What's New for 1997
Performance-oriented Lumina LTZ debuts, with a spoiler, special front and rear styling, graphics and alloy wheels. Daytime running lamps are standard on all Luminas, and the power sunroof expected last year finally arrives. New colors and an oil life monitor round out changes to Lumina for 1997.
While in college, one of our staffers attended the 1989 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich. The 1990 Chevrolet Lumina was displayed at the show in coupe and sedan form, and this young man thought the vehicle was some kind of funky, ill-conceived concept car, like those oddly shaped safetymobiles created during the 1970s. Few showgoers even seemed to notice the silly silver Lumina as he inspected the angular styling, all the while wondering if GM had missed the boat on Ford's success with the Taurus. When the Lumina hit the streets for the 1990 model year, he couldn't help but laugh every time one passed him on the street. Amazingly, the Lumina went on to become a bestseller, due in part to strong fleet sales.
These days, a different Lumina prowls Chevy showrooms. In 1995, Chevrolet revamped the car. It was a vast improvement over the first-generation model, offering dual airbags housed in an ergonomically-correct, straight-forward dashboard. The exterior shape is modern and, dare we say, attractive. Even more amazing, the Lumina performs well, although the feel of the car really doesn't transmit any inkling of performance capability thanks to poor brake pedal feel and vague, disconnected steering.
Still, the numbers are there, and when equipped with the optional 3.4-liter V6 the Lumina is just as nimble as upscale rivals from Chrysler and Ford. Braking and cornering abilities are not extraordinary for the class, but the Lumina nonetheless keeps itself planted to terra firma with little fanfare. This year, Chevy rolls out the Lumina LTZ, which is a sporty interpretation featuring wheels from the Monte Carlo Z34, a spoiler, and unique front and rear styling treatments. Evidently, this is supposed to help sport sedan shoppers get over the loss of the Impala SS. Fat chance.
Chevy engineers claim the current-generation Lumina is the result of intensive consumer clinics, and the car was designed in accordance with the research findings. Styling was not a strong issue among sedan buyers, a point well proven by the popularity of the previous-generation Lumina. Fortunately, Chevy saw fit to give the Lumina a tidy, attractive look that is marred only by a somewhat characterless and protruding proboscis. Inside, seats could use more support and firmer padding. Controls, however, are easy to see and use, and fabrics are treated with Scotchgard to repel the occasional Dairy Queen spill.
The optional 3.4-liter V6 from last year was scheduled to join the options list for the new LTZ this year, but warm start problems delayed production of the engine, and all 3.4 motors are slated for the Monte Carlo during 1997. This means the LTZ gets the same powertrain found in the base Lumina, but an early-release 1998 LTZ model is expected this summer with GM's excellent 3800 Series II V6 under the hood.
For 1997, Chevrolet again took the advice of its customers to refine the Lumina. In a bid to snare safety-conscious buyers, daytime running lamps are standard across the board. Two new colors debut: Dark Jade Green Metallic (thumbs up) and Deep Purple Metallic (thumbs down). A power sunroof finally makes it to production after delays during 1996. An oil life monitor tells you when to change your oil, and the tethered fuel cap is easier to twist on and off.
With a competent car and a pricing structure that undercuts Ford and Chrysler, Chevy's Lumina offers a fine blend of function, value and performance. This is one GM product that was done right the first time.