- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

OK, I concede it. I still like muscle cars. So sue me. In an age where the current generation of teen and twentysomething customizers has to make do tricking out Honda Civics and Toyota Tacoma pickups, I come from a generation raised on Roadrunners, GTOs and GNXs.

The idea then wasn't to see how big a subwoofer you could stuff in the trunk of your Protege but how you could shave a tenth of a second or two off your Charger's 0-60 time.

Blame this change on the mandate for unleaded gasoline and twitchy insurance underwriters. In any event, I still long for the acceleration of a 426 Hemi V-8. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that I am drawn to the Chevrolet Monte Carlo of today. Not because it packs the punch of the muscle cars of 30 years ago because it doesn't, but because it does a credible job of paying tribute to them.

Born at the height of the muscle-car craze, the 1970 Monte Carlo was a value-priced personal performance coupe. The SS 454 version was capable of reaching 60 mph from a standing stop in under eight seconds. While some purists bemoan the use of the Monte Carlo badge on a coupe without an available V-8, the 2001 Monte Carlo SS with its 200-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 also reaches 60 mph from zero in under eight seconds.

Yes, it would be quicker if it shared the supercharged version of the 3.8-liter V-6 found in the Buick Regal GS and Pontiac Grand Prix GTP. It would be more fun to drive if it had a five-speed manual transmission as well. Having said that, the Monte Carlo SS represents an extinct breed of American performance machines about as well as a vehicle can in this age of corporate-average-fuel-economy regulations, runaway insurance premiums and escalating fuel costs.

Chevrolet calls it classy with a wild streak, and that sums it up fairly well.

Redesigned for 2000, Monte Carlo's strongest suit is its aggressive exterior styling. New for 2001, the High Sport Appearance Package offered on the SS uses ground effects, special wheels, a racing-type rear spoiler and stainless steel exhaust tips to create a truly sinister look. The lines are clean. This coupe looks appealing from any angle. Only the thick C-pillars are a negative by hindering rearward visibility

Rather than being based on the Lumina sedan, as the previous coupe was, the redesigned Monte Carlo uses the Impala's platform. Separating the LS and the SS versions are their engines. The LS relies on a 180-horsepower V-6, while the SS gets the time-tested 3800 V-8. The LS also delivers a somewhat softer ride thanks to the SS' stiffer springs and heftier stabilizer bars front and rear.

Despite its front-wheel-drive configuration, the SS charges into curves with very little understeer. It feels well anchored thanks to its stiffer suspension and sticky 16-inch rubber. The steering feels equally solid.

Keeping the SS fueled won't break the bank. Even with its impressive performance, its fuel economy is still quite acceptable.

To Monte Carlo's credit, its cabin is roomier than other midsize coupes on the market. Five adults can ride very comfortably. The front bucket seats provide excellent lateral support. Getting in and out of the rear seat is a tad awkward, but once there, passengers will find decent leg-, shoulder- and headroom.

Neatly arranged, the instruments are easy to read and the system controls simple to use. The audio-system controls are conveniently placed above the ventilation system. The leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel also contains redundant audio-system controls. In addition to the typical engine coolant and oil-life and -level monitors, there is a tire-inflation monitor. A driver's side side-impact air bag is standard on the SS.

Base price of the Chevy Monte Carlo SS is $22,400. Standard features not already mentioned include anti-lock disc brakes, dual front air bags, OnStar Communications System, daytime running lamps, dual power outboard mirrors, 16-inch aluminum wheels, dual-zone air conditioning, AM-FM stereo cassette player, 60-40 split rear seat, cruise control and rearview mirror.

My test SS also had an option group ($615) with trip computer, outside temperature gauge, compass, heated outboard mirrors and six-way driver's seat. The High Sport Appearance Package added another $2,000 to the bottom line, while leather seating, a six-way power passenger seat, heated front seats and an upgraded audio system with CD player upped the ante another $1,273. Adding the $600 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $26,888.

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