Classic CARmentary: 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Convertible

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

I stand by the statement that I make in the first paragraph, that the Chevy Cavalier was “one of the best economy car values in the U.S.”  By 1999, the Cavalier was older than Methuselah, and the novelty of the 1995 “redesign” had pretty much worn off (Does throwing new body panels onto the Corsica/Beretta J-body-cousin-L-body platform and replacing the optional V6 with the latest version of the Quad-4 really count as  a redesign?).  GM had long since given up the comical delusion that the Cavalier was the up-market Accord competitor it had intended at its 1981 introduction.  What that meant was a perfectly reasonable MSRP which was enhanced by literally thousands and thousands of dollars in discounts and rebates all year long.  It wasn’t unusual with a little haggling to drive away in a decently-equipped new Cavalier for about the price of a Tercel.  With the 2.2-liter OHV engine and 3-speed automatic, the powertrain was guaranteed to outlast the rest of the car.

In my first big-boy job with a national accrediting agency, I traveled around the country and had spent time in both previous and this generation Cavalier rentals, and was always impressed.  For basic, somewhat comfortable transportation, it was hard to beat the Cavalier for value.

Unfortunately, all of that honest goodness was lost trying to turn the Cavalier into a sporty convertible.  I would like to say that I at least enjoyed putting the top down, but they gave me this car in December, so it was much too cold for that.  My wife and I drove it from our Arlington, VA home to Winchester to visit some friends, and the 90-minute trip was less than pleasant.  I was happier to see this car go the following Monday than any other car I drove during my stint.

For some reason, I stopped printing my reviews for several months, so I’m not sure exactly when, or even if, this and most of the following reviews were posted.

The Chevy Cavalier is one of the best economy car values in the U.S., and has been for some time. What makes a great economy car, however, doesn’t necessarily make a great sporty convertible.

Our Z24, which is the only convertible trim available, had the classic bright red paint with arctic white top color scheme. However, Chevy carried the white inside, creating a strange white, grey, and charcoal tri-color interior which is tacky at best. The high back bucket seats in the base Cavalier are quite comfortable, but this one had optional vinyl bucket seats with driver side adjustable lumbar support that are by far the most uncomfortable seats I’ve experienced in my career. The driver’s seat pokes you in the back with the lumbar off, and engaging the lumbar support feels like someone stuck a 2×4 between your back and the seat. The gauges are clear, the controls are logical, and the fat, padded steering wheel was a pleasure to grip. Like most convertibles, the thick C-pillars and tiny glass rear window create bad blind spots, which standard dual power mirrors fortunately help overcome. The rear seat is understandably tight, but trunk room is larger than you would guess, and an unexpected pleasure was the fold-down rear seat.

“Z24″ means that this model is powered by GM’s 150-horsepower, 2.4 liter DOHC four-cylinder engine – the latest iteration of the old “Quad 4.” While numerous improvements have helped tame this engine over the last 10 years, it’s still loud and rough compared to the majority of the competition. As acceleration is quite strong with either transmission, most buyers will be happiest with the optional automatic over the notchy manual. The ride is active, and less-than-smooth roads ignite a cacophony of cowl shake, squeaks, and rattles.

But grab the handle that automatically lowers the top and windows in less than a minute, and the world changes. The flush top accentuates the Cavalier’s sleek shape, and you just can’t help but look good in this car. Just be sure to check out the comparatively priced V6 Mustang before you buy.

For more information contact 1-800-CHEVY-70


Type: Two-door Convertible
Engine: 150-horsepower, 2.4 liter inline-4
Transmission: Five-speed Manual
EPA Mileage: 23 city/33 highway
Tested Price: $20,286

P.S.  Thanks to AutoEvolution for the manufacturer photo of my color scheme in the appropriate size!