EXPERT REVIEW

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$15,995.

Yes, only $15,995.

A midsize sedan boasting new sheet metal, a more powerful engine and dualair bags as standard, yet it’s yours today (actually July, but why spoil thespiel?) for $15,995.

Yes, $15,995. A well-equipped midsize Chevy Lumina sedan that only needstwo options, anti-lock brakes at $386 and rear-window defroster at $164 andyou are on your way to happy motoring at minimum debt load. (Anti-lock brakesare standard in all but the $15,995 base model.)

Makes you feel good all over, unless you’re a Saturn dealer peddlingcompact SL1/SL2 sedans approaching, if not passing, $16,000, or aDodge/Plymouth dealer selling a subcompact Neon promoted at “only $8,995″until the options are added and it rolls out the door with a $13,000 mortgage,or a Ford dealer who has to wait until 1996 for a new Taurus body style toappear and whose current lowest-priced Taurus GL starts at $16,775, $780 morethan Lumina.

And it makes you feel good all over unless you’re a Chevy dealer who wasasked-asked?-to accept a 3 percentage point cut in his margin on the Lumina,to 15 percent from 18, to keep the ’95 price only $165 higher than the ’94price, despite the addition of dual air bags as standard. That means thedealer pays the factory more for the car; don’t expect him to slash $1,000 offthe price and throw in a free set of lawn furniture to entice you to buy.

Last week Chevy unveiled to the news media the ’95 Lumina sedan and whathad been the Lumina coupe but now is newly named the ’95 Monte Carlo coupe.The Monte Carlo name last was used on Chevy’s rear-wheel-drive midsize coupein the ’88 model year.

Chevy plans to bring back other old names as well, such as Malibu, for theremake of the compact Corsica in the 1997 model year.

Too bad Chevy didn’t bring back an old name to replace the humdrum Luminamoniker.

The front-wheel-drive Lumina becomes available in July in base andtop-of-the-line LS versions; Monte Carlo in June in LS and top-of-the-line Z34version. Frank Burridge, Lumina/Monte Carlo project manager, said Chevyexpects the base Lumina to account for 55 percent of sales of sedans andcoupes combined.

The base Lumina might be the best seller based on price, but the Lumina LSsedan with the optional 3.4-liter V-6, upgraded 16-inch tires and sportssuspension probably will be the best car in terms of performance. It should bea worthy rival to the Pontiac Grand Prix GT if price (add $1,097 to the LuminaLS for those options) is no object. The Monte Carlo Z34 offers the 3.4,16-inch tires and sports suspension as standard, but it’s a coupe in a worlddemanding sedans.

GM’s 3.1-liter V-6 engine, standard in all but the Z34, gets a needed20-horsepower boost, to 160. GM’s 3.4-liter, 24-valve, 210-horsepower V-6 isoptional in the Lumina LS and standard in the Z34. A four-speed automatic isthe only transmission in all the cars.

While Lumina and Monte Ca rlo sport new styling, the design doesn’t jump outand grab you in either model. The side profile is very Buick-like. A fewstyling differences separate the coupe and sedan. The Monte Carlo’s grille hasa single opening, while the Lumina’s has a double one. The “bow tie” logo isblue on the Lumina and red on the Monte Carlo. The wheel covers are different,and the taillights are slightly different. The new rear-end styling on bothmakes the cars appear narrower than past models, yet dimensions remain thesame and trunk space is good, despite protruding wheel-well openings in thecompartment.

Conclusions after testing all the models:

The base Lumina, with its 160-horsepower V-6, is quicker off the line thanthe ’94, but when you pull out to pass, allow yourself some added room tobuild up momentum. The suspension is softly sprung. You’ll get a lot of roadfeel back into the wheel and seat.

The Lumina LS we drove had the 3.1, too, but it rode and handled better,tha nks to larger, 16-inch Goodyear RSA tires (standard in the Z34) thatgripped the road better than the 15-inch Michelin tires standard on all butthe Monte Carlo Z34. Still, there’s lots of play in the suspension. By movingup to the LS you get an upgraded interior plus anti-lock brakes and powerwindows as standard.

The Monte Carlo LS also came with the 3.1 and 16-inch treads. The seats inboth Luminas were cloth-covered, and the backs were a bit stiff. The MonteCarlo offers leather, which is softer and more comfortable duringlong-distance driving.

The Monte Carlo Z34 comes with the noticeably more spirited 3.4-liter V-6,which responds immediately to pedal pressure. Pass, merge or climb a hill andthe 3.4 doesn’t work up a sweat. And the sports suspension has exceptionalroad manners. Though stiffer than the base suspension, it transmits littleroad harshness, thanks to recalibrated springs and shocks. The car hugs theroad, and the body sits flat in sharp corners at speed. The seats aresupportive and hold you in place when driving aggressively. The combination ofthe 3.4, 16-inch Goodyears and the sports suspension puts you more in harmonywith the highway. A thick steering wheel adds to driver control.

Prices are $15,995 for the base Lumina, $17,495 for the LS, $17,295 for theMonte Carlo LS and $19,495 for the Monte Carlo Z34.

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