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New Car/Review

1997 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Z34

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:  3.4-liter DOHC V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  215 hp @ 5,200 rpm/220 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:  17 mpg city,  26 mpg highway,  20.3 mpg test
WHEELBASE:  107.5 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  200.7 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  72.5 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  3,300 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.

The car is the Chevrolet Monte Carlo Z34. It kind of looks like the car Jeff Gordon is driving to lead the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings as of this writing. Actually, it looks more like the car Dale Earnhardt is driving because it's all black, but I just can't find it in my heart to admit I drove a car that resembles the evil number 3.

Of course, Jeff Gordon's Monte Carlo is powered by a six-liter v-8 engine that powers the rear wheels, while the street Monte Carlo is powered by a 3.4-liter V-6 that drives the front wheels. Other than that they're almost identical.

The Monte Carlo continues a long tradition of Monte Carlos in Chevy history that was interrupted for a while in mid-1988 and resumed in the 1995 model year. The Monte has always represented the sportier of the Chevrolet sedans. This Monte is, in fact, the two-door version of the four-door Lumina sedan.

With two doors it's naturally a coupe and is a very nice car for two people to use. In our test we had a nice winding road experience between our house and the turnpike and a long turnpike and back-road run to the drag racing event we were attending. And we had a similar ride back. The Monte proved to be a comfortable car that did everything we wanted it to do. Economy was decent for a long run and we were able to keep up with the fastest of traffic because the car is essentially invisible.

Along with the seating comfort we had thermal comfort with a dual-zone HVAC system and aural comfort with a good sound system that allowed us to listen to all our favorite stations (and there were three along the way). And we weren't restricted to just the radio, because we could have plunked in a cassette if we wanted to.

The dual-zone HVAC system was ideal. It works for our family because my wife and I can never agree as to what the temperature inside the car should be. One neat feature was that the rear window defroster switch was incorporated in the air direction switch, making for one less switch on the dash and a cleaner presentation.

We also like the sound system controls on the steering wheel. We could "seek," switch between AM and FM or hit a pre-selected station, adjust the volume or switch the media or mute. In addition there was a small airbag cell in the steering wheel that made for intelligent horn controls.

This was a press vehicle and it was a Z34, so it had all the goodies. Still, the bottom line on the sticker was a relatively decent $21,000. The only minor inconvenience was a single cupholder for the driver and passenger. Again, my wife and I drink a lot of water and we need two cupholders.

Another feature I liked was the availability of useful storage areas. To the left of the steering wheel was a small cubby hole that was ideal for turnpike tickets, receipts and change. There's a larger one just under the sound system where you can put CDs and cassettes, and there's a decent glove box as well. The glove box is hinged and sprung so that it doesn't drop on the passenger's legs. In fact, it almost wants to be closed more than open.

Rear seat legroom is very good in the Monte, which betrays, in a sense, its Lumina heritage. This is truly a two-door version of a four-door car and the only thing you lack are the extra two doors. The trunk is a good size, too. Our primary use was for grocery bags and there is a nice catch netting to keep the bags from sliding all over the place.

The engine is a 3.4-liter V-6 that drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 is rated at 215 horsepower and 220 ft-lbs of torque. We were joking coming back from the drag races as we exited a toll booth. I told my wife I could zip away faster than anyone else and ended up leaving a strip of rubber as the tires squealed. This was a surprise to us, the "competitor" in the other lane and the guy in the toll booth. This was in dry weather and we really weren't trying to leave rubber.

There's little not to like about the Lumina Z34. It's a solid car and a nice looking automobile. It does its job well for two passengers and there's room in the back for two more adults to ride in reasonable comfort.