New Car/Review

1998 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Convertible

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:                  2.4-liter DOHC inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:       150 hp @ 5600 rpm/155 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
TRANSMISSION:            Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:            23 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, 29.7 mpg test
WHEELBASE:               104.1 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH X HEIGHT: 180.7 x 68.7 x 53.7 in.
CURB WEIGHT:             2899 lbs
FUEL CAPACITY:           15.2 gal.
CARRYING CAPACITY:       10.5 cu. ft. 
TIRES:                   P195/65R15
INSTRUMENTS:             Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                         water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:               Power mirrors, power windows, power door locks,
                         cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                         with cassette and CD, ABS, dual air bags. 
STICKER PRICE:           $21.500

Normally I 'm not a big fan of small convertibles when I have a long trip. I did my time in an MG when I was younger, and the challenge of trying to pack for a weekend with a small trunk has lost its charm.

So when my wife and I were planning a trip to Richmond, Virginia, for the weekend and the only car available was a Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 convertible, the prospects weren't enjoyable. What made the idea even more unpalatable was the fact that we had to bring not only luggage, but folding chairs and boxes.

When I started to load up the car, though, I discovered that the rear seats folded, increasing the normally small carrying capacity by a large amount. What had looked like an impossible task now became possible, and we ended up bringing more stuff down to our daughter's house than we had originally planned, and we still had room to spare.

Loading the car was simple. All I had to do was drop the top, load up the back seat, then put the top back up again when we wanted to get going. Unloading was simply the reverse of the loading procedure.

And lowering the top was simple. There's a latch in the center of the junction between the top and the windshield. Pulling it down releases the canvas. Pulling it toward you moves the top back into its receptacle behind the rear seat. Pushing it forward raises the top to where you simply latch it again for comfort.

As ragtops go, this is a good one. The top isn't as insulated as some of the ultra-luxurious German cabriolets, but there isn't as much wind noise as I would have expected. There was an annoying whistle around the windshield/side window seam on the driver's side, though, that began to get on my nerves.

The Z24 is powered by a 2.4-liter DOHC inline four cylinder engine that's rated at 155 hp. Since the Cavalier weighs under a ton and a half, this is enough power to cruise any Interstate with the big boys. The engine does work when you're trying to accelerate, though. Our tester was equipped with an automatic transmission, and the engine had to work harder than it should have to get up to speed. Once there, it was relatively quiet.

Front passengers sat in individual bucket seats with minimal side support. However, the upholstery was cloth, so the friction was better.

In the rear, the seat would hold two adults. We used the car as a people mover several times and there were no major complaints from the people we stuffed back there. Well, there was a complaint that the seat could have been more comfortable, but at least they had legroom.

Other than the convertible top and the Z24 option, the Cavalier was a fairly normal American compact car. It had a decent ride, although I wouldn't want to try it on some of the more challenging roads we've encountered. But for a car to drive to work every day, or for a family car for a small family that's looking for some sportiness, the Cavalier convertible might just fill the bill. We achieved nearly 30 mpg in fuel economy during our week's run that included one long trip, and any time you can get in those numbers you're doing well.

My only complaint was with the bottom line. Adding a convertible top, no matter how easy it is to operate, shouldn't raise the price of a $15,000 car to over $21,000.

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