EXPERT REVIEW

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No matter what the weather looks like today, fun in the sun is fast approaching.

In preparation, Chevrolet Motor Division has taken the wraps off its all-new 1995 Cavalier LS convertible.

Created for the free spirit, the Cavalier softtop offers a host of unique features meant to appeal to those with a yen for open-air motoring.

“I expect we’ll get them about June,” said Al Young, president of Dan Young Chevrolet-Geo-Honda-Isuzu. “They’re sort of a halo car. As a convertible, they add some sparkle to the whole line.”

This Cavalier adds some sparkle to itself in that it isn’t a chopped-up coupe. From the outset, the droptop was designed, engineered and built as a convertible.

There’s no cutting and welding of bulkhead structures to give a coupe body stiffness once the roof has been removed. Underbody paneling, rocker panels and front and rear reinforcement components are built right into the body for a more rigid structure.

The aerodynamic theme of the convertible’s lower body paneling conforms to that of the Cavalier coupe from the General Motors Corp. division. The LS embraces a low front nose that flows back to the windshield. The upper doorsills follow a rising line that blends into a short rear deck.

The convertible top drops into a compartment behind the rear seats. Down, or even up, the car is a pretty racy-looking set of wheels.

Five people can whiz along in this little beauty, thanks to a full rear seat that can accommodate three occupants. And the rear seat back folds down to provide the same convenient storage capacity found in the Cavalier coupe.

The typical “goose neck” trunk hinge has been eliminated on the LS, and a spacious trunk accommodates golf clubs, skis and other portables. The large trunk space has been achieved through the use of a sophisticated six-bar link and a gas-strut trunk-hinge system.

An additional convenience offered rear-seat passengers when the top is down is the ability to enter and exit standing upright. That’s something you can’t do with the coupe.

A touch of rear-window automation is part of the convertible top. The operation has been enhanced with the introduction of a single center lever just above the rearview mirror.

To lower the power top, you simply push a release button and pull the lever downward to release the top from its windshield locking hinges, then pull the lever back so that it can drop into the storage compartment. Once the top is activated, the rear quarter windows are automatically lowered.

After raising the top, just reverse the procedure, pulling forward on the lever and locking the top in place. This activates the rear quarter window panels to automatically raise.

The rear glass area has been increased over previous Cavalier convertible models. Rocker moldings are standard to help protect lower body areas. There also is a standard rear-deck spoiler to channel air flow and provide a sporty appearance.

The three-piece boot cover is new with semi-rigid molded e nds. This makes it easier to install than the boot on the previous model, and it can be conveniently stored behind the rear seat back.

LS is more of a show car than a fire-breathing vehicle like Chevrolet’s Corvette or Camaro models. But it still has its performance quotient via a selection of engine and powertrain components.

Standard is a 2.2-liter single-overhead-cam engine that develops 120 horsepower. It’s mated to a three-speed automatic that is the required transmission with the 2.2 engine.

Chevrolet, however, hasn’t forsaken those spirited types who want to do their own shifting, and offers a five-speed manual gearbox as an option.

The preferred engine, I think, is an optional 2.3-liter Quad Four that develops 150 horsepower. This is the dual-overhead-cam, 16-valve four-cylinder pioneered by Oldsmobile, and it’s a pretty advanced piece of machinery.

When those four valves per cylinder get some air flow going, the dual cammer hits its power peak at a rousing 6,000 rpm . So this is the engine for those who want to hear the wind whistle past their ears.

For the more mundane types, the standard transmission is a four-speed automatic. The five-speeder is an option.

The LS, like the Cavalier coupe, benefits from a three-inch longer wheelbase and two-inch wider track than its predecessor. This has enabled the development of a progressive ride system and enhanced vehicle control.

The LS has seven-tenths of an inch more overall height than the Cavalier coupe, which, in turn, contributes to a touch more headroom.

Interior ergonomics are pretty much state of the art, with individual front bucket seats, sports-cluster instrumentation, dual air bags and the like. One feature I like, especially with a manual five-speed, is an oil-level sensor that turns on a warning light if the oil level gets too low.

A convertible is a niche vehicle, not a volume one, and the Cavalier LS falls in this category. However, it adds pizzaz to the Chevrolet line, and appeals to a specialty type of car buyer.

“The ladies like to drive around in them with the top down,” Young said. “Women constitute a strong market for convertibles, and this one is about the most economical one you can buy, for a car.

“We don’t have any prices as yet. But I’m going to guess it’s going to run about $20,000, and that will include some equipment.”

1995 Chevrolet Cavalier LS Base price: Not announcedType: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger convertibleEngine: 2.2 liters, OHC 4, 8 valves, fuel-injected, 120 horsepower, 130 foot-pounds of torqueTransmission: Three-speed automaticCurb weight: 2,838 poundsMileage: 23 mpg city, 33 mpg highwayWheelbase: 104.1 inchesLength: 180.3 inchesWidth: 67.4 inchesHeight: 53.9 inchesOptions: Premium stereo, five-speed manual transmission, Quad Four engine, power accessories, tilt wheel, cruise control, cast aluminum wheels.

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