Chevrolet's smallest car got a fresh exterior look, including a restyled hood, grille and fascia, for the 2003 model year. The fenders and greenhouse were essentially unchanged, but the headlights and taillights were new. An antilock braking system was offered as an option rather than standard equipment.
Nothing has changed for 2005 except the compressed natural gas version was dropped from the lineup. With the emergence of the smaller Aveo and the new-for-2005 compact Cobalt, the role of the Cavalier is diminishing appreciably. Still, in 2003 the Cavalier headed Chevrolet's passenger-car lineup in sales, beating the full-size Impala.
Similar to the Pontiac Sunfire coupe, the front-wheel-drive Cavalier comes in both coupe and sedan forms. Base, LS and LS Sport trim levels are offered. A 140-horsepower, 2.2-liter four-cylinder Ecotec engine is standard in all models.
Both the two- and four-door versions have a 104.1-inch wheelbase and measure 182.7 inches long overall. The LS Sport model includes ground-effects body components, chrome-plated aluminum wheels, a rear spoiler, rocker moldings, integrated fog lamps and an FE2 sport suspension.
The Cavalier's front end displays Chevrolet's gold bowtie emblem. These compact cars can be equipped with a high-profile rear spoiler, chrome-plated aluminum wheels and body-colored door handles.
All Cavalier models have five seating positions, although using all three in back would make most adults feel cramped. The rear seatback folds down to add cargo space beyond the trunk's basic capacity, which is 13.2 cubic feet in the coupe and 13.6 cubic feet in the sedan. The center console contains slots for coins, cassettes and CDs, as well as cupholders for front and rear passengers.
A CD player is standard in upper-end models, and a CD/MP3 radio is optional. General Motors' OnStar communication system, which is available in the LS and LS Sport, can provide automatic notification of airbag deployment, remote door unlocking, convenience services and roadside assistance. XM Satellite Radio is also available.
Under the Hood
A 2.2-liter four-cylinder Ecotec engine develops 140 hp and teams with either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission.
Antilock brakes and side-impact airbags are available, and all five seating positions have three-point seat belts. GM's PassLock theft-deterrent system must read an electronic code embedded in the key before the engine will start, so unauthorized duplicates will not work.
Driving a Cavalier might not qualify as a memorable experience, but the long-lived compact is a capable and practical automobile that manages to exhibit a dash of sportiness — at least in two-door form. Its 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 Cavalier's performance should satisfy most drivers. The current 140-hp engine responds eagerly; a manual transmission isn't necessary to take advantage of the engine's potential. Although the five-speed manual is a trifle rubbery and has long throws, it works acceptably.
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