What's New for 1999
Deep Purple paint is gone. First year for the optional OnStar communications system, a 24-hour roadside assistance network that is accessed through a dealer-installed cellular phone.
If the name Chevrolet Monte Carlo conjures up visions of tire-smoking personal luxury coupes of yore, then you're old enough to be disappointed by the 1999 Monte. Not that this car isn't good enough in its own right. It's just that it wears the Monte Carlo badge, and it's little more than a Lumina coupe. In other words, today's Monte Carlo is simply another marketing idea from the same folks who resurrected the Malibu nameplate. That's all fine and good if the new product is able to live up to the legend, like the Impala SS had done recently. But we think that Chevrolet should have made more of a styling statement with this car before slapping a once-proud nameplate on it.
Sure, the new-for-1998 200-horsepower 3800 V6 engine under the hood of the Z34 model is satisfying to put through its paces. In fact, its performance is downright stout as domestic midsize coupes go. And yes, this Monte Carlo rides and handles far better than its Lumina Z34 predecessor. But even in Z34 trim there's little to hide the fact that it's still a Lumina coupe. Bolt-ons such as the five-spoke alloy wheels, dual-outlet exhaust and optional rear spoiler don't do enough to give this car a distinct look and personality, which is what sold so many Montes back in the 1970s and '80s.
Chevy racing fans are quick to point out how this Lumin...er, Monte Carlo helped turn the tide against the blue- oval boys in those slick Thunderbirds over the last few NASCAR seasons. But stock car purists wince at the thought of taking a front-drive, V6-powered production car and campaigning it as a V8 rear-driver. At least Ford actually sold V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive T-Birds. So why didn't the Ford marketing boys beat up Chevy for that? Because when the Thunderbird went out of production, Ford replaced it on the NASCAR circuit with yep, the front-drive V6-powered Taurus!
The Monte Carlo enters a carryover year in the wake of last year's powertrain upgrade for the Z34 from the old twin-cam 3.4 to the torquey 3.8-liter, hooked to the beefy 4T65-E electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. (Power for the base LS model comes from the 3100 V6, which makes a respectable 160 horses.) The 3800 is an award-winning engine that cranks out its 225 foot-pounds of torque across a wide throttle range while delivering world-class refinement. Despite tipping the scales at 3400-plus pounds, the Z34 accelerates with authority. Though both the LS and Z34 feature four-wheel ABS, only the Z34 packs four-wheel discs inside a set of P225/60R-16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A performance tires.
We've noticed improved build quality on the Monte of late, but even well-screwed-together and well-equipped examples fail to excite us -- Z34 included. Perhaps we just can't get past the Monte Carlo's oh-so- vanilla styling that renders it nearly invisible on the road. Lucky for Chevy that the list of competitors is dwindling. Yes, there's a Pontiac Grand Prix coupe, but it is higher up the price ladder. Chrysler and Dodge offer the Sebring and Avenger, respectively, but beyond their good looks lurks a lack of power and refinement. And yes, we know that the Contour-based 1999 Mercury Cougar has flashy coupe lines and a sweet chassis, but it lacks a real performance engine and it's a much smaller car. Consequently, if you're looking for a moderately priced, midsize American coupe, your top choice remains the Monte Carlo.