- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

Monte Carlo is one of those names from Chevy’s performance past that has been resurrected in an attempt to wring some sales juice out of nostalgia. Today’s Monte Carlo is a far cry from its namesake, but in today’s PC, fossil-fuel-conserving, runaway-insurance-premium world, we probably shouldn’t expect much more.

Next to the Corvette, the Monte Carlo is arguably the most stylish model in the Chevy lineup. The two-door version of the Impala, Monte Carlo’s lines are both sleek and uncharacteristically edgy for what has evolved into a rather stodgy stable of Chevrolet passenger cars. Monte Carlo bears virtually no resemblance to the sedan and fulfills the traditional coupe mission of making a sporty statement. If only it were rear-wheel drive with an available five-speed manual and V-8.

Monte Carlo is among those GM vehicles that had some of its standard features stripped away this year in order to make its pricing more competitive. The base LS no longer has antilock brakes included in its base sticker (ABS is now an extra $600) and traction control has also gone from standard to optional. The more expensive SS trim level still gets antilock brakes and traction control as standard, but the driver’s side airbag has been moved to the options column at a $350 premium.

In its LS guise, the Monte Carlo is competent transportation. It’s powered by a 180-horsepower 3.4-liter V-6, funneling its output through a four-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels. The SS uses the same transmission but gets 20 additional horsepower and foot-pounds of torque via its 3.8-liter V-6. This still isn’t going to get an enthusiast’s heart racing, but makes the SS more of a sprinter than a trotter. GM makes a supercharged version of the 3.8-liter and that would help here immensely.

Fuel economy is competitive within the segment with an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the open highway.

With the SS package comes a somewhat stiffer sport suspension. The LS feels stable enough, but the SS is bred more for the twisties. Tossing the SS into a turn is less of an adventure with practically no body roll. The steering is a little vague on center, but responds rather quickly to serious driver input.

Configured for five, the cabin is roomy for a coupe. There is decent rear legroom. Taller adults may find rear headroom on the stingy side, but otherwise the dimensions aren’t bad. As is expected with a coupe, despite its long door openings, entering and exiting the rear seat requires some agility. The front seats are firm and comfortable enough, but could use more side support. Nothing complicated about the controls nor mysterious about their placement. This is a clean arrangement, but there is nothing expensive-looking about the dashboard. Some engine noise seeps into the cabin, particularly under harder acceleration.

My latest Monte Carlo experience was with a tricked-out Jeff Gordon Signature Edition. This is a NASCAR-inspired trim package targeting rabid fans of the Winston Cup and Gordon in particular.

Why rabid fans?

Because the package carries a $3,100 price tag that anyone other than a rabid fan probably won’t spring for. It offers Gordon signature graphics, full ground effects package, racing-inspired rear spoiler, front headrests and floor mats with Mr. Gordon’s name embroidered on them, 16-inch cast-aluminum wheels and stainless-steel exhaust tips.

My test Monte Carlo SS also had the $325 XM satellite radio system that is a must for owners enduring long commutes. It costs another $10 a month to maintain the service, but is well worth the outlay.

Base price of the Monte Carlo is $20,655. Opting for the SS version will set you back $23,160. Standard features not already mentioned include four-wheel disc brakes, manual dual-zone climate-control air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry and AM/FM stereo cassette. Among other features, the SS package adds a tire-inflation monitor, cruise control and leather-wrapped steering wheel. Leather seats add $625 to the bottom line and a sunroof increases the cost by $795. The destination charge is $635.

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