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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Flammang
April 15, 2002
Vehicle Overview The two-door Monte Carlo coupe has served as Chevrolets entrant into NASCAR racing, though the stock car has nothing mechanically in common with production models. The 2000 models received bold, race-inspired restyling, which moved them from midsize to full-size proportions on a new platform. These changes created a dramatic look that belies the Monte Carlos kinship to the four-door Impala sedan, yet both vehicles ride the same front-drive platform and employ the same V-6 engines.
Separate driver and passenger temperature settings for the air conditioning unit are new standards for 2002. LATCH child-seat tethers are installed, along with a three-piece seat belt in the center rear position. A 180-horsepower, 3.4-liter V-6 engine goes into the LS version, while the sportier SS coupe uses a 200-hp, 3.8-liter V-6. Both team with a four-speed-automatic transmission.
A special Monte Carlo SS Dale Earnhardt Signature Edition debuted in October 2001 and is sold by selected Chevrolet dealers. Only 3,333 of the special editions will be produced, between October 2001 and March 2002. Inspired by the late NASCAR driver and owner, the black Signature Edition is basically a High Sport model with a red racing stripe along its bottom and Galaxy Silver Metallic ground-effects body components below. Earnhardts signature, No. 3 and Intimidator script appear inside and out. Ebony seats have pewter leather seating surfaces. Red Chevy bow tie emblems are embroidered on the headrests, and No. 3 Intimidator script in pewter appears on the floormats. Chevrolet will make a donation to the Foundation for the Carolinas from each purchase of this special-edition model.
Exterior The Monte Carlo exhibits a unique appearance that includes a longer sloping hood and a different grille and headlights than the Impala. Character lines are etched into the front fenders and rear side panels. Vertical taillights and badge lettering are reminiscent of those installed on Monte Carlos of the 1970s.
Measuring 197.9 inches long on a 110.5-inch wheelbase, the LS and SS models ride on 16-inch wheels and tires. Each model is 72.3 inches wide and 55.2 inches tall. The SS coupe includes a firmer suspension, cast-aluminum wheels, fog lamps and a rear spoiler.
Monte Carlos with the High Sport option group, which serves as the basis for the special Dale Earnhardt Signature Edition, have a sport suspension, race-inspired front cooling ducts, all-disc brakes, a race-inspired rear spoiler, full-perimeter ground-effects components and diamond-cut 16-inch aluminum wheels. A Sport Appearance Package for the LS coupe includes five-spoke aluminum wheels and a rear spoiler.
Interior The front bucket seats in both models permit five-passenger occupancy. The roomy Monte Carlo is wide enough to hold three passengers in the backseat, though its actually shaped for two. A standard split, rear seatback folds down to supplement the trunk, which has a 15.8-cubic-foot capacity.
The Monte Carlos dashboard is nearly identical to that of the Impala, and all major controls are large, handy and well lit at night. On the negative side, the interior has plenty of lightweight, cheap-feeling plastic.
Under the Hood The LS coupe uses a 3.4-liter V-6 engine that produces 180 hp, while a 200-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 goes into the SS coupe. These engines are also used in the Impala, and both team with a four-speed-automatic transmission. Traction control is standard on the SS but is not available on the LS.
Safety Antilock brakes are standard. A side-impact airbag is installed on the drivers side of the SS coupe.
Driving Impressions Despite its shapely two-door profile, the Monte Carlo drives a lot like the Impala, which is no surprise considering how much the two models share mechanically. Even so, the Monte feels like a sportier machine, especially when eager young people give it a thumbs-up as it passes by. Its doors are much larger and heavier than the front doors of the Impala, and they require a lot of room to open fully. For that reason, getting in and out becomes awkward in tight parking spots.
In nearly every aspect, the Monte Carlo and especially the SS version ranks as good to excellent, but not exceptional. It is truly American throughout and has a strong powertrain. The Monte Carlo delivers a relatively smooth ride on most surfaces. The SSs firm suspension doesnt react in a totally controlled manner over seriously rough pavement.
Occupants enjoy abundant interior space, but thick rear roof pillars can be a problem in terms of over-the-shoulder visibility. Automatic-transmission performance is smooth and easy, with only a brief hesitation when downshifting. The Monte is easy to drive, despite a rather heavy feel all around, and it suffers from slightly numb steering. Maneuverability is acceptable, but this coupe cannot qualify as truly agile. Engine noise is nicely muted. The big trunk is easy to load, but the glove box is small. This car feels solid and tight, but its not up to European standards.