Chevrolets smallest car gets a fresh exterior look for the 2003 model year. Some of the Cavaliers updated features include a restyled hood, grille and fascia. Its fenders and the greenhouse are essentially unchanged, but the headlights and taillights are new. An antilock braking system is now an option rather than standard equipment. Side-impact airbags, GMs OnStar communication system and XM Satellite Radio are optional for 2003.
The Cavalier is still Chevrolets top-selling passenger car behind the full-size Impala, and it comes in base, LS and LS Sport trim levels; the Z24 model is no longer offered. An Ecotec 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine is standard in all models. LATCH child-safety seat hooks and a center three-point seat belt in the rear seat have been installed.
Similar to the Pontiac Sunfire coupe, the front-wheel-drive Cavalier comes in both coupe and sedan forms. According to the automaker, this years changes are considered midcycle enhancements. In a couple of years, GM is expected to replace the aging Cavalier and Sunfire with new models that can be sold in Europe and elsewhere around the world.
The two-door and four-door both have a 104.1-inch wheelbase and measure 182.7 inches long overall, which makes them more than 14 inches longer than the Ford Focus and 8 inches longer than the Honda Civic. The LS Sport model includes ground-effects body components, chrome-aluminum wheels, an FE2 sport suspension and a high-profile rear spoiler. For 2003, the LS Sport gains rocker moldings and integrated fog lamps.
The front end of all Cavalier models displays Chevrolets new gold bowtie emblem. These subcompact cars may be equipped with a high-profile rear spoiler, chrome aluminum wheels and body-colored door handles.
All Cavalier models seat five occupants. The rear seatback folds down to add cargo space beyond the trunks basic capacity, which is 13.2 cubic feet in the coupe and 13.6 cubic feet in the sedan. A standard center console contains slots for coins, cassettes and CDS, as well as five cupholders three for front occupants and two for rear passengers.
A CD player is standard in LS editions, and an optional sound system includes Radio Data System (RDS) technology. The RDS unit can interrupt regular programs, tapes and CDs to broadcast weather and traffic bulletins. GMs OnStar communication system, which is available only in the LS and LS Sport models, can provide automatic notification of airbag deployment, remote door unlocking, convenience services and roadside assistance.
Under the Hood
All Cavaliers use an Ecotec 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 140 horsepower and teams with either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission.
Antilock brakes and side-impact airbags are optional. GMs PassLock theft-deterrent system must read an electronic code embedded in the key before the engine will start.
Driving a Cavalier may not qualify as a memorable experience, but the long-lived Chevrolet subcompact is a capable and practical automobile that manages to exhibit a dash of sportiness at least in two-door form. The Cavaliers ride and handling set no standards, but this vehicle scores passably well on both counts by maneuvering with relative ease and yielding reasonable comfort. The occasional hard bump can produce quite a jolt inside the car. The seats are not great, but they rank as good.
Performance in the Cavalier should satisfy most drivers. The current 140-hp engine responds more eagerly than the former 115-hp base four-cylinder, and it isnt far removed from the Z24s acceleration capability. A manual shift isnt necessary in order to take advantage of the engines potential. The five-speed gearbox is a trifle rubbery, but it works acceptably and has long throws.
Despite its merits, the Cavalier continues to provide a rather old-fashioned feeling. For that reason, its hard to recommend against the current competition.