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1997 Chevrolet Cavalier RS Coupe

by Carey Russ


SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

The second-generation Cavalier has been a great success for Chevrolet since its introduction in the 1995 model year. To help keep the sales momentum up, Chevrolet is introducing a new Cavalier model for 1997 - the Rally Sport Coupe. The RS, as it is known, is meant to offer sporty style and a bit of performance combined with affordability and economical operation. It fits into the Cavalier lineup between the base- model coupe and the performance-oriented Z24.

The Cavalier RS has some of the style of the Z24, but uses the 2.2- liter pushrod four-cylinder engine of the base Cavalier coupe to make it the entry-level sporty coupe of the Chevrolet line. If the Cavalier Z24 is the Z28 Camaro's little brother, think of the Cavalier RS as the V6 Camaro's smaller sibling.

I spent a busy week with a 1997 Chevy Cavalier RS coupe. It was useful for airport taxi duty, running errands, and touring the countryside. It was entertaining and practical.

APPEARANCE: Some low-priced coupes are merely two-door sedans. Not the Cavalier coupe. A distinctive fastback roofline and longer doors distinguish it from the sedan version. The RS shares front styling with all versions of the Cavalier except the Z24. It has a distinct face with half- elliptical headlamps and a smiling air intake with a dark eggcrate grille set into the front bumper fascia. The RS has body-colored bumper fascias and color-keyed body side moldings, a rear decklid spoiler, 15-inch wheels and tires instead of the 14-inch wheels of the standard coupe, and, for positive identification, three-dimensional "Rally Sport" decals in contrasting fluorescent colors behind the doors. Black mirrors and door handles and a lack of chrome trim give an economically sporty look. Steel wheels with full, bolt-on covers are standard, but my test car had the stylish optional alloy wheels. At the rear of the car, the short, high deck has a low-liftover trunk, not a hatchback. Oval taillights hint at the Camaro.

COMFORT: Inside, the Cavalier RS coupe is cozy but comfortable. Interior design and materials are modern Chevrolet, with fit and finish that are very good for its class. The front bucket seats have good padding and support. Access to the rear seat is a little tricky, but better than some other sports coupes. Once inside, rear seat room is reasonable for medium-sized people, and better than what is found in many larger sports coupes. The rear seat back folds completely for extra cargo capacity. The instrument panel is a modern, flowing design. Instrumentation is legible and uncomplicated. Even though the windshield is large and steeply-raked, there is little annoying glare from the top of the dash. Heat and optional air conditioning work quickly and efficiently. The AM/FM/cassette stereo system sounds good, and has very good FM reception and the "theftlock" anti-theft device. My test car had power mirrors and door locks, and manual windows. Power windows are available. Delayed-off "theatre" interior lighting adds convenience at night. There are a number of small storage spaces in the car, and simple cupholders on the console between the front seats. Rear seat passengers get a cupholder cleverly designed into the top of the console cover - flip it back and there you go. Neat trick. The trunk is a useful size, and helps make the Cavalier RS a practical car.

SAFETY: Standard safety equipment on the 1997 Chevy Cavalier RS coupe includes safety-cage chassis construction, driver and front passenger airbags, standard antilock brakes, the PassLock theft-deterrent system, and daytime running lights.

ROADABILITY: The Cavalier RS certainly feels like a baby Camaro in the suspension department. The ride is sportingly firm, but not too harsh. Handling and roadholding are surprisingly good, and the RS can be enjoyably driven in an enthusiastic manner. Interior noise levels are good for its price class, and visibility is better than many sports coupes of any price class. Sporty coupes are supposed to be fun, and the Cavalier succeeds for a reasonable price.

PERFORMANCE: The LN2 2.2-liter four cylinder engine used in the Cavalier RS may not be the most high-tech powerplant on the road today, but it gets its job done with commendable economy. And, it has a little surprise in store for those who choose the standard 5-speed manual gearbox instead of the optional 3- or 4-speed automatic transmissions. Between 4500 and 5500 rpm it's a sweetheart. The 120 horsepower it produces at 5200 rpm may not be a lot by today's high-performance standards, but it's enough to make the Cavalier RS Coupe an enjoyable little car.

CONCLUSIONS: The new Chevrolet Cavalier Rally Sport coupe provides frugal fun and practicality at a real-world price. What could be more "Genuine Chevrolet"?

1996 Chevrolet Cavalier RS Coupe

Base Price               $ 12,225
Price As Tested          $ 14,575
Engine Type              inline 4-cylinder, pushrod ohv
Engine Size              2.2 liters, 134 cu. in.
Horsepower               120 @ 5200
Torque (lb-ft)           130 @ 4000
Transmission             5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       104.1 in. / 180.3 in.
Curb Weight              2617 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    21.8
Fuel Capacity            15.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular
Tires                    P195/65 R15 B. F. Goodrich Touring T/A
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut / beam axle
                           with trailing arms
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      25/37/29
0 to 60 mph                        9.6 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                    17.7  sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)           0.32