2000 Monte Carlo SS
Cars are rated one (forget it) to four ('bout as good as it gets) James Deans
GOOD STUFF BAD STUFF
Style Those humungous doors!
No competitors Difficult rear-seat entry/exit
Cushy ride Needs a V8
Moves out OK Dump front-wheel-drive
Dale drives one! Depressing all-black interior
Style: midsize sport coupe
Engine: 3.8-liter V6
Transmission: four-speed automatic
Horsepower: 200 hp @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 225 ft-lbs. @ 4,000 rpm
EPA mileage: 20 city/29 highway
Weight: 3,340 lb.
Base price: $21,735
Price as tested: $24,304
First, the bottom line
Chevrolet's 2000 Monte Carlo turns my head every time I see one on the street. With its striking design, it stands out..
To hear Chevrolet explain it, that's its appeal. That's the purpose of the design.
People who buy Monte Carlos want to be noticed, Chevrolet says. They do not want to be invisible behind the wheel, do not want to be just another silhouetted head behind tinted glass driving yet another melted-soap-on-wheels car.
But, regrettably for Chevrolet, most comments about the Monte Carlo design have been negative since its debut. Clearly, it's different. No one will mistake this coupe for a Lexus or Honda Accord or Mercury Cougar. But that difference is not universally applauded. One reviewer said the rear end looks as if it were chopped off, with arteries still gushing blood. Worse for me, however, is that the function we expect from a car doesn't follow the form found in the Monte Carlo.
Ultimately, the design fails in practical ways. It's not "human friendly."
There are, in fact, two really big problems with the 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS: the left front door and the right front door.
They are GM-huge and make entry even into the front seats a challenge for a Monte Carlo in a shopping center parking space. Those dings on your car? Blame a Monte Carlo. The doors are heavy, don't catch when tossed open, and swing too far out because of their length.
But let's say the doors simply must be this big, to allow entry for both front and rear seat occupants. Given that, the design still fails the function test. Chevrolet has mounted the belt restraints for front seat occupants on the B pillars, where both the tops and bottoms of the belts interfere with anyone trying to enter or exit the rear seat area.
By this time, all coupes should have seat-mounted belt restraint systems. Tilt the seat back forward, slide the whole seat forward, and entry to the rear seat is easy. The problem here is that the Monte Carlo isn't special and doesn't get special interior treatment. It's a two-door Impala. Take it or leave it, buddy.
And our tester's interior was a sea of unbroken, unadorned black. Black seats. Black doors. Black dash. Black mood. Not beautiful. Not at all. Just .. hot, in addition to depressing.
The exterior is another matter. Chevrolet makes much over the Monte Carlo's presence on the NASCAR circuit, where the likes of Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon bring fans to their feet cheering "Monte Carlos". Listen, if you buy that ... This from-the-showroom Monte Carlo has about as much kinship to Earnhardt's racer as an inline skate has to an Indy car.
Yet, the tested Monte Carlo was an easy, enjoyable car to drive. Handling is biased toward comfort, not an altogether bad thing unless all-out performance is your primary consideration. The seats proved comfortable, but not supportive for enthusiastic driving. It has plenty of pep for any driving need. Fuel mileage is downright commendable.
The Monte Carlo name disappeared for years from the Chevy lineup. So did Impala. And most SS models. For awhile there, Bowtie enthusiasts had only memories of the great SS Chevelles, Impalas, Novas, Monte Carlos.
With this V6-powered, front-wheel-drive coupe christened a Monte Carlo SS by the marketing geniuses at GM, that's all they still have. Hang onto those memories. The name may be back, but there will be no fond memories of these current cars.
I have bad news, Bunky. This is not your father's Monte Carlo.
The Monte Carlo has expected safety features -- but no more.
There are only two frontal air bags, now required. No optional side bags. Anti-lock brakes are standard. Chevy touts daytime running lights as a safety feature on its models, and the Monte Carlo has them.
The SS has standard traction control, as well.
But the headlights are nothing to write home about and the driver's visibility to the right rear is impaired by the overly large, almost-a-trademark C pillar. With those tiny rear windows, anyone in the back seat might be claustrophobic. The world goes by like an image on a 12-inch portable TV.
The Monte Carlo earns four stars (not quite the best) in federal crash tests. The more-demanding Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not crash-tested a Monte Carlo. An Impala passed with good marks, as did the close-relative Lumina. These are indicative of improving safety from Chevrolet.
The SS model of Chevy's Monte Carlo overcomes the dip, squat and roll associated with the LS model. But the bias here is still toward comfort. Fine by me.
Around town, the Monte Carlo delivered a smooth ride, with little road intrusion. On the interstate, it held center steadily. Wind and tire noise were present, but not objectionable. Cornering can be done at sporty speeds, but this is not truly a performance car, despite Chevrolet's frequent references to the NASCAR connection.
Dale would flip off Turn One if he took this one up the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.
That's not how people do and should drive, however, so the bottom line on handling is that the Monte Carlo is a fine compromise of comfort and sporty handling. That's exactly the way most buyers want it.
Perhaps the biggest tipoff that this is not a performance car is the lack of an option for a manual transmission. None is available for this racy coupe.
Monte Carlos are available only with a GM four-speed automatic.
Buyers of performance vehicles have returned to shifting, and the lack of a manual shifter means the Monte Carlo won't bring into the fold those intent on buying an import sports coupe or sedan. For many, however, it won't matter. The automatic performs as well as most people could manually shift, and it relieves the around-town burden of moving in heavy traffic while shifting gears.
Under the hood of the SS Monte Carlo is the venerable, old-tech-but-proven GM 3800 V6. It's not particularly straining itself to produce 200 horsepower. RPM is redlined at 6,000, in fact, quite low in today's car world. The engine is mounted on an aluminum cradle that becomes the foundation for the entire powertrain, front suspension and front sheet metal. Behind the dashboard is a magnesium beam that is said to reduce vibration. Good thought, but...
As you can see in the photo here, there are braces throughout the engine compartment, and that signals a design problem that demanded a quick, opps-add-on fix. No engineer designing an engine compartment would intentionally insert space-robbing, component-blocking braces -- and the best cars do not have them.
An old saying is that children should be seen and not heard. Braces should never be seen. They must be as invisible as the skeleton that holds your protein together.
The real pity here for purists is that Chevy doesn't offer a small-block V8 for the SS Monte Carlo. But they have maxed out this drivetrain's ability to handle horsepower. Two-hundred horsepower is the upper limit for a front-driver the size of the Monte Carlo. You want 300 horsepower? You need rear-wheel-drive and GM has painted itself into a corner on this one.
The only option would be to find a new use for the F-Body platform. And that might not be a bad option, after all.
Flawed as this coupe design is, it's more practical than the even-more-flawed Camaro-Firebird duo.
Word on those is that production will end in a year. Period. The plant producing them already knows. But they are GM's rear-drivers and performance offerings, aside from the pricey Corvette. Certainly the Monte Carlo could return to its muscle car origin if given the LS1 engine, rear-wheel-drive and a manual transmission.
That same component combination would do well in Pontiac's Grand Prix and Buick's Regal.
The figures that follow are from computer testing the Monte Carlo SS model. This is simply "adequate". No more.
Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Performance/Handling Data
Acceleration (mph) 0-30 0-40 0-50 0-60 0-70 0-80 0-90 0-100
Elapsed time (secs) 2.9 3.9 5.9 8.0 10.1 12.6 16.8 21.6
Top speed 132 mph
Quarter mile 16.0 @ 88.2 mph
Slalom 60.0 mph
Lateral acceleration .84 g
For awhile, coupes lost buyer favor. Almost disappeared. Coupes became a dinosaur design at a time when buyers wanted the vast open spaces of sport utes and minivans.
Face it. Coupes make almost no sense for anyone with more than one friend. They exist because they can have "prettier" styling. That's really the only reason to choose a two-door over a four-door, four-or-more-passenger car. Two-seat roadsters and sports cars are another matter. But someone wanting a Monte Carlo must choose this over a more practical Impala or Lumina. Choosing a Monte Carlo will be a decision most likely based on looks. Carmakers know this. They make coupes sleeker, racier looking.
When they discard two doors, creating the coupe model, they invariably make practicality sacrifices. You may find these sacrifices acceptable. I don't.
Here's what they do:
The roof is usually lowered and raked more steeply front and rear. Looks great. Works awful. It means more bumped heads on entry/exit and not enough head space inside to wear a baseball cap. It may mean vast expanses of glass front and rear that allow enough heat into the car to overwhelm the environmentally friendly air conditioners in today's cars.
They put larger doors on coupes, because one door per side must provide access to both front and rear seats. The result is often doors too big for today's downsized world of compact car parking spaces. The doors open into adjacent cars and are difficult to stop at the limit of their outward swing. And too often there is insufficient space for an adult to crawl through to comfortably enter the rear seat area. Just as bad, seat belt restraints and poorly designed front seats can create a maze for anyone entering the rear. It is so with the Monte Carlo.
Without the need for two more doors, designers may opt for larger C pillars at the rear. They did with this Monte Carlo, creating blind spots for a driver. Same with the late, unlamented Buick Riviera. And the Cadillac Eldorado. Looks great. Doesn't work for the humans inside.
The test SS Monte Carlo had the most depressing interior I've encountered in a long time. It lacked any luxury touches and was black, black, black. Close the huge doors and you were in a vault. A dark vault. A HOT vault. Sure, the black looked good against the exterior red paint, but black for any hot climate is a major no-no. Sell this in Norway. No way in Florida, where I live and test.
The Monte Carlo is considered a midsize by Chevrolet, full size by the government. I'll side with the government. This is a big coupe, with a large turning radius and a long wheelbase, coupled with a wide track. Nothing small here. But space is strangely misused. The trunk, for instance, is quite large, at the expense of rear-seat passenger room.
If two small people are seated up front, rear footroom is sufficient. But if the front seats are moved rearward much, room in the rear quickly gets cramped. The seating position for those in the rear guarantees a backache on exit.
Controls and instruments are good, however, and the front seats on our tester were both power-adjustable and quite comfortable. I found head room lacking, due to windshield and A-pillar intrusion, but you might be fine. Check this if the Monte Carlo is on your might-buy list.
Overall ride comfort is very good, as it is with the excellent Impala.
Much of the criticism in this review can be levelled at any coupe. Coupes just aren't as convenient as sedans, minivans, sport utes or even roadsters. In fact, they are the most inconvenient of all auto designs. Yet many coupes have found new favor with a new generation of buyers.
Coupes turn heads. Coupes get you noticed. Coupes say you're a sport, sport. For many, those considerations win out against more "practical" matters.
That being the case, a fair question is "how good is this coupe?"
Three-star good. That's not bad at all. In fact, the Monte Carlo is a pleasure to drive solo. It's comfortable and stylish. It does get you noticed. It has expected amenities and safety features. Its handling and performance will suit most buyers. Not bad at all.
Until you open a door. Until you try to enter the rear seat. Until the bill of your cap smacks the window as you look left. Until parts from the GM bin fail.
Too many untils for me. Too many reasons to regret.