Audi with its S models, BMW's M derivatives, and Mercedes-Benz's
AMG offspring offer all the very latest in technology for owners to display
bragging rights to anyone prepared to listen. All-wheel drive, traction control,
intelligent transmissions, F1-style shifting, multi-faceted braking systems,
ride control, and more - collectively, the Teutonic titans offer the lot.
Then there is the other way, which is based on such simple philosophies as KISS
(Keep It Simple, Stupid), there ain't no substitute for cubic inches,
and too much is never enough. Translated, it means mate a big capacity engine
to a straightforward transmission driving the rear wheels and go kick ass.
And if the butt happens to be German, then have a nice day. Most of you will
recognise this as being the American way, a philosophy still alive and well
and living in Detroit, certainly at GM. But the General counts amongst its offspring
Holden, in Australia, which also continues to revel in some of the old family
traditions. With its VX Commodore range, it is currently doing such a good job
in putting rival Ford's Falcon to flight Down Under that the company
has been tasked with spreading its product to markets around the world under
the Chevrolet badge (or, rather, bowtie) of honour. Time to stand up and be
Now before you sports-minded types start making up jokes about motorised sheep,
read on. Enthusiasts amongst you will remember the Holden Monaro/Chevy SS coupés
of 30 years ago. Well, the range-topping Lumina revives that evocative SS moniker,
but presents a more sophisticated package than the 5,7-litre SS 350 did with
its two-speed Powerglide transmission and leaf-sprung back axle. The Lumina's
all-alloy 5,7-litre V8 is a mildly detuned version of the LS1 motor that can
be found under the hood of the iconic C5 Chevrolet Corvette sports car. There
is a four-speed auto with a Power mode, and the rear axle is located by independent
suspension. A limited-slip diff and traction control are standard. The intent
is serious. The reality is a smile a mile.
South Africa's newly formed GM importer is General Motors Corporation
African Operations, which will handle Chevrolet, Cadillac and Saab as a premium
brand triumvirate. Chevrolet a premium brand? From an export point of view,
that is the stance (we suspect mainly because the Chevrolet name is well known
around the world), but only selected upmarket models will be made available.
Under this pretext, then, the Chevy is targeting some established premium machinery
the likes of which would not be challenged back home in the USA. There are pros
and cons to this approach, as we shall see.
Full marks, though, to the Lumina SS's "family saloon with the
heart of a Corvette" sales pitch. This is no come-on. Use just the first
half of the accelerator pedal's long travel and the car potters around
quietly and contentedly, fully at ease with a daily-driver role. But bury the
pedal into the carpet and the V8 roars like a V8 should, the kick-down creates
a momentary pause for an intake of breath before the near 1,7-ton machine scurries
off down the road in an effortless, relentless surge of acceleration. The SS
will do this at virtually any point above tickover because the small-block Chevy
has enough torque to keep a radio chat show running for a month. It simply gets
up and goes - without any ship-like rising of the bow, either.
Peak torque is a tugboat-like 440 N.m at 4 000 r/min, but with over 350 N.m
available from 1 200 onwards the peak is not noticeable. However, the motor
does seem to enjoy life above 3 000, indicated by a hardening of the exhaust
note from the (disappointingly) single oval big-bore tailpipe. Come on General,
this storm trooper deserves twin pipes...
By now, you will have noticed that we have concentrated on the LS1's
deep down strength rather than ultimate power. From such a large displacement
- 5 665 cm3 - the 225 kW maximum may not appear that impressive (incidentally,
the standard Corvette boasts 253 kW and 495 N.m), but this is a relatively lightly
stressed engine that still activates the two valves per cylinder via pushrods
riding on a single chain-driven camshaft. Techno-freaks may look down their
noses at such dated engineering, but there is a lot to be said for simplicity
in the long term. KISS, remember.
Likewise, the GM 4L60E four-speed transmission is devoid of the kind of wizardry
offered by Tiptronic-based autoboxes. It does have a Power mode that offers
more responsive shift points than normal, but the difference between the two
settings is not significant. And, hallelujah, here is an autobox that actually
lets you hold onto to some of the gears, unlike a Tiptronic that will automatically
change if it does not like what you are doing. The change up from first will
take place around 5 400 r/min (the red line begins at 5 500) irrespective of
whether you are have selected 1 or D, but in 2 and 3, the Ôbox will run
deep into the rev-counter's red sector before a limiter cuts in around 6 200
(which equates to 146 km/h in second and 237 in third).
For optimum acceleration, the extra revs are not worth soliciting. Switch out
the standard traction control, stand on the brakes, put the transmission in
D-Power, push the pedal towards the metal until the 17-inch 235/45 tyres start
to rotate, then simultaneously lift the brake foot and shove the accelerator
to the floor. Some token wheelspin occurs before the Lumina finds traction and
begins to haul in the horizon.
Big time. Like 7,4 seconds to 100 km/h, just over 27 seconds to the kilometre
marker at 197,5 km/h, and then on to a rock steady 241 km/h top speed. The SS
is a quarter of a second slower to 100 km/h than a BMW 540i, but half a second
quicker than an Audi A6 V8 quattro. This big Chevy is in the performance super-league
Big Chevy? Deceptively so, but not in the way you might think. In overall length,
the Lumina is longer than an A6, 5-Series and C-Class, but rides on a shorter
wheelbase than all except the Audi. Yet the Lumina's cabin is by far
the most spacious - without compromising on boot space, either. Attractive
flat-woven jacquard upholstery with SS emblems tastefully woven in provides
a welcoming touch. Look around at the general fit and finish, though, and it
falls short of European quality. There is nothing at all tacky about the ambience,
but neither does it have the tactile or visual effect that, for example, even
a VW Golf exudes. Premium standards are high in today's motoring world.
Up front, the wide seats offer immense fore/aft adjustment (our long-legged
tester was amazed to have to set the seat a few notches short of its full rearward
travel), and the pads are soft without being soppy. There is some sporty bolstering,
but the backrests could do with a little more height to improve shoulder level
support and allow the head restraints to be raised to a more desirable height,
especially for taller people. The driver's chair has electric cushion
height adjustment, but all other seat controls - including lumbar support
- are manual. Combined with the rake- and reach-adjustable steering wheel,
finding a comfortable driving position should be achievable by practically anyone.
There is plenty of space in the footwell, too.
At the back, the rear bench is laid out to provide comfortable seating for
two, and shading across the top of the rear screen helps protect passenger's
heads from the sun's penetrating rays. The backrest inserts are raised
but cannot be considered as head restraints; still, all three positions have
three-point seatbelts. A foldaway armrest is contained within the broad centre
section, which itself can be tipped forward to provide a fairly large tray cum
working surface. Doing this does leave a gaping hole into the boot, however,
but it does allow for long objects to be accommodated when necessary. Plenty
of head-, leg- and shoulder-room is available
irrespective of where the front seats are positioned.
On the move, driver and passengers are reasonably well catered for. Little
road noise penetrates the cabin, even from the giant 235/45 tyres mounted on
attractive 17-inch five-spoke alloys. (The spare is full-sized.) The ride is
firm - naturally - and can be unruly over transverse ridges, which can
cause the body to shudder. Handling is spoilt only by a lack of linearity about
the steering. Turn-in is sharp, but more than one tester noted that additional
input was required through some bends that would be commonly tackled with a
single movement of the wheel. But with familiarity, the trait is easily overcome
and the car can be hustled with surprising pace - and not a little grace.
Abundant grip, benign chassis manners and all that torque provide a driving
experience far superior to that of the old Chev SS, but no less intoxicating.
The Lumina quickly wraps itself around the driver, disguising its size. (White
paintwork seems to visually shrink the shape, too.) In traffic, we soon realised
that the car's deep-skirted and Pontiac-like nasal front-end styling
portrays a strong presence in rear-view mirrors. Once overtaken, other motorists
see the giant wing on the boot as a
postscript to a motoring power statement.
Creature comforts include straightforward, but effective, air-conditioning
with an unusual one-position recirculation mode, electric windows all round,
a radio/front-loading CD player with satellite controls on the steering wheel,
a 12-volt power socket, a pair of drink holders, and a sensibly-sized centre
cubby/armrest. For the driver, there are power-operated exterior mirrors, a
trip computer (including the very necessary "distance to empty"
advice), front foglights, and variable illumination for the instruments of which
the speedo has 20 km/h graduations from 0-100, then 30 km/h increments up to
250. A cruise control is standard, but its control buttons at the end of the
indicator are fiddly to operate. Wipers have flick, fixed intermittent and two
Chevrolet claims a boot capacity of 475 dm3 for Lumina, but we only managed
to load 400 dm3 of our ISO-standard blocks over the 720 mm high bumper. The
disparity between the manufacturer's gross figure and our net (ie practical)
figure is higher than normal, but even so the boot is commendably capacious.
As part of the car's security system, the bootlid can only be opened
via a button on the central locking fob.
Original article from Car