What's New for 1998
Last year's aborted LTZ sport sedan comes on strong for 1998, with a 200-horsepower 3800 V6 engine and machine-faced aluminum wheels. Four new exterior colors and one new interior color are also available on all Lumina models. To help give Lumina a more upscale image than Malibu, an OnStar Mobile Communications system is a dealer-installed option. Second-generation airbags are standard equipment.
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, straightforward 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 3800 V6 the Lumina LTZ 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. The LTZ was originally due for the 1997 model year, but at the last minute, production was severely curtailed due to a lack of a powerful engine option. A twin-cam 3.4-liter V6 was supposed to go into the LTZ last year, but rumored durability issues forced Chevrolet to dedicate all production of that motor to the Monte Carlo Z34. During the delay, designers concocted machine-faced aluminum wheels for the LTZ. Evidently, these are 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 that 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. For 1998, the Lumina can be equipped with GM's OnStar Mobile Communications system, which uses a cellular phone and global positioning satellite (GPS) to pinpoint the car's location for emergency purposes. The system can also be used to get directions when the driver is lost, or book reservations at a restaurant or on a flight.
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, just like the new Malibu, which should be investigated closely by buyers interested in the Lumina. It's almost as big, is more comfortable and carries a lower price tag.