SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide
"Monte Carlo" is a grand old name in Chevrolet history. It first graced a front-engined, rear-wheel drive personal coupe from 1970 through the late 1980s. The 1970 Monte Carlo was a car for its day, with a six foot-long hood and available in SS muscle car form with a 454 cubic inch, 365 horsepower V8 engine.
The "Monte" remained popular through several redesigns in the 1970s and 1980s. It served as a basis for cars raced on the NASCAR stock car circuit during that period. But time and technology caught up with the rear-wheel drive design, and it gave way to the Lumina Coupe in 1988. When the second-generation Lumina made its debut in 1995, the Monte Carlo nameplate was applied to the coupe form.
As the original Monte Carlo was a car for its day, the 1998 Monte Carlo is a car for its day. Reflecting changes in technology and consumer tastes, the current car emphasizes value, balanced performance, and space efficiency rather than the macho attitude and straight-line performance of the muscle car era. Two models are offered - the LS and Z34. Both combine sporty styling and handling with midsized room. As it has done since its introduction, the LS uses a 3.1-liter V6 engine. New to the sportier Z34 this year is the 3800 Series II V6 also used in the Camaro. The Monte Carlo nameplate continues to grace the Chevrolets raced in NASCAR.
The 1998 Monte Carlo LS currently sitting in my driveway may not have the dragstrip acceleration of a big-block 1970 SS, but I'd wager that it gets around corners and stops better. And is certainly quieter and more comfortable in the bargain. It's a personal coupe that combines NASCAR-inspiring style, a high degree of comfort, economical operation, and the sort of good handling that makes a car enjoyable.
APPEARANCE: The Monte Carlo's sleek, aerodynamic styling looks like it was inspired by the racing version. Actually, things are the other way around. The street car was shaped to allow its near-lookalike racing namesake to work at high speeds on the NASCAR stock car racing circuit. The street version wears its performance heritage subtly. From the side, the car has a rounded wedge shape. The hood is long for a modern front-drive car, but far short of the old six feet. At the front, a small air intake is flanked by oval headlights. The LS model has chrome trim around the intake and a chromed Chevy bowtie; the Z34 is chromeless, with a red bowtie. A semi-fastback passenger cabin with a short rear quarter window and thick C-pillar echo some Monte Carlo styling cues from the past.
COMFORT: Inside, the Monte Carlo LS shows its practical, comfort- oriented side. Space utilization is very good for a coupe. Materials are the synthetics expected for the price, but there are far more comfort and convenience features than one might expect. With options, my test car was around the new-car average price. But it had a more than average equipment level. Although a split-bench front seat is standard, this one had the optional cloth-covered buckets. These come with a full console that includes a cupholder and deep, covered storage box. The rear contoured bench seat has real room for two medium-sized people, or three for less time. It folds with a 60/40 split for increased trunk capacity. The trunk itself is far larger than usual for a coupe. The AM/FM/CD stereo automatically adjusts the volume level to compensate for external noise levels at varying speeds. A fast-acting climate control system with dual temperature control keeps the inside at the right temperature. Good instrument panel and control design helps give the driver of the Monte Carlo LS a good environment in which to work.
SAFETY: Standard safety equipment in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo includes safety cage chassis construction with front and rear crush zones and door beams, dual depowered "next generation" airbags, antilock brakes, the PASS-Key II theft-deterrent system, and daytime running lights.
ROADABILITY: A rigid chassis and well-tuned fully-independent suspension give the Monte Carlo LS a comfortable ride and good handling characteristics. It is sportingly firm, but compliant enough to stay put on bumpy roads. The power-assisted rack and pinion steering is quick and has the right touch for good response and feel. It's pleasant on the highways and enjoyable on the byways.
PERFORMANCE: The 3.1-liter V6 used in the Monte Carlo LS has been upgraded and refined over the years. It is smooth, quiet, and has good low-speed torque. It works well in most city and highway driving situations, with reasonable power for merging and passing. It is no big- block V8, though. With 160 horsepower in a 3200 lb. car, immediate, muscle-car class acceleration is not going to happen. On the other hand, fuel economy is considerably better than that of a large V8, and maintenance is minimal. The 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission does its job quietly and efficiently.
CONCLUSIONS: The Chevrolet Monte Carlo LS combines style, comfort, and functionality.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 17,795 Price As Tested $ 20,564 Engine Type 12-valve pushrod overhead valve V6 Engine Size 3.1 liters / 191 cu. in. Horsepower 160 @ 5200 Torque (lb-ft) 185 @ 4000 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 107.5 in. / 200.7 in. Curb Weight 3239 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 20 Fuel Capacity 16.6 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 87 octane Tires P225/60 R16 Goodyear Eagle GA Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent MacPherson strut with lateral links Drivetrain front engine, front wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 29 / 24 0 to 60 mph 9.5 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 17.7 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Preferred Equipment Group 1: electronic speed control with resume, power trunk opener, cargo net, dual zone temperature control, remote keyless entry $ 635 6-way power driver's seat $ 305 Custom cloth bucket seats with full floor console, reclining seat backs, 4-way manual seat adjuster $ 200 P225/60 R16 touring radial tires $ 175 CA / NY / MA emissions $ 170 Leather-covered steering wheel with radio controls $ 171 Electric rear window defogger $ 170 AM / FM stereo with CD player $ 93 Destination charge $ 550