Fun and sense often are at odds, especially when it comes to cars. A Ferrari 355 Spider is fun — pretty, fast, sexy. But it makes little sense. A Toyota Camry is wonderfully sensible. Ditto a Honda Accord. But neither makes me smile. They are emotional duds.
Thus, it can be argued that I’m a bit of a snob — lusting after the unattainable while snubbing the readily available.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! I’m guilty as sin, and have no desire to repent. I love pretty, fast, sexy. But I have a saving grace.
I also love things Chevrolet, including this week’s test car, the 1998 Lumina LTZ.
I love Chevrolet for precisely the opposite reasons that I’m taken with Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and sometimes Ferrari. Chevrolet is anti-status, in-your-face, anti-Beltway. It’s the car or truck for people inclined to celebrate funk — some ordinary thing that has been turned into something flip, hip, fun, desirable beyond its observable givens.
Which is what Chevrolet did with the Lumina LTZ. Looked at one way, it’s a remarkably normal car, a work of missionary lines and occasional curves, easily adaptable to church or soccer field parking lots. But on the highway, the LTZ becomes a bold, officious thing — a police car sans badge.
It rises up on its haunches, lowers its nose, and whoosh! Other motorists slow down when they see it. No one ever does that for a Camry or an Accord, or a Porsche, for that matter. But people pause for the LTZ, check it out, give it respect. That’s power — and fun. And, considering the LTZ’s other notable qualities, it’s inarguably sensible.
Background: Auto size categories no longer make sense. Take the Lumina LTZ. The Environmental Protection Agency, belying reality, calls it a “mid-size” car. Fact is, the front-wheel-drive LTZ is Chevrolet’s full-size sedan.
With a split-bench seat up front, the LTZ accommodates six adults comfortably. With two front bucket seats, as was the case in the test car, the LTZ seats five, three of whom easily fit in the rear.
The trunk is capacious, 15.5 cubic feet. It handles two fully loaded duffle bags and three smaller travel cases with no problems.
The tested, optional3.8-liter, sequentially fuel-injected, V-6 engine is big, too, at least in terms of performance. It can produce 200 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 225 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. That means smooth, steady acceleration — no jack-rabbit starts, no distressing downshifts during highway lane changes.
A standard 3.1-liter, 160-horsepower V-6 is available for all civilian versions of the Lumina– the Lumina Sedan, LS Sedan and LTZ Sedan. The LTZ is closest to the Lumina Police Package, especially when equipped with the 3.8 V-6.
An electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmission is standard. The LTZ, when equipped with the 3.8-liter V-6, also gets four-wheel, power disc brakes with anti-lock backup. Standard brakes include power front discs/rear drums. Anti-lock s are optional on the base Lumina Sedan.
One of the most notable, non-drive train options is General Motors Corp.’s OnStar system, previously restricted to GM’s Cadillac line. Using a cellular phone, a 24-hour OnStar staff and satellite navigation technology, OnStar can unlock your car if you lock your keys inside; it can automatically send emergency assistance in the event of a crash that triggers an airbag deployment; and it can direct you to that little, out-of-the-way restaurant — all for about $1,300.
1998 Chevrolet Lumina LTZ
Complaints: My redundant complaint about most GM cars — those big, fat “A” pillars that frame the windshield and, sometimes, compromise peripheral vision.
Praise: The feel and heft of the LTZ. The delightful simplicity of its instrument panel. Theway the car “wears” well for any occasion — a daily commute, valet parking at high-brow restaurants and parties, Saturday errands, court appearances.
Ride, acceleration and handlin : Competitive in all three categories with anything in the affordable “mid-size” category — affordable meaning base prices ranging from $17,000 to $20,000. Excellent braking.
Head-turning quotient: Snaps necks even though the exterior design is getting a bit long in the tooth. Credit its resemblance to a police cruiser.
Mileage: With the 3.8-liter V-6, about 24 miles per gallon (16.6-gallon tank, estimated 383-mile range on usable volume of regular unleaded), running mostly highway with two occupants and a fully loaded trunk.
Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with console-mounted, single-disc CD player, by Delco Electronics. Very good.
Price: Base price $19,745. Dealer invoice on base model is $18,067. Price as tested is $21,611, including $1,316 in options (3.8-liter V-6, 16-inch diameter radial tires, aluminum wheels and other accessories) and a $550 destination charge.
Purse-strings note: Excellent value. Compare with Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable, Chrysler Concorde/Dodge Intrepid, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord.