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Born in the early '80s, the Chevrolet Cavalier was General Motor's attempt to regain market share that had been lost to Japanese manufacturers who had been the first to recognize the public's need for compact, more fuel-efficient transportation. Though inferior to its competition in most respects, the Cavalier proved to be a hit with consumers, emerging as a consistent sales leader for Chevrolet.
The Cavalier's success was built in large part on the value it offered, though updates were few and far between. The Cavalier was on the market from 1982-2005, and in those 24 years, there were only two generations. Still, despite the fact that many models were built on aged platforms relative to the competition, the Chevrolet Cavalier enjoyed popularity, largely because of its irresistibly low price.
One significant factor to consider when deciding whether a Cavalier is right for you is safety. Throughout its life cycle, the Cavalier has received poor to lukewarm crash test scores. Another is overall quality. Cavaliers have suffered from build quality issues; subpar materials quality and outdated design were also problems, particularly with later models.
Resale value has been low for Cavaliers, making them an extremely affordable option. Still, in light of its shortcomings, we'd recommend that those shopping in this category consider other alternatives, such as later-model Korean imports.
Most Recent Chevrolet Cavalier
The Chevrolet Cavalier's second and most recent generation was built from model-year 1995-2005. Cavaliers built in 1995-2000 were available as sedans, coupes and convertibles, but as of 2001, drop-top versions of this Chevy were dropped from the lineup.
Trim levels varied over this generation's 10-year run. Chevrolet offered base, LS and Z24 trims for the majority of the time but later changed the lineup to just base, LS and LS Sport. The standard features list on base-model Cavaliers included little more than air-conditioning and an AM/FM stereo.
When the second-generation Chevy Cavalier was first unveiled, buyers had a choice of two engines. Base models were motivated by a 2.2-liter, 120-horsepower four-cylinder. Those seeking more power could choose a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine ("Quad4") good for 150 hp. After just one year, the 2.3-liter was replaced with an updated 2.4-liter version that also made 150 hp.
A new 2.2-liter, DOHC, 16-valve, "Ecotec" four-cylinder engine appeared in the Cavalier for the first time during the 2002 model year. While base Cavaliers continued with the ancient OHV 2.2-liter four and the Z24 still had the 2.4-liter unit, the 140-hp Ecotec was a clear improvement over any previous Cavalier power plant in terms of overall drivability and refinement. The 2.4-liter engine was dropped in 2003.
Although there weren't any redesigns in the final 10 years of the Cavalier's life, the model did see some upgrades. In 1999, the 2.4-liter engine was refined to improve reliability, emissions and fuel economy. And in 2000, the car was given a smoother-shifting manual transmission; its antilock brake system was also improved, and it saw exterior revisions like new body-colored front and rear fascias and new headlights and taillights. The car's exterior was updated once again in 2003, and XM Satellite Radio became available as an option. Audiophiles should know that in 2004, the base-model Cavalier was given an improved stereo, with CD and MP3 playback capability.
One unfortunate Cavalier hallmark is its dated interior. Build quality is subpar and materials quality leaves a lot to be desired. Seats also miss the mark when it comes to comfort. On the plus side, though, later models are available with both OnStar and XM Satellite Radio.
In editorial reviews, the Chevrolet Cavalier was praised for offering acceptable handling and power, and a reasonably compliant ride. Cons included a dated platform and poor crash test scores. In consumer reviews, the car was praised for its fuel economy but panned for its dull interior styling.
Past Chevrolet Cavaliers
The first-generation Chevy Cavalier existed from 1982-'94. Standard features amounted to little more than an AM/FM audio system. A Cavalier wagon was available, in addition to the coupe, sedan and convertible. (The wagon was dropped with the second generation.) There was also the sporty Z24 variant, which debuted in 1986 and offered a spunky V6, a firmer suspension, alloy wheels and obligatory tape graphics.
With such a long spell between redesigns, Cavaliers built in the '90s offered a positively ancient platform compared to the competition. The model did see some tweaks over the years, though. In 1991, the Cavalier received sheet metal revisions. The following year, ABS joined the standard features list, and base engines saw hp increase by 15 to 110. In 1994, base engines saw another horsepower boost, up 10 hp to 120. Air-conditioning, a sunroof and a CD player were all available as options.
Again, resale values on these Chevys are low. Other than bargain-basement prices, though, these older Cavaliers have little to offer.