The Detroit News's view

In the Nasty Nineties, will the pretty new Ford Taurus take a back seat to the practical, if somewhat plain vanilla 1996 Chevrolet Lumina?

What the Lumina gives up in looks, it gains in roominess and a slightly cheaper price tag. For a lot of families, that may be enough to make the difference. Plus Chevrolet wisely added a few enhancements to make you feel like you’re not giving up all that much.

He: I think of the Lumina as less of an automobile and more of an appliance – kind of like a Maytag washer. Not very sexy, but functional as all heck. In that sense, it’s probably the perfect family vehicle. The ’96 Lumina LS that we drove also looked and felt much tighter than the early ’95 model we drove more than a year ago. The only real problem I had with this car was the switch on the power driver’s seat, which stuck open one cold morning when I tried to move the seat back.

She: The only problem I had was that I felt like Woody Allen in the movie Bananas.

He: My whole life with you feels like the movie Bananas.

She: You don’t get it. Remember that Woody played the products tester who was totally inept and kept getting banged around by the executive exercise desk and the electrically heated toilet seat. Most of the time I felt very cozy in the Lumina, but that front door design’s gotta go. The upper corner of the door comes to a sharp point and you’ve got to watch it. I actually hit myself in the face with the passenger side door when I was shutting it and knocked a filling out of my tooth. Do auto writers get Purple Hearts?

He: Quit whining. Woody Allen would probably love to trade jobs with you. I didn’t have any problem with the doors. In fact, I really appreciate how generous they seem compared to the ones on the Taurus. I actually banged my head getting into the back seat of the Taurus. No such problem with the Lumina. Speaking of the back seat, there’s oodles of room. You get lots more head and shoulder room, although the Taurus still has the edge in rear leg room.

She: And it’s got the edge in terms of vanity mirrors. Will someone please tell those sexist interior designers at Chevrolet to put a lighted vanity mirror on the driver’s side, too? I hate it when they put a lighted one on the passenger side. What kind of assumption is that? The upscale Taurus LX has two lighted mirrors.

He: No guy gives two hoots about a lighted vanity mirror. Let’s talk about horsepower. The Lumina’s optional twin-cam 3.4-liter V-6 has considerably more grunt than the Taurus’ twin-cam 3.0 V-6. You really notice the extra 15 horses with a full load of passengers. But, hey, guys can be sensitive, too. I mean, I helped with the grocery shopping this week, didn’t I, honey? Did you notice we managed to squeeze in about $300 worth of food into that trunk? I checked the Taurus for trunk space and it’s just about a toss-up. The difference is you can reach the back of the Lumina’s trunk without too much trouble.

She: It may come as a surprise to you, even with an emergency visit to the dentist, that I actually liked the Lumina. I drove it down to Toledo one morning, when I had a taste for one of the Tony Packos Hungarian hot dogs that Klinger always raved about on the TV show MASH. It’s a very soothing car with great little touches like separate temperature controls in front for the driver and passenger and a new optional integrated child seat. Plus, it’s easy to drive and park and roam around in. I hit a snowstorm in Ohio and felt very secure in the Chevrolet, especially with the LS’s standard anti-lock brakes. I really could have cared less that the exterior styling was a bit clunky-looking.

He: A very mom-like response. Haven’t I heard you say the same things about your Maytag?

She: It’s actually quieter than my Maytag and runs just as smoothly. Chevy added some stuff to reduce noise, vibration and harshness on the ’96 Lumina. And the car has nice ride, like the best b in the Goldilocks story – not too hard, not too soft, but just right.

He: Oh, boy. A test drive that reads like a fairy tale. How Grimm . . .

She: With my tooth, you might say it was a fractured fairy tale.

1996 Chevrolet Lumina LS

Anita’s rating: (above average)

Paul’s rating: (above average)

What we liked: New optional child seat; separate temp controls; roomy, secure cabin; nice price; powerful engine

What we didn’t like: Pointy doors (Anita); no driver’s lighted vanity mirror (Anita); not as pretty as the competition.

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger sport sedan.

Price: Base, $18,055; as tested, $21,379 (inc. $540 destination charge).

What’s new for ’96: Platinum-tip spark plugs; integral rear child safety seat optional; optional driver/passenger temperature controls; optional leather upholstery; optional sunroof; four-wheel disc brakes (with optional 3.4-liter V-6).

Standard equipment: Air conditioning, automatic transmission, AM-FM stereo with cassette, power door locks, power steering, tilt steering column, Scotchguard fabric protection, intermittent wipers, power windows, center armrest, power mirrors.

Safety features: Dual air bags, antilock brakes (standard on LS), side impact door beams, child-proof rear door locks, integral rear child safety seat (optional), anti-theft system.

Options on test vehicle: Custom cloth bucket seats ($48), rear defogger ($170), 3.4-liter V-6 engine ($1,095), 16-inch aluminum wheels ($300), P225/60R16 radial tires ($190), AM-FM stereo with CD player ($93), six-way power driver seat ($300), preferred equipment group 1, inc. keyless remote entry, cruise control, power trunk opener, driver and passenger temp control, front and rear carpeted floor mats ($625).

EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city/26 mpg highway.

Engine: 3.4-liter V-6; 215-hp at 5200 rpm; 220 lb-ft torque at 4400 rpm.

Transmission: Four-speed automatic.

Competitors: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Dodge Intrepid, Ford Taurus, Pontiac Grand Prix, Buick Regal, Buick Century, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, Oldsmobile Ciera.

Specifications: Wheelbase, 107.5 inches; overall length, 200.9 inches; curb weight, 3372 pounds; legroom, 42.4 inches front/36.6 inches rear; headroom, 38.4 inches front/37.4 inches rear; shoulder room, 58.4 inches front/58.4 inches rear.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $876

Rates based on an average family of four from the Livonia area whose primary driver is aged 40 with no tickets who drives 3-10 miles each way to work. Rates reflect multicar discount and, where appropriate, discounts for air bags and seat belts.

Where built: Oshawa, Ontario

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