Although the days of XR-6 Ford Cortinas and big-block Chevys are undeniably behind us, there are, according to General Motors at least, a dedicated group of petrolheads out there hankering after the same kind of bad-ass, rear-wheel drive entertainment that made such cars so unforgettable. In its latest guise the Aussie-sourced Chevrolet Lumina gains a 6,0-litre V8 engine borrowed from the Corvette sports car in an effort to provide unrivalled bang for the buck. Does the recipe still appeal, or is it simply too kitsch for modern tastes?
Chevrolet Lumina is a hard-edged, hardcore, big-hearted softie…Look, you can’t really miss the Chevrolet Lumina. Developed in Australia and sold there as the Holden Commodore, the Lumina is a 4 984 mm-long muscle car that competes – on price – against smaller offerings such as BMW’s 3 Series and the Lexus IS. But unlike these two compact executives, subtlety and sophistication are not adjectives that fit the Chevrolet Lumina. It is brash, with a square cut jaw, aggressive sill extensions and a bootlid spoiler straight out of the ‘80s. It’s safe to say that it won’t appeal to everyone, and yet the response from the public to our test unit was largely positive.
Back in the large sedan’s halcyon days, there were no SUVs and MPVs on the price lists, so these cars had the family market all to themselves. The Lumina’s vast cabin is a great reminder of just how spacious these cars were. The boot can swallow nearly 500-litres worth luggage, yet still features a full-size (18-inch) spare wheel underneath its floor. Rear legroom is really of the stretch-out variety and the width of the cabin means that five-up motoring is a real possibility without the centre rear passengers having to feel “squeezed”.
In front, the seats are wide, yet there’s good side bolstering and the odd “SS” logo to remind you that you’re seated in something fast. The driver’s chair features electric adjustment, and there’s a good range of adjustment on offer from the steering wheel, too. Overall, the design of the facia is neat and straightforward, and the build quality good, though nothing to trouble the Germans.
Similarly, it lacks the high-tech features of its German rivals but the basics are all accounted for – climate control, auto lights, cruise control etc. are all standard. On the safety side it features only four airbags, but an electronic stability system (ESP) is fitted.
V8 gruntBut enough of the “frills”. What of the thrills? Under the long bonnet hides the L98 6,0-litre V8 engine from the Corvette which, although not the most high-tech power unit in the world, still churns out a thumping 270 kW and 530 Nm of torque. All that power goes to the rear wheels via what is increasingly rare in the modern performance car landscape, a six-speed manual transmission. This alone will put the Lumina high on the wish list of many an enthusiast, because the number of rear-wheel drive, high-power, manual-transmission cars out there is very, very small. Before you get too excited, though, keep in mind that the Chevrolet Lumina weighs a not-insignificant 1 770 kg…
The driving experience may initially come as a surprise. Certainly, there is strong power and acceleration from rest (0-100 km/h in 5,7 seconds), but because the engine is surprisingly smooth and the power builds in a linear fashion, it doesn’t feel all that fast, a sensation further compounded by the absence of a deafening V8 soundtrack. Sure, the V8 burble is there, and it’s a nice sound, too, but it always sounds “distant”. Drivers will also have to spend time to get used to the transmission. Dump the clutch too suddenly and you may be rewarded with some axle tramp. Smooth, fast starts will take time to perfect.
The Chevrolet Lumina is considerably more impressive on the go. In-gear acceleration is very impressive and third and fourth gears can be hugely entertaining on the right kinds of roads. And what about the promise of sideways action? It’s certainly on offer, but again you will need to spend time with the car to learn its ways. The steering feel is rather numb, and grip levels are probably higher than you may have anticipated. Consequently the Chevrolet Lumina SS is not a very easy to car to throw around straight out of the box. If this sounds like a criticism, it is not… The Chevrolet Lumina may look like a lurid sideways monster, but the handling is actually far more benign than that, and beautifully balanced. Stabiliser bars are used at both ends, and so the big Chev feels very good upon corner entry and resists roll well, too. It covers ground faster than you’d think, even with some corners thrown in.
Chevrolet Lumina - VerdictAppearances can be deceptive. In many ways the Chevrolet Lumina lives up to the expectations created by its brash appearance. Sideways action is on offer, certainly, and so is the furious performance. And yet, this Lumina is able to adapt to the driver’s mood far better than anticipated. It can be quiet, even relaxed. It’s comfortable, and the ride, too, is good enough not to upset grandma on the family trip. On the other hand, learn its ways and grab it by the scruff of the neck, and it can be wildly entertaining beast, too… Perhaps there’s more longevity in this recipe after all…
- Hardcore looks
- Strong performance
- Interior space
- Standard features
- Handling potential
- Slow gearbox
- Fuel economy
Engine: 6,0-litre, V8, petrol
Power: 270 kW @ 5 700 rpm
Torque: 530 Nm @ 4 400 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheels: 18-inch alloy
Top speed: n/a km/h (240 km/h est)
0-100 km/h: n/a seconds (5,7 sec est)
Fuel economy: n/a litres/100 km (13 L/100 km est.)
- BMW 335i: For not-too-much-more cash you can have the very impressive BMW 330i, in M Sport trim. The lovely 3,0-litre straight-six may produce a lot less power, but the 330i comes close to matching the performance of the Chevrolet Lumina, and it’s cabin and dynamics are more sophisticated, too.
- Mazda6 MPS: A not-so-obvious choice, but one that is well worth considering if you crave something left-field. The performance is good, rather than startling, but the Mazda’s kicks are delivered differently… through grip. The all-wheel drive system gives it superb all-weather handling.
- Audi A4 3,2 Quattro: It may not quite be a S4, but this A4 boasts the marque’s 188 kW V6 engine, coupled to its legendary quattro all-wheel drive system. Again, the performance is not quite up to the Chevy’s or BMW’s, but for most it will be plenty fast enough, while offering a more sophisticated ride overall.