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New Car/Review

Chevrolet Lumina LS

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:              3.1-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:   160 hp @ 5200 rpm/185 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:        Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:        20 mpg city,  29 mpg highway,  19.2 mpg test
WHEELBASE:           107.5 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:      200.9 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:      55.2 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:       72.5 in.
CURB WEIGHT:         3625 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:       16.6 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:    15.5 cu. ft.
TIRES:               P225/60R16
INSTRUMENTS:         Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water 
                     temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:           Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors,
                     cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo 
                     radio with cassette, anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:       $19,145

I don't understand why so many auto manufacturers build "family" cars that have only two seats up front. While these bucket-seat-equipped cars are sportier, and have a center console that in most cases is useless, they also reduce the carrying capacity by one passenger and eliminate useful carrying space on the middle portion of the front seat.

So I was happy when I received the Chevrolet Lumina LS, with a nice BENCH front seat and a column-mounted shifter. No, we never carried six passengers in the Lumina, but it was comforting to know that we could have carried that many if we wanted to. And I found the Lumina to be a pleasant family car.

By family car, I define a vehicle that will carry a family--father, mother, three children of any size and luggage for the group. When we were traveling as a family we often rode in a big van, with seating for eight and enough luggage space for 20. But as a kid, I remember riding in my parents' cars, which were always practical sedans. My wife's memories are the same. And we both traveled all over the country with these cars, in her case with three other siblings, putting six in the car.

Our tester was the LS version, with the 3.1-liter V-6 engine delivering 160 horsepower. An LTZ version is also available with a 3.4-liter V-6 that pumps out 215 horses. Both are connected to a four-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels.

You're not going to find anything exotic underneath the Lumina. Both front and rear suspensions are by MacPherson struts and coil springs. Even with stabilizer bars, the ride tends to the softness side of the curve, but this is the type of ride you're generally looking for in a family sedan. If you want a sportier ride, you'll lean toward something like the Monte Carlo (which is essentially a two-door Lumina) or maybe even a Bonneville with sport suspension.

Enhancing the family aspect of the Lumina is a 15.5 cubic foot trunk. This is a nice size for a family's luggage. It's smaller than the trunks in the behemoths of the 1950s we rode in as children, but the car is a lot better than what we had in the past, too. There are three-point shoulder belts for all outboard passengers and dual air bags to protect the front passengers.

The front bench seat is a 60/40 split affair with a center storage armrest that folds up. With this arrangement, you can have a console if only two people are riding up front, but you can put it out of the way and still have a comfortable seat for a third front-seat passenger.

One feature my wife liked was the dual-zone heating for front passengers. It seems we're always at odds regarding what temperature we should set for the front. With the dual zone we both can be happy. But Chevy, like most other manufacturers, only has one fan and direction control. It would be nice to have separate fan controls as well.

Other controls are standard Chevrolet; well-labeled and easy to reach. The heating controls are mounted high, while the sound system controls were mounted lower.

I have noticed in a few communities around where I live that the Lumina has begun appearing as a police car. There was this theory once that police wouldn't be happy in a front-wheel drive car, but if the car is a good one then there shouldn't be a problem. We've also seen police in Blazers and Tahoes, so Chevrolet isn't giving up the police market despite the demise of the Caprice Classic and Impala.

I liked the Lumina LS. It isn't a sports car, it isn't a truck, it isn't a four-wheel drive sport utility, it isn't a minivan. What it is is a good family sedan, nothing more. There are some better and a lot worse on the market.