EXPERT REVIEW

AZCentral.com's view

The Chevrolet Lumina is the automotive equivalent of a G-rated movie: There’s nothing to offend, but there’s nothing to get too excited about, either.

Well-equipped and moderately priced, Lumina soldiers on for 1998 as America’s generic family sedan.

Its looks may not thrill and its ride may not inspire, but the Lumina is a solid citizen that gets the job done with competence and a complete lack of pretense.

Lumina is Chevy’s biggest sedan, now that Caprice has crawled off to the elephant’s graveyard, and is a solid sales contender among the toughest gang in the neighborhood: midsize sedans.

Emphasizing dollar value, Lumina does battle against Ford Taurus, Honda Accord and Toyota, perennial favorites.

OK, so maybe Lumina keeps coming in fourth in sales figures, but at least it doesn’t trail too far behind. And it still outdistances the rest of the field by a long shot.

To spice up its plain-vanilla sedan, Chevy offers an LTZ package, adding a bit of a performance edge to the basic grocery getter.

New for ’98 is GM’s strong 3.8-liter V-6, packing enough punch to launch the Lumina from stoplights or allow it to cruise effortlessly at highway speed.

The optional engine, a major improvement over the standard 3.1-liter, 160-horse V-6, is teamed up with a stiffer suspension and high-performance tire-and-wheel package that pulls the Lumina right out of the doldrums. Still not thrilling, but at least quick, tight and enjoyable.

And here’s where the value equation comes in: Completely equipped with all the bells, whistles, stereo upgrades, power this, remote that and the performance package, the midsize Lumina weighs in at just a tad over $22 grand.

That’s pretty hard to beat, and it undercuts the fierce threesome by several thousand dollars each. The performance package, by the way, costs just $500 extra.

Although the value element of the Lumina is easy to pinpoint, the subjective view is a bit harder to fathom. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of past Luminas, respecting the value and integrity, but feeling unimpressed by their sluggish performance and sloppy driveability.

The ’98 LTZ, though, raises the Lumina several notches, in my judgment. The engine power is smooth and strong throughout its range, never in the least bit harsh, emitting a nasal exhaust roar under acceleration.

The electronic transmission mates well with the engine power, with appropriate shifting up or down.

The steering and suspension are still a might numb, but the platform feels solid and stable. The LTZ doesn’t feel as precise as a Germanic sports sedan, but on trips out the twisting Apache Trail or up South Mountain, the Lumina felt balanced and responsive.

The four-wheel disc brakes are highly effective and well-appreciated, once again proving how much better this setup stops an automobile than the front-disc/rear-drum design found in most moderately priced cars.

One improvement for ’98 involves the daytime running lights, a safety feature embraced across-the-board by General Motors. One problem with the lights is that drivers forget to turn on their regular lights at night.

Now, a sensor turns the headlights on automatically when it gets dark, and off when the sun is shining. Not a new or original feature, but uncommon in this price range.

Most of the complaints about the Lumina land in the interior, where the front seats are mushy, the rear seats are just fair, and the dashboard is bland and kind of ugly (especially the multicolored dual-climate-control stuck smack-dab in the top center).

A fairly large midsize car, the Lumina will seat six easily with a front bench or five with front buckets, as found in the LTZ. But with all the effort spent on dialing in the performance improvements for the LTZ, you’d think they could have developed some seats with decent support.

Either as a base model (the way 80 percent of the Luminas are sold), an upgraded LS or a sport LTZ, the Lumina represents a significant value, once you get past the uptight styling and stodgy image.

1998 Chevrolet Lumina

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive. Base price: $19,745. Price as tested: $22,329. Engine: 3.8-liter V-6, 200 horsepower at 5,200 rpm, 225 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. Transmission: Four-speed automatic. Curb weight: 3,420 pounds. Length: 200.9 inches. Wheelbase: 107.5 inches. Safety features: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes. EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 30 mpg highway. Highs: Moderate price. Good performance. High level of features. Lows: Ugly dashboard. Mushy seats. Stodgy image.

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