The Car Connection Chevrolet Cavalier Overview
The Chevrolet Cavalier was an affordable, economical compact-car family, consisting of four-door sedan and two-door coupe and convertible body styles (with hatchback and wagon versions going back to the 1980s). GM first introduced for 1982, built on GM's so-called 'J-body' platform derived from the Citation, and it ran to 2005 with an evolution of the same fundamental underpinnings and only one major redesign along the way. It succeeded the Chevy Monza and was replaced by the Chevrolet Cobalt in 2005. The Cavalier is closely related to the Pontiac Sunbird and Sunfire, and rival models included the Toyota Corolla, Dodge Neon, Nissan Sentra, and Volkswagen Jetta.
Cavalier models from the 1995-2005 model years—the second- or third-generation models, depending on who you ask—are pretty much the only ones that you'll likely still find at used-car dealerships. And even then, it'll be the later years of this model.
In that era, the Chevy Cavalier was powered by a 120-horsepower, 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Cavalier Z24 models instead included a 150-hp, 2.3-liter 'Quad4' engine, which later became a 2.4-liter 'Twin-Cam.' Then in 2002 an improved 'Ecotec' engine was subbed in, although the base engine remained the same. The Cavalier received a number of running changes, like exterior refreshes in 2000 and 2003, while audio systems were upgraded and a few more features added in 2004.
These last few years of the Cavalier were relatively reliable, as well as comfortable-riding, with smooth powertrain performance; but their occupant protection is reason alone for you to skip past them when looking for a good used car. These models for the last several model years had an embarrassing one-star rating out of five stars, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in side impact—at a lower standard than today. Seats and interior trims were also considered to be cheap and chintzy, even when compared to other small cars in this class.
Cavaliers prior to 1995 were related, but had a more squared-off appearance and were a little noisier and less refined to drive. 1992-1994 versions got a number of improvements, with a more powerful base engine and rejiggered lineup of features and options. Beginning in 1995, sporty Z24 models offered a 125-hp, 2.8-liter V-6, which was upgraded to a 140-hp 3.1-liter in 1990. Exterior refreshes were made in 1990 and 1993.
Convertibles were offered in 1983-1989, then again from 1995-2002. These have some of the worst body-hardware issues we've noticed in modern production convertibles, along with too much cowl shake and shudder, and given the Cavalier's poor safety record, we think you should consider a different drop-top.