2003 Chevrolet Cavalier
2003 Chevrolet Cavalier Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
New look, new engine, improved safety.
Chevrolet Cavalier offers improved handling and a smoother ride than last year's model. For 2003, the Cavalier gets a sporty new exterior and new safety features. All models come with GM's newly developed Ecotec 2.2-liter engine, which offers responsive performance, excellent fuel economy, and cleaner emissions.
Cavalier handles winding roads well, with little body lean in the corners. It rides well on rough roads, damping road vibration. The revised chassis makes the 2003 Cavalier feel tighter than last year's models, and there's good throttle response from the four-cylinder engine.
Coupes and sedans are available. The coupes look sportier, while the sedans offer the advantage of four doors and roomier rear seats. Cavalier LS models start at $15,480 and include power windows, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, and other convenience features most of us now take for granted. LS Sport models come with sport suspensions and special trim. XM Satellite Radio and OnStar are available.
Chevrolet Cavalier comes in two body styles, two-door Coupe and four-door Sedan. They are trimmed and priced about the same (Sedans are priced $150 higher) and their dimensions are essentially the same. The Ecotec 2.2-liter engine is used for all Cavalier models. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all models. A four-speed automatic ($815) is optional.
Three trim levels are available, base, LS, LS Sport.
Cavalier Coupe ($14,030) and Sedan ($14,180) come standard with air conditioning and an AM/FM stereo. These are base models with wind-up windows, manual locks, manually operated mirrors, 14-inch wheels and rear drum brakes.
LS Coupe ($15,480) and LS Sedan ($15,630) add sport cloth bucket seats, power windows, mirrors and locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, a premium CD stereo, four-wheel antilock disc brakes (ABS), 15-inch wheels, body-color bumpers and side moldings, and other convenience features.
LS Sport Coupe ($16,730) and LS Sport Sedan ($16,880) get a sports suspension, 16-inch chromed aluminum wheels with performance tires, a leather-wrapped shifter, and special exterior trim.
Safety features added for 2003 include a center rear three-point seatbelt and optional front side-impact airbags designed to protect torso and thorax (not the head).
OnStar is optional ($695). Should an airbag deploy, OnStar automatically notifies the system's battery of operators over its wireless network and pinpoints the car's location using the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network. OnStar operators will dispatch emergency crews if the driver does not respond to their calls. OnStar can also unlock your doors remotely should you lock the keys in the car, and OnStar operators can dispatch roadside assistance or direct you to the nearest gas station or that Italian restaurant you can't seem to find. OnStar Personal Calling acts as a hand-free cellular telephone using the Verizon Wireless system.
Chevy Cavalier gets a fresh new look for 2003. The front and rear of the car are new, with a redesigned hood, fascia, headlamps and grille, and a new rear fascia and tail lamps. The LS Sport model also has new rocker moldings and integrated fog lamps. Chrome aluminum wheels, body-color door handles, body-color exterior mirrors are available on selected models. The front end displays Chevy's new gold bowtie emblem, featured on the newest 2003 and 2004 models in the Chevrolet lineup. Some wild colors are available, including yellow (for coupes), red, white, and blue.
Cavalier is an attractive car with flowing lines, rounded fenders and a low-to-the-road attitude. Relatively slender A-pillars and C-pillars enhance driver visibility and contribute to the light, airy feel of the upper body. Dual side mirrors are tucked nicely into the A-pillar. Fashion and styling trends quickly date compact cars and Cavalier was beginning to appear dated, but this year's facelift provides some flash.
Coupes look sportier than the Sedans. LS Sport models stand out with body-color door handles and mirrors, Sport front and rear fascia, integrated fog lamps, lower rocker moldings, a rear spoiler, chrome exhaust outlet, and 16-inch chromed aluminum wheels with performance tires.
Chevrolet Cavalier has a nice interior design and the interior materials appear to be of decent quality. A hood over the instruments sweeps organically over to the passenger side giving it a contemporary appearance. The thick, contoured steering wheel in the LS Sport Sedan feels good. Power window switches are located on the center console, however, harder to find and more awkward to operate than when they're on the door. The driver's window has an Auto-Down feature.
Cavalier offers interior roominess comparable for the class. Sedan models have a little more headroom and shoulder room in front than the Coupes, but legroom is identical. The LS seats are contoured and comfortable, but side support could be better for cornering. Five cup holders are provided.
The back seat is surprisingly roomy in the Sedan. There's decent rear headroom, albeit a bit restricted on the outboard side. The rear seat folds down and is split 60/40 for added versatility. The Coupe offers less room in the back seats, but they are still quite usable. LS Sport Coupes get an easy-entry front passenger seat, improving access to the back. GM's LATCH system (Lower Anchor and Tethers for CHildren) allows installation of compatible child-safety seats without using the seatbelt.
XM Satellite Radio is a nice option as there's no need to change from favored music stations (many commercial-free) when traveling. The 24-hour news channels are available along with sports programming and a hundred other stations. The system requires a subscription.
The new Ecotec 2.2-liter engine offers delightfully responsive performance, particularly when paired with the five-speed manual transmission. This newly developed four-cylinder engine, used in all 2003 Cavalier models, generates 140 horsepower at 5600 rpm. The Cavalier has enough power for confident passing and merging into busy highway traffic.
The Ecotec engine features dual overhead camshafts with four valves per cylinder, the favored arrangement nowadays for good throttle response and power. Much of this response is a result of the Cavalier's torque, that force that propels the car away from intersections and up hills. The Ecotec delivers 150 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. That's a little less powerful than last year's optional 2.4-liter engine, but the new 2.2-liter Ecotec gets much better fuel economy with an EPA-estimated 25/33 mpg City/Highway and it offers lower emissions. GM designed the engine to offer smooth, quiet operation, which it does, though it doesn't feel quite as smooth as a Toyota engine.
The five-speed manual transmission, built by renowned German gearbox maker Getrag, offers pleasant shifting and we enjoyed it. The optional four-speed automatic transmission works well around town, keeping the engine in its best operating range at lower speeds.
Cavalier handles well. It's relatively flat in the corners, with little body lean. Power steering is light and responsive: Cavalier quickly turns in for corners. Ride and handling have been improved for 2003 by stiffening the structure of the car, and re-tuning the suspension for a sportier, more controlled ride.
The chassis did feel more rigid, more secure when driving quickly down a rough back roads in a 2003 LS Sport Sedan. The revised suspension dampened road vibration reasonably well. Hitting a series of bumps didn't generate the aftershocks ('bah-lah-lah') associated with older domestic compact cars. You feel the bumps, but it seems more controlled than it did in the pre-2003 models. The tires, even the performance tires on the LS Sport Sedan, seemed to lack grip when the car was driven hard. Handling was predictable, however. Accelerating hard from a standstill while making a turn generated some torque steer, that tugging sensation of the steering wheel that's often part of powerful, front-wheel-drive cars, but it was easy to control.
The brake pedal feels nice and firm and the brakes are responsive. Cavalier uses disc brakes in front, drum brakes in the rear, instead of the preferred and more expensive rear disc brakes. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) come standard on LS models. Slam on the brakes and the ABS steps in, bringing the Cavalier to an undramatic stop. ABS can be a real ally in an emergency maneuver because it allows the driver to steer the car in a panic braking situation. Just remember to keep hard pedal pressure on the brakes and don't forget to steer.
Chevrolet Cavalier is markedly improved for 2003. Handling is sportier and more controlled. Ride quality is smoother and the car feels more solid than last year's model.
Coupe ($14,030); Coupe LS ($15,480); Coupe LS Sport ($16,730); Sedan ($14,180); Sedan LS ($15,630); Sedan LS Sport ($16,880).
Options As Tested
side-impact airbags ($350); 6-speaker enhanced sound system ($100); XM Satellite Radio ($325); OnStar Safe & Sound package ($695).
Chevrolet Cavalier LS Sport Sedan ($16,880).
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