Used 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1997

The Rally Sport (RS) trim is available for 1997 on the coupe and slotted between base and Z24 editions of the Cavalier. RS trim nets buyers the rear spoiler from the Z24, 15-inch tires, AM/FM stereo, tachometer, interior and exterior trim upgrades and a 3D rear-quarter panel decal. Base coupes have new wheel covers and safety belt guide loops. All 1997 Cavaliers meet federal side-impact standards for the first time. One new interior color and three new exterior colors freshen the lineup.

Vehicle overview

For 15 years, the Cavalier has been a staple sales leader for Chevy dealers. Understandably so, because the Cavalier offers reasonable value and is priced low enough to compete favorably in the compact market, often undercutting smaller models from other manufacturers.

The second-generation Cavalier debuted in 1995, and not a moment too soon. A very good car, this recently designed Cavalier, offering adequate room for four adults, decent performance, and acceptable interior accommodations. Styling is attractive and contemporary, and there is a model to suit almost everyone's needs.

GM's venerable 2.2-liter four cylinder, whose droning exhaust note you are no doubt familiar with, is standard in the Cavalier. Equipped with this powerplant, the Cavalier lags behind its primary competition, the Dodge Neon, in power and acceleration. Optional in LS sedan and convertible is a 2.4-liter twin-cam engine hooked to a four-speed automatic transmission that features traction control (a five-speed manual gearbox is a credit option on the LS convertible). The Cavalier is a much more livable car with this engine, and we wish that Chevrolet offered this powertrain in base models as well. The twin-cam engine is standard in the sporty Z24 coupe. Manually shifted Z24s are as quick as the Neon Sport Coupe from rest to 60 mph.

Changes to this successful formula are minimal for 1997. A new trim level, dubbed Rally Sport, is available in coupe format. The RS includes Z24 bodyside moldings and spoiler with body-color fascias, special badging, and larger tires. According to press materials, a three-dimensional decal is slapped onto the rear quarter panels of the RS. Hmmm...who thought this was a good idea, Beavis?

Additional changes include new exterior paint colors, a new light gray interior color, and revised wheel covers on the base coupe. Coupes also receive safety belt guide loops. All Cavaliers get a new easy-open gas cap and side-impact protection that meets new government regulations. Order the Exterior Appearance Package on a base model, and get a body-color grille insert.

Overall, we think Chevy has a winner here. The styling is attractive and contemporary. The interior is comfortable and well laid-out. Anti-lock brakes are standard equipment. And, best of all, the price is dead on; low enough to make the Geo Metro sedan an exercise in redundancy. We recommend that you check out the Cavalier if a compact car fits your needs.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.