CHEAP THRILLS are seen as passing fancies, low-life enjoyment. Idisagree. I’ve driven the 1995 Cavalier Z24 coupe.

The Z24 is a primo econohot — a hot little car that’s inexpensiveto buy and maintain. It’s my kind of car.

That surprises people who assume that, because I’m an auto writer,I’d be willing to spend big bucks on the fanciest car possible. Theyjust don’t get it.

To me driving is fun. Give me a good car that can kick butt on theopen road, and I’m happy. Give me a good car that can do that withoutcosting me one cent more than I need to pay, and I’m happier still.

Give me the Z24 or something like it. I’m not looking for prestige.I want reliable, durable, cost-efficient pleasure. The Z24 offers thosethings. It’s the perfect car for people with open minds and closedwallets.

Background: I’ve always liked the Cavalier, even when it was a messof a machine in 1982, the year it was introduced. The car was sowonderfully cheap! It had a way of going and going, even while it wasfalling apart.

Cavaliers have gotten much better, both in terms of engineering andfit and finish. But, unfortunately, General Motors Corp.’s productionscheduling hasn’t improved similarly. The company can’t seem to get itright. Here GM is with a winner of a mobile, and it literally can’tproduce enough of them to meet consumer demand — a frustratingcircumstance that has Chevrolet dealers and customers waiting from twoweeks to a month.

Ah, well. The new Cavalier, particularly the Z24 coupe, is a nicelittle car. It’s been extensively reworked, which means it has anall-new body that, thankfully, has some sex appeal. The new Cavalieralso has a longer wheelbase and better suspension than the previousmodel, improvements that enhance the car’s ride and handling.

The new Cavalier’s interior is better too. It offers more room forthe legs and head than the previous model, and its driver’s seat is morecomfortable.

Dual air bags are standard in the Z24 and its siblings: theCavalier base coupe and sedan, the more upscale LS sedan, and the LSconvertible. All are front-wheel-drive cars equipped with frontdisc/rear drum brakes with four-wheel anti-lock backup.

A five-speed manual transmission is standard for all Cavaliers,except the LS sedan, which gets a standard three-speed automatic. Thatthree-speed automatic is optional for the base Cavalier coupe and sedan.An all-new, electronically controlled four-speed automatic is optionalfor the Z24.

For the base models, I recommend the five-speed manual, inasmuch asthe three-speed automatic is a bit of a dog. The four-speed automatic isexcellent for those Z24 buyers who dislike manual gearboxes.

The regular Cavaliers run with a 2.2-liter, in-line, four-cylinderengine rated 120 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. Torque is set at 130pound-feet at 4,800 rpm.

The Z24 gets GM’s much-improved 2.3-liter Quad 4 engine — afour-cylinder, 16-valve job rated 150 horsepower at 6,00 0 rpm withtorque set at 145 pound-feet at 4,800 rpm.

Complaints: Those silly, silly sideview mirrors! I mean, gofigure. The driver’s side mirror is operated with a manual lever frominside, which is okay. But the passenger’s side mirror requires steppingoutside to manipulate — that is, hands actually on the glass to get theproper angle. Talk about dumb and dumber.

Praise: Engineering and build; design; and road performance. Atriumvirate of excellence, especially considering the price.

Head-turning quotient: Cute, very cute.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Unbelievably good and smooth,especially for what is supposed to be a cheapie. I loved driving theZ24. Braking was excellent too.

Mileage: About 25 miles per gallon in the tested Z24 withfive-speed manual (15.2-gallon tank, estimated 380-mile range on usablevolume of regular unleaded gasoline), running mostly highway with lightcargo in the little car’s rather impressive 13.2-cubic feet trunk.

Sound ystem: Four-speaker AM/FM stereo radio and cassetteinstalled by GM/Delco. Decent.

Price: Base price on the Z24 with five-speed manual is $13,810.Dealer’s invoice on base model is $12,636. Price as tested is $14,295,including a $485 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: Excellent value. Compare with Pontiac Sunfire(its mechanical twin), Nissan Sentra (this is how you build and price asmall car, Nissan!), Ford Escort, Plymouth/Dodge Neon, Honda Civic andToyota Corolla.

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