were simply too top heavy and the track was not wide enough. I never felt comfortable in that little SUV.

Some differentiation exists however in this new 2002 Trail Blazer. One that shines through is its rocket acceleration provided by a 270 horsepower six-cylinder engine. It is flat impressive for this class vehicle. Secondly, the new design sets that engine 6 inches lower that promises to add significantly to the stability of this model. Since I tested it on and off road I’m confident about its great ride characteristics. The only real negative that surfaced is that the power steering is a little light and loosey-goosey. I like to feel the road a bit more and if the power assist is too dominant you lose that feel.

Styling:

Grandfather Jeep will always be the standard by which I will compare all SUV’s. They really don’t get any better even considering Mercedes and Lexus who have tried to combine the design to be even more car like. At the same time Nissan Xterra figures the youth of the world will embrace the rugged off road and out of doors lifestyle. In any case, this Trail Blazer looks great and instills confidence in the overall package Chevrolet is delivering to us consumers. It’s classy while retaining its image as a capable off road contender.

Fit and Finish:

First cabin. You can’t really find fault with the attention to detail that gives the Trail Blazer that super solid feel. That wasn’t always the case with the early Blazers like the one I owned, while not a bucket of bolts it was unsophisticated and rather basic by comparison.

Conveniences:

Top of the heap.

Cost:

Ditto. You have to pay for all those goodies.

Recommendation:

If you’ve got the bucks and like GM and specifically Chevrolet, this is a very classy Sport Utility. All are priced very close and though I’ve driven them all, the menu is large and my appetite could be satisfied with any of them. Personal preference in styling and manufacturer will be your best guide. Some say “Buy American” and since the quality is real close now I would tend to support the US Economy and help us to reduce our balance of trade.

The Competition:

Dodge Durango $26,650-28,770, Ford Explorer $21,165-34,085, Honda Passport $23,000-30,500, Isuzu Rodeo $18,290-31,730, Jeep Grand Cherokee $27,300-35,095, Mitsubishi Montero Sport $22,747-32,777, Nissan Pathfinder $27,349-31,799, Toyota 4Runner $26,335-36,105.

Good News:

Nice styling, super performance, as good as they get.

Bad News:

Poor gas mileage, running boards that are pointless and the steering is a little loose feeling.

Standard Equipment:

4.2 liter 270 hp inline 6 cylinder engine, auto transmission, dual front and side airbags, ABS brakes, air-conditioning, power windows and door locks, tilt wheel, cruise control, power leather seats, radio with cassette and CD player, luggage rack,

Gas Stats:

Not published. My guess -“not good”

18 City and 22 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $33,730.

2001 Chevrolet Cavalier 2-door Z24 (326)

Overview:
This week we’re looking at the 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Coupe subcompact. And boy did I turn this car everyway but loose. I put it through tough paces for two weeks and over 2,000 miles. Long trips can be telling, and if you do drive long distances, you’ll want to consider an extended test drive.

I found myself squirming around to keep my legs from falling asleep. Not real comfortable when you stop only for gas. And at 28 mpg, you can go a long way without stopping. This five seater is pretty basic and simple with decent fit and finish for an economy car. It’s a nice driver with the exception of the front seats that need more padding.

If a 2-door is what you’re looking for this Cavalier fits right in with the competition and a good option, especially since it has been the top selling car for GM. Cavalier comes in five trims: a base sedan and coupe, the LS sedan for more equipment, the sporty Z24 coupe that I tested and a Z24 convertible. The base engine is a 2.2-liter 115-horsepower 4-cylinder coupled to a 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic transmission. The Z24 has the 150-hp 2.4-liter DOHC engine and it’s optional in the LS.

My long trip took me through snow, ice, mud and dirt roads, and I began to bond with this hunk of metal and rubber and fabric. I’m not saying I fell in love, but it treated me right and was always there for me. Overall, it was a nice automobile.

Handling & Performance:

It is built low to the ground and small enough to zip around town with ease and in traffic the 150 horses make this little car very responsive. Perhaps the smaller engine would strain your nerves in passing situations, but this larger engine configuration was great. And finally, it’s fun to drive.

Styling:

Personal taste is always important, but I think you’d agree it is not a very daring design and is even a bit commonplace, much like most of the competition noted here.

Fit and Finish:

Some say it is not put together very well. I disagree. For this price level car, it is put together just fine thanks. After all, it is a Chevrolet and that has passed muster with buyers for 12 of the past 16 years as a top seller. That has to say something. Obviously a lot of folks agree that it is assembled well. On the bumpy roads I never heard a rattle or squeak and that means a lot to me.

Cost:

With all the options on this test vehicle, the price is a little high. I suspect that has more to do with the fact that it has earned it stripes over more than a decade, and people have been willing to pay for all the conveniences.

Recommendation:

Let’s not mince words; there is so much competition I would be hard pressed to pick a hands down winner. I really like the Neon and the Corolla in this category and the only two I haven’t driven are the Ford Focus and the VW Golf. You’ll have to drive this car to see why so many have bought it for so many years.

The Competition:

Dodge Neon $12,715, Ford Focus $12,125-15,260, Honda Civic $12,760-16,910, Hyundai Elantra $12,499, Hyundai Tiburon $14,499, Mazda Protégé $12,215-15,315, Nissan Altima $15,140-20,390, Pontiac Sunfire $14,175-16,295, Saturn SC $12,535-15,645, Subaru Impreza $15,995-19,495, Toyota Corolla $12,568-13,383, Volkswagen Golf $14,900-17,900.

Good News:

Good power from this inline 4-cylinder, roomy for a two door, tight feel and a quiet ride.

Bad News:

I’d have expected better gas mileage; seats need more padding for those long trips, poor city mpg, more money than I think it should be.

Standard Equipment:

2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed automatic trans, sport suspension, dual airbags, 4-wheel antilock brakes with front disc and rear drum, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, theft alarm, fog lamps, air conditioning, defoggers, stereo with CD, tilt wheel, tinted glass, cloth interior, cruise control.

Gas Stats:

21 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $17,765

2001 Chevrolet S10 Crew Cab (318)

Overview:
This weeks Chevrolet 2001 S10 Crew Cab pickup is something I could find 1000 uses for. Recently I took a trip to Tecate, Mexico for a weekend house-building jaunt with 100 other folks from Pasadena Christian. It was a productive and interesting weekend and I really wanted to take a Crew Cab but the only one out at the time was the Nissan Frontier.

Nissan doesn’t allow their vehicles over the boarder so Chrysler was kind enough to provide a truck for this worthwhile project. It was a “real man’s” truck – the Dodge Ram 2500 V10 magnum. We built two houses there but even though that V10 could pull a house, you could only carry 2-3 people to the job site. I also stopped to fuel up more often than I wanted to. I should have guessed I’d have to spend a fortune on gas when I noticed they didn’t publish gas stats. I calculated about 14 mpg for that trip. Surprisingly this Chevrolet S10 doesn’t do much better, but if you don’t need a 4X4 you’ll do a little better on the fuel consumption. 

Gas prices are destined to continue their climb. The rest of the world pays up to $4.00 per gallon and if that trend infects the U.S., I suspect sales of SUV’s and trucks like this 4X4 will fall sharply. I predict they will begin their sag in the coming year because you’ll start to see advertisements directed at commuters who will begin to buy cars like the Chevy Metro at 36 city and 42 highway mpg or the new Honda Insight Hybrid, which I’ll be talking more about next week. Honda brags 61 city and 70 highway mpg.

No matter what the cost of gas, if you have a need for a truck this is one to consider. Not only do you get the pickup utility you also get the comfort of a passenger car. The short truck bed could be a problem for some, but it is perfect for my needs. I was able to use it to mend some fence at the ranch and we had enough room and comfort to go out on the town after a hard day in the sun.

  

Chevy Xtreme                                             Nissan Frontier Crew Cab

Handling & Performance:

This is a new generation breed of truck that doesn’t require a kidney belt to drive. But because you don’t have the stiff suspension you can tote less than 1200 pounds. Because you get so much comfort, quiet and smoothness of ride you forget you’re in a truck. You’ll also be impressed with the power you get from 190 horsepower V6.

Styling:

Looks much like the Nissan and I like them both. The S10 has a little more conventional look, and the tubular “running board” on the Nissan is useless and only gets in the way in my view.

Fit and Finish:

Commonplace for a car, but extremely good for a truck.

Conveniences:

Car-like features that give you the comfort of a sedan with the convenience of a light duty truck.

Cost:

Not bad considering you get the comfort of a car with utility of a pick up to boot.

Recommendation:

As with anything you buy, it has to have a useful application. It reminds me of the saying, “A bargain is something you buy now and find a use for later”. So it may not be a bargain but if you have need for a light truck that accommodates more than two or three people at the same time, this Crew Cab is great. If you’re a GM fan, finally you can have a true 4-door utility truck from a US manufacturer.

The Competition:

Dodge Dakota $13,910-22,370, Ford Ranger $11,580-19,785, GMC Sonoma $12,763-25,083, Isuzu Hombre $11,360-20,100, Mazda B-Series $11,795-23,840, Nissan Frontier $11,699-24,399, Toyota Tacoma $11,528-24,378.

Good News:

Super utility, comfortable, quiet, roomy front and rear, and moreover I couldn’t come up with much to bitch about.

Bad News:

Lousy gas mileage, especially important at today’s prices, Nissan provides a sunroof and supercharger for about the same money.

Standard Equipment:

4.3 liter V6 190 horsepower engine, 4-speed auto trans., 4 wheel drive, cruise control, power 4-wheel anti lock disc brakes, dual air bags, AM/FM stereo with CD, air conditioning, power windows and locks with remote keyless entry, power mirrors, tilt wheel and daytime running lights.

Gas Stats:

15 City and 18 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP: $24,809.

2000 Corvette Hardtop (317)

Overview:
This week I got my heart started and stroked by the Corvette Hardtop. Like special cities of the world this is a special car that is memorable. It is a legend in my lifetime and it continues to renew my love affair with a car I have grown up with. It comes in three flavors: coupe, convertible and the hardtop.

My sister’s friend Chuck, who owns Coast Corvette in Anaheim, has a wonderful nostalgic place to visit your 50’s and 60’s memories. You can visit his site at www.coastcorvette.com. 

Corvette, “how do I love thee, let me count the ways”. I love to handle you as you hug the curves and I fall in love at every turn. I still remember fondly our trip from Denver to Aspen three years ago. With you I was able to climb hills with ease and passing traffic was a breeze. That was fall, and the leaves were changing and I felt the crisp air rushing by from the high Rockies. Your seats hugged me and embellished what was already a beautiful setting. Your 2000 Traction Control System keeps me out of trouble and you’re lots of fun to be with. You’re not a cheap date but relative to the competition you’re a breath of fresh air, even in Los Angeles. And when I’m with you, people of all ages nod their approval. Some even give a thumbs up gesture… I think that’s what they were doing.

Handling & Performance:

Absolutely unbelievable for the average driver, like me. I like to think I’m Rodney Race Driver, but if the Traction Control and Active Handling System weren’t a feature of this car I would have gotten into trouble more than once. The Crest Test (over Angeles Crest Highway to the Ranch) takes on a life all its own in a Vette. Not so bad in a Porsche either, I might add. But in this Corvette, there is so much power reaching optimum speeds is mind-boggling. And around town driving I can bop around shifting from 1st to 4th if I want. Huge disc brakes will let you stop on a dime and give you 9 cents change. Literally one of the shortest stopping distances of any car. The average is 140 feet from 60 to 0 and this Vette does it in only 108 feet.

Styling:

Beautifully sleek comes close enough while at the same time the bustle rear end gives you two views of this lady. The front is flat and low to the ground and looks like it’s moving at light speed while standing still. The rear sits high and wide, much like a racecar and to some it is ugly. I rather like the look.

Fit and Finish:

Pretty usual and as good as I expected.

Conveniences:

Everything you’ll need in the standard package unless you need a CD player and power seats.

Cost:

Perhaps the best buy in the world for performance cars.

Recommendation:

If you are an average driver I suggest you get the 4-speed automatic version unless you simply have a passion for shifting. If you’re in the market for a sports car and you like the look of this Vette, you can’t get a better value for the money. Simply look at what most consider to be competitors of this truly American Icon.

The competition:

Acura NSX $84,000-88,000, Dodge Viper $67,225-69,725, Ferrari 360 Modena $136,425-145,925, Lotus Esprit $85,225, Porsche 911 $65,590-111,000.

Good News:

Great handling with Active Handling System and Traction Control, lots of fun to drive, awesome power 0-60 in a scant 4.0 seconds, an all time great buy, gas mileage is pretty good.

Bad News:

Low profile means entry and exit is uncomfortable, so it will either keep you nimble or cut you to the quick, more Road noise than I remember, Visibility good in front but poor backward.

Standard Equipment:

5.7 liter 345 horsepower V8 engine mated to a 6-speed manual trans, traction control system, power disc brakes, power steering, dual air bags, remote entry, theft deterrent system, power heated mirrors, stereo with cassette, air conditioning, cruise control, leather, power door locks and windows.

Gas Stats:

18 City and 27 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $38,555 and Active Handling System adds $500.

2000 TrailBlazer w/On Star (308)

Overview:
This week we had the opportunity to go to the mountains in the Chevrolet Trail Blazer. Sequoia National Park where there are Lions, No Tigers, but lots of bears. I bumped into two but wasn’t in the Trail Blazer. Boy, that will get your heart started. And if you love cars as much as I do, this version of the Blazer will help you enjoy seeing the USA in your Chevrolet.

We toted gear for three people for a week very comfortably without using the roof rack. I’ve tested all the competition except the Ford Explorer, but generally if you turn them upside down you’ll find they’re all sisters. There simply isn’t enough difference in the lot to really get excited about. SUV’s are so popular manufacturers don’t seem to be willing to go too far out on the “difference limb”.

And although Explorer may lead the pack in sales, it isn’t by much and perhaps the slight increase in width and height of the Explorer over the Blazer is more important to buyers. I’ve owned lots of both Ford and Chevy’s and have usually opted for the Chevrolet family.

Handling & Performance:

Mineral King is at the south end of the Sequoia’s and was annexed not so long ago into the National Park. After leaving the main highway 198 through Visalia, you’ll have to negotiate 639 turns before you reach the Silver City store and cabins or camping areas. I didn’t tire a bit after the 4 hours of freeway driving to get to the turnoff from Los Angeles. The V6 delivered all the power needed to climb to 7000 feet over black top and dirt roads.    

Styling: 

Ya gotta love GM for the consistent car lineup they’ve maintained over the years. Chevy products just exude confidence in the area of quality and command attention as being a leader in design. Jeep, on the other hand was first on the scene as far back as WWII and the standard on which others are measured. It’s always been a favorite of mine in this category.

Fit and Finish: 

Good.  

Conveniences:

I never wanted for any feature. In fact, I’ve got to tell you a little story. I’m driving from Silver City to Mineral King were most of the trailheads start for the most beautiful hiking in any country. So I push the On Star blue button and wa-la, “Welcome to On Star – this is Brian, how can I help you?” Whoa, says I to Brian, I’m testing this and wanted to know if it would work here in the wilderness. Brian says, “I have you traveling east on Mineral King Road in a Trail Blazer”. Thanks, Brian and On Star. That is really convenient and adds comfort or peace of mind. And the On Star operators are always so damn polite. For more information, you can go to www.onstar.com 

Cost:

If you could get it without the On Star you could save a bunch, but it appears to be standard.

Recommendation:

To me, as noted above, Jeep is the benchmark of all SUV’s. Thus, I’d start there and test-drive all the competition in order of preference according to styling.  

The competition:

Dodge Durango $26,310-28,310, Ford Explorer $19,970-34,565,Honda Passport  $22,800-30,150, Jeep Grand Cherokee $26,895-34,635, Land Rover Discovery $33,350-34,150, Mitsubishi Montero Sport $20,493-28,524, Nissan Pathfinder $27,349-31,299, Toyota 4Runner $22,288-36,818.

Good News:   

Comfortable ride and great seats for the 5-hour trek to Sequoia National Park, good handling, built like a rock? Well, maybe not that good but basically quality construction, autotrac / automatic 4-wheel drive works well, nice interior.  

Bad News:   

I keep harping on the poor gas mileage and no one listens, this is narrower than the Explorer, for example, therefore seating of 5 may be less comfortable than you’d like, poor visibility typical of all SUV’s.

Standard Equipment: 

4.3 liter 190 horsepower V6 engine, 4-speed auto trans., autotrac 4X4 transfer case, climate control, power steering, daytime running lights, dual air bags, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, On Star system, stereo with CD, 18 gal fuel tank, theft deterrent system, 8-way power driver seat, keyless remote with theft alarm.

Gas Stats:

16 City and 20 Highway MPG.  

Pricing:

MSRP  $31,765.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com

2000 Chevrolet Blazer LT 4WD, 4DR (288)

Overview:
The Chevrolet Blazer that shares the Oldsmobile Bravada platform is one of those Sport Utilities that have substance. They’re every bit as impressive as the more expensive Infiniti QX4, Mercedes Benz ML 320 and the Lexus RX 300 for much more money.

Perhaps that explains why they’re so popular with the consumer. Those more expensive competitors have been touted as the best of the best by many magazines but don’t let the name badges fool you. I have driven them all, and totally enjoy the Blazer experience equally as much. It’s not hard to see why people flock to them in huge numbers. Surely the SUV has to be the hottest category of car on the market today as it has been for the entire decade of the 1990’s. I don’t see that changing unless gas prices go much higher.  Not until you drive in other countries of the world, especially Europe, the idea of $4.00 per gallon is only an imaginary absurdity. 

I did manage to talk my daughter out of buying an SUV. She wisely listened to dad and bought a Toyota Avalon. I was shocked that she listened to my advice. I was concerned that as a young family they needed to consider cost of operation equally as much as the cost to buy. Plus, I think most of us consider the image of ownership rather than the practicality. I’m writing from the docile environment of Southern California where the weather conditions are not a factor. And as mentioned before you don’t really need a 4 by 4 to get over speed bumps. The fact remains that not more than 10-15% will ever go off-roading, so why spend the dough for a capability if you’re never likely to use it.

Handling & Performance:

Delightful. Really great to drive. For a tall vehicle the stiff suspension allows it to corner very well. Also they are small enough to get around town easily. Turning radius isn’t the best but all SUV’s are about the same.

Styling:

Obviously people have given their stamp of approval by buying the SUV look in large numbers. I’ve always liked the design and convenience overall. I do, however, enjoy off road courses and like to simply take back roads in the sticks just to see where they go. If you too like to do that, you probably do some camping and will get a lot of use from this very versatile car.

Fit and Finish:

The best it’s ever been. I can’t bitch about the workmanship. It’s not a Stradivarius but relative to prior years they’ve come a long way, baby.

Conveniences:

Everything you need and more. I know some people like the Jeep Wrangler because it’s a “real man’s” jeep. But I just can’t warm up to revisiting WWII. I prefer to have bun warmers for those cold mornings, power seats and a great sound system. Quite frankly they are even good off road where you can leave your “kidney belt” at home.

Cost:

Original purchase price is OK – not great, but OK, however you’re going to pucker up if gas prices go to $2.00 or more as predicted. SUV’s will take a big hit if that happens because this category of car just can’t do any better with improving mileage. They simply require big engines to haul the weight and gear.

Recommendation:

If money for operation is not significant and you are active outdoors people go for it.

The competition:

Dodge Durango $26,170 – $28,170, Ford Explorer $19,970 – $34,470, Honda Passport $22,800 – $30,150, Jeep Grand Cherokee $26,765 – $34,540, Land Rover Discovery $34,150, Mitsubishi Montero Sport $22,527 – $31,357, Nissan Pathfinder $26,399 – $31,299, Olds Bravada $31,498, Toyota 4Runner $22,288 – $36,818.

Good News:

Nice solid ride, powerful V6, handles well, improved quality from prior models.

Bad News:

Terrible gas mileage, poor visibility.

Standard Equipment:

4.3 liter V6 190 HP engine, 4-speed automatic trans, air conditioning, power steering, daytime running lights, dual air bags, 4-wheel anti lock disc brakes, stereo w/ CD player & theftlock, split fold rear seat, 8-way power driver seat, keyless remote entry.

Gas Stats:

16 City and 20 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $28,570.

2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS (274)

Overview:
This 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS is a bit of American space age design. Not too far out but definitely new especially in the rear end. Don’t get me wrong, General Motors hasn’t gone out on a limb with this but anything that’s a variation on the all too common theme of cars today is appreciated by me.

I was looking out the window of my hotel in Phoenix this past week end and couldn’t help noting that every car in the lot were so generic looking you couldn’t tell what make they were. They simply all looked the same. This Monte Carlo has a different look about it and I was aware of the increased number of looks or stares relative to most of the cars I’ve been testing lately.

This is a very capable car and the price must really tick off foreign competitors. I can just hear them in their board room meetings asking how those damn Americans can produce such good cars for so little Yen or DM’s.  Relying on  “Snob Appeal” just won’t work forever, will it? American buyers must eventually tire paying a premium for badges on the car that serve no other purpose than to broadcast the price they paid? Well, if you read my column very often you know that I have a bit of a bias toward American cars these days. I remain objective but I can’t ignore twelve years in the foreign car repair business I co-owned in La Canada, California. I experienced first hand the cost disparity in repairs of certain cars just because they were German or Italian, for example. I learned that BMW was terribly expensive to repair mostly because of the high cost of  replacement parts. Jaguar was great looking but they were in the shop too much. There was an old joke that when you went to buy a new Jaguar you first had to test drive the mechanics car because that would be the one you’d be driving most of the time.

Jags, Ferrari’s and other Italian cars tended to do utterly stupid things when it came to mechanical design. And all that stupid stuff complicated the repair process, which of course translated to higher repair cost. Fiat stood for Fix It Again Tony and other high maintenance cars were branded with similar tongue in cheek criticism.

On a positive note however there were foreign makes that were famous for low maintenance. Brother John convinced me to buy Toyota Cressida and I ended up with two of the ’80’s era models. Even though I liked both a lot, the best cars I’ve owned were still American, from Chevrolet and Ford. The styling was classic and remains so to this day. The 1955 Ford ½ ton pickup and the 1957 Chevrolet 2-door hardtop are as sought after today as they were back then. The Chevy even had an electronic ignition system my good friend Aldo built way back in 1962. I wonder why he didn’t patent it?

Well I don’t know if this Monte Carlo will become a classic too, but it has unique styling and I think it will appeal to a lot of people. It got a lot of looks and it also has all the comforts of its competition and more. And finally, you need to look at the competition to appreciate that you get a lot for the dough with this Chevrolet. It is definitely worth including in your search if you’re looking in this price range.

The competition:

1999 Acura CL $23,100 – $26,150, 2000 Dodge Avenger $18,940 – $21,185, 2000 Honda Accord $15,350 – $24,550, 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix $19,815 – $24,310, 2000 Toyota Camry Solara $18,938 – $25,838.

Good News:

American quality with lots of features, great pricing, fast and fun to drive, and lots of room inside and large trunk.

Bad News:

This Coupe is a pain to get in and out of the back seat, seat belts don’t store very well so they get in the way entering and exiting, long heavy doors are difficult in parking areas,

Standard Equipment:

3.8 liter V6 200 horsepower engine, 4-speed automatic trans with overdrive, front wheel drive, power steering, tuned 4-wheel independent suspension, 4-wheel antilock brakes, dual air bags, theft deterrent system, power steering, door locks, windows, trunk, dual power mirrors, remote keyless entry, tinted glass, air conditioning, AM/FM Stereo with cassette, bucket seats, cruise control, tilt leather wrapped steering wheel, SS package that includes computer information center, heated power mirrors and 6-way power driver seat.

Gas Stats:

20 City and 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $22,471