Sunday, July 29, 2007

Chevrolet Monte Carlo


Never mind the NASCAR association; or the bad-boy reputation. Never mind that the Chevrolet Monte Carlo is as quick as it looks, with a 303-horsepower, variable-displacement small-block V8 as its top engine choice. Never mind the neo-muscle-car image the Monte Carlo carries. The Monte is primarily about style. Always has been. Always will be.

The Monte Carlo was born in 1970 as a high-style variant on a more mundane mid-size sedan, and as a high-value alternative to more expensive personal luxury coupes. Its mission, at which it succeeded brilliantly, was to deliver a lot of visual importance for relatively small monthly payments. A big-bore SS version was there from the start, but initially the SS sold at a trickle compared to a torrent of base-model coupes with all the luxury options.

The Monte quickly developed a dual personality: Although conceived originally for visual effect, its unusual proportions seemed to give it an edge in handling balance at medium-length NASCAR oval tracks. By the late 1970s, the Monte Carlo was Chevrolet's standard-bearer in stock-car competition. Then with each successive generation, Chevrolet refined the Monte's shape to improve its high-speed performance. The Monte Carlo is now the winningest nameplate in the history of NASCAR, which is certainly something to crow about.

Something comes over us when we're in a Chevy Monte Carlo. It's hard not to fantasize we're rocketing down the front straight at Talladega with 42 stock cars glued to our rear bumper. Or maybe we're going through the inner loop at Watkins Glen, bounding off the curbs as we go through the big chicane. The Monte just has that look about it. It has that feel about it, too, making it an enjoyable and appropriate car for winding down a rural road in the South with the windows down. It still draws admiring looks in these parts.

Like we said, it's all about style.

Last year, 2006, Chevrolet face-lifted the Monte Carlo. The new look is smoother, more mature, more sophisticated. At the same time, a V8 engine became available, for the first time in a Monte Carlo since 1987. Changes for 2007 are relatively minor.

We always bond with the Monte Carlo whenever we drive one. It's roomy and comfortable and easy to operate. Despite its race-track breeding, the Monte Carlo offers more interior volume than any of its non-GM competition. It's fast and fun to drive. It's stable at high speeds for long runs down the interstate and it's great fun on back roads, the same kind of roads that form the roots of stock car racing. The SS promises the kind of performance that Monte Carlo buyers haven't seen in a long time, along with a chance to feel connected to a winning tradition.

We're expecting this to be the last year for the Monte Carlo, with production ending in August 2007. So act now if you want to buy a new one.

Model Lineup

The 2007 Chevrolet Monte Carlo comes in three trim levels: LS and LT are powered by a 211-hp 3.5-liter V6. The top-performance SS comes with a 303-hp 5.3-liter V8. All come with a four-speed automatic transmission. (The 3.9-liter V6 offered for 2006 is no longer available.)

The Monte Carlo LS ($21,015) comes with air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, mirrors, and programmable door locks; six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with speed-sensing volume and auxiliary digital media jack; front bucket seats and floor console; six-way power driver's seat with manual lumbar adjustment; split-folding rear seat; tilt steering; metallic interior trim; automatic headlamps; 225/60 all-season radials on 16-inch steel wheels; 7.0 Generation OnStar with a one-year subscription; and a Passlock security system. A recent upgrade to the standard remote keyless entry allows drivers to use the red panic button to locate a car misplaced in Lowe's vast lot without activating the alarm. ABS with traction control is available ($600); as are 16-inch aluminum wheels ($350) and carpeted floor mats ($80).

The Monte Carlo LT ($22,625) adds dual-zone automatic climate control; Radio Data System (RDS); leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; carpeted floor mats; ABS with traction control and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD); a tire-pressure monitor; and 225/55 touring tires on 17-inch machined aluminum wheels. Powertrain dampening is upgraded for quieter running. LT is available with more options, too, including a power tilt-and-slide sunroof ($900); leather seats ($795); six-disc CD changer ($295); XM Satellite Radio ($199); eight-speaker premium sound system ($250); and universal remote ($100).

The Monte Carlo SS ($27,740) comes with leather upholstery, heated front seats, XM Satellite Radio (with a three-month trial subscription); and 235/50 W-rated Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires on 18-inch machined aluminum wheels. Also standard is a stiffer suspension that GM calls FE4. A Convenience Package ($240) for SS adds a universal remote, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, and heated exterior mirrors. Also available are polished aluminum wheels ($350) and a new Rally Stripe package ($395) in black or silver. Cloth upholstery can be substituted for credit. Otherwise SS offers the same options as LT.

Optional on all Monte Carlos are an engine block heater ($50); remote starter preparation ($30); and seat-mounted side-impact airbags ($350). New last year, the dual seat-mounted bags replaced a single door-mounted bag on the driver's side only, and help optimize head and torso protection for the driver and front passenger.

Dual-stage frontal airbags are standard on all models, as are front seat belt pretensioners, three-point seat belts in all seating positions, LATCH child-seat anchors in all rear-seat positions, strategically padded interior roof rails, and a strengthened front seat structure.

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