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The cars we loved.

1995-2002 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24: The High Value/Low End Theory


2002 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24

2002 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24

For those in the market for a low-cost, but sporty American car for much of the 80’s and 90’s the Cavalier Z24 was one of the most popular choices. Unlike the equally popular (and better performing) Ford Escort GT, the Cavalier was a proper coupe, making it more atractive to North American buyers who equated hatchbacks with cheap. 1995 marked the start of a new design for the Cavalier, a kind of refinement of the previous car’s semi-blockish shape. The new aerodynamically styled car resembled a small-scale version of the Opel Calibra coupe in Europe. In moving away from the previous generations V6, the third gen Cavalier would have a modern twin-cam 2.2L Quad Four engine starting with the 1995 model year.

Z24 Interior

Typical Z24 Interior

Although smaller and more fuel-efficient, it produced 10 more horsepower than the old 3.1 V6, but lacked some of the old car’s low end grunt. Overall performance was about the same with a 0 to 60 sprint taking just under 9 seconds. Z24’s were always distinguished from other cavalier models by larger wheels and ground effects. The third generation car was no different
with a distinctive front and rear spoiler, 16’ wheels and fog lights.  All versions of the J car were simple basic transportation. Getting the top model of any of them could not hide that fact. The interiors were still very econocar like with cloth seats and plenty of plastic.

Some of the good attributes of the Cavalier line like overall comfort, great sound system and competent handling were improved with the Z24. The Z24 started with the basics of the base Cavalier and went further with compromises that balanced Chevrolet’s desire to make the Z24 easy to own, but a fun to drive line leader. A smooth shifting four speed automatic transmission was the most commonly selected option over the notchy five speed manual. The independent front MacPherson strut /trailing arm twist beam rear suspension was similar to any other Cavalier with the exception of better shocks and suspension tuning. Even the brakes on the Z24 were a combination of vented disc up front and drums in the rear. Unlike many other cars in this class ABS was at least standard, where it was an expensive option on Celicas and Civics.

Anyone buying a Z24 bought if for looks and performance. In that regard, they may have ultimately been disappointed. The Cavalier never approached the fit and finish levels of quality as most of its competitors. Even as Cavaliers were huge sellers, they never garnered the respect or interest with the emerging compact car tuner culture.  Some of that lack of respect could be
attributed to the reasonable low levels of technology used in the Z24. While the major players of the segment were offering turbo and all-wheel drive variants, the Z24 was strictly front wheel drive.

Cavalier Z24 Sedan

Cavalier Z24 Sedan

There would be a series of engines used after 1995 for the Cavalier Z24. Sizes ranged from 2.2 to 2.4 litres, but strangely power remained at 150. Drivability improved, but on paper, the Z24 was not as impressive as a Integra, Eclipse GS or Civic Si. In an attempt to compete with the Acura Integra sedan, Chevrolet released a four door version of the Z24 in 2000, the first time any
sedan wore a Z24 badge. It was an attractive low-cost sports sedan, but unfortunately it like the coupe was betrayed by its econocar underpinnings. Chevrolet made a half-hearted attempt to raise the Z24’s profile with the tuner crowd by offering an Eaton Supercharger kit. When installed by a dealer, it added 40 hp to the Z24’s output for a total 0f 190. Very few supercharged Z24’s ever made it to the streets. The 2.4 engine, once exclusive to the Z24, became a option on the LS. This marked the beginning of the end for the Z24. The easier to insure LS model had nearly all the features of the Z24, without the boy racer looks and tuned suspension. The Z24 name disappeared in 2003 and was essentially replaced by the LS Sport model. Technically the same as the previous year’s Z24, it lacked only the Z24 badge.

The end was near for the Cavalier in general as Chevrolet was making what it hoped would be a modern successor ; the Cobalt. As the stakes were raised, the Z24 was slow to respond and its popularity began to fall off as a growing list of rivals offered similar value and style but with some degree of technical sophistication. The Z24 remains a good value for someone looking for a stylish and economical car. They are not as likely to have been modified as much as other cars in the class, so finding good running examples might be easy, especially in the Mid-West where they sold especially well. The mechanical simplicity means that when something does go wrong, the repair will likely be cheaper and not require exotic (unless you were lucky enough to come across one with an Eaton supercharger). Chevrolet was aiming for the lower middle and hit the mark with the Z24.  Chevy would get it all backward with the Cobalt. Technically the Cobalt was a superior car that had all the right moves,
but was uninspiring to look at.

2000 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24

2000 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24

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2 comments on “1995-2002 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24: The High Value/Low End Theory

  1. phoongdan
    May 7, 2012

    Great little cars when properly cared for. I’ve got an ’01 Sedan that I’ve owned for 5+ years. They are surprisingly quick with nice low end torque. If you upgrade the stock suspension and the exhaust they are even nicer. Also getting rid of those old heavy steel rims and replacing them with new light aluminum racing wheels will drop a good 50lbs of weight too! The only main drawbacks are the cloth seats and plastic interior. Still makes a nice little sporty commuter 10 years later.

    • A.C. Smith
      February 4, 2015

      Interior: Is nice & basic. Seats are great! Must get the 5-spd…

      Exterior: Solid, I just bought a ‘2001 z24 for a tuner project & have been really enjoying it a lot!

      Fuel MPG: HWY 33!

      Modifications: Cold air intake, Magnaflow Muffler, Megan Racing Lowering Springs,
      Strut Tower braces. Stock Aluminum 5-spoke Mag wheels….I live in the westcoast
      & this car has been complemented on a lot & is a Hot sleeper to the untrained eye!
      Engine responds quikly to modifcations. Supercharger will be next!

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This entry was posted on May 21, 2011 by in 00's, 90's cars, Chevrolet and tagged , , .
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