JURY: We find the defendant, Mr. Carlo, guilty of section 1047R of the automotive penal code: willful fat-ass rear styling.
JUDGE JUDY: Order! Order in the court! Don't make me whack all of you with this gavel!
Wow. If we weren't in the automotive business, we'd all make fine television writers. But for the time being, we have a road test of a 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo to talk about. And yes, try as we might, we can't get over the styling. None of our Los Angeles-based editors (admittedly, a rather small and strange sampling of America's adult population) found the new Monte Carlo attractive. At all.
If you look at just the front half of the car, everything seems just fine. It might lack a bit of personality because there is no grille, but the headlights and tight lines coming off the fenders and hood give the car an aggressive look. Move your eyes to the middle of the car. Looks fine. Now further towards the back...Yikes! What happened? What's with the deep fender creases and ungainly proportions? The taillights are enclosed in clear plastic that extends past the trunk. When viewed from the side, there is a visible gap between the plastic and the light elements. One of our editors noted that this gap could be filled with water to serve as habitation for his daughter's goldfish. Chevrolet says the new styling was inspired from the Monte Carlos from the '70s and '80s. That's fine, but we think something went wrong during the inspiration process.
Hopefully, you get the point. We don't like the styling. Maybe you will. With that issue taken care of, let's move on, shall we?
The Monte Carlo is built on the same front-drive platform as the 2000 Chevy Impala. Dimensionally, the new Monte is longer and wider than the one it replaces. There are two versions for 2000: the LS with a 180-horspower, 3.4-liter V6, and the SS, with a 200-horsepower, 3.8-liter V6. The SS also gets a firmer suspension, performance-oriented tires, more standard features, a rear spoiler, dual exhaust, and sport aluminum wheels. We obtained an LS model for evaluation.
The LS does come with a healthy amount of standard features. Highlights would be dual front airbags, air conditioning, power windows and locks, and a split fold rear seat. For optional equipment, our test car came with an upgraded sound system with a CD and cassette player, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an electric sunroof, an electrochromic rearview mirror, and heated outside mirrors. It also had a driver information center (HomeLink garage-door opener, trip computer, outside temp gauge, compass, and anti-theft alarm), a power-operated seat and the LS preferred equipment package (cruise control, remote keyless entry, aluminum wheels, and cargo net).
The iron-block, OHV V6 isn't a top model of advanced technology, but it is torquey. It has also been used in various GM vehicles long enough that, by now, it should be damn near unbreakable. Stomp on the accelerator in first gear, and the Monte Carlo rewards you with a solid push in the back. But once the four-speed automatic transmission shifts into second, the excitement is just about over. The Monte Carlo SS provides additional power, but neither engine can match the refinement found in the Honda Accord V6 Coupe or the Toyota Camry Solara V6.
A more noticeable improvement on the 2000 Monte Carlo is in the ride and handling. The suspension is composed of MacPherson struts both front and rear, along with 225/60R16 tires. Again, not exactly the paradigm of sophistication, but it does provide a good level of ride comfort and stability. While traveling on tight canyon roads, the combination of the front-drive layout, turning, and braking quickly overburdens the front tires. Beyond that, however, the chassis is solid and the steering is linear. Things are certainly helped by a respectable base curb weight of 3340 pounds. Brake-pedal feel is rather wooden, but the actual performance of the braking system is acceptable.
The car feels most at home on freeways, where it is relaxed and easy to drive. We found the interior to generally be a good and quiet place to spend time. The rear seat is roomy and fairly easy to access. Our LS had an attractive looking charcoal-colored interior. The optional sound system featured radio data systems (RDS) technology, as well as speed-compensated volume. RDS is a neat feature, as it allows users to scan for specific types of music, as well as display radio call signs and emergency announcements. The only problem is that it requires radio stations to also have RDS. And in our experience, not many do. Sound quality was good with the CD player, but we thought actual FM radio performance to be lagging as the stereo didn't pull in frequencies as clear as other cars we've driven recently.
In the new Monte Carlo, Chevrolet has done a good job of placing soft-touch materials where occupants normally put their hands. But we still can't help but find little niggling problems that all combine to lessen our opinion of the car. Our quick hit list: 1) In places people don't normally look, the quality of the interior materials goes way down. Apparently, the Edmunds.com editorial staff isn't normal; 2) The audio controls mounted on the steering wheel are a great idea. But (at least the ones on our test car, anyway) these buttons often seemed reluctant to perform their duty; 3) The latch for the center console lid is a sharp barbed plastic catch, much like a child safety latch for household cabinets. If you leave the console lid up, watch out for your elbow, because you can easily scratch it on the latch; 4) The front seatbelts are contained in annoying plastic hoops mounted on the seats; 5) The top dash piece above the center air vents wasn't secured 100 percent on our car, and we could wiggle it up and down with a thumb and index finger. 6) A foot-operated parking brake is used instead of a more sporting hand-operated brake.
With pricing bouncing around between $20,000 for a stripper LS and $25,000 for a loaded SS, the Monte Carlo faces competition from the Honda Accord Coupe, the Toyota Camry Solara, the Dodge Avenger, and the Mercury Cougar. With the exception of the aging Avenger, all of these cars offer a more involving and sporting drive. Chevy likes to tout that the NASCAR Monte Carlo race car shares the same hood, roof, and decklid as the production car. So what? Other than that, they have about as much in common as Nancy Reagan and Naomi Campbell. If you were to buy this car for no reason other than your hero Earnhardt drives one, there's no hope for you.
And what about hope for the 2000 Monte Carlo? Chevrolet's goal for the 2000 Monte Carlo is to offer "...a sophisticated coupe with a sporty, performance-oriented image." When we try to picture a sophisticated car, we think of something complex and intellectually appealing. Sorry to say, but there is very little about this car that we find intellectually (not to mention visually) appealing. As for the performance-oriented image, Chevrolet is correct -- this car is about image, not actual performance. If you're a diehard Chevy fan, our recommendation would be to go with the SS or the Impala. The SS is faster, and the Impala offers four-door functionality with no sacrifice in driving ability. Otherwise, we feel the Accord Coupe or the Toyota Camry Solara are much better values.