The Chevrolet Monte Carlo traces its roots back several decades to the height of the muscle car era, when Chevy sought to entice customers with a sporty, upscale rear-drive V8 coupe that provided a balance of performance and comfort in a stylish package. From those early years -- which included big-block SS (Super Sport) editions -- the Monte Carlo evolved toward a more luxury-oriented persona, saw significant downsizing (to optimize fuel efficiency) and soldiered on as a popular rear-drive sport coupe until 1988, when it was replaced by the Lumina coupe.
Following a lengthy hiatus, the Chevy Monte Carlo emerged once again in 1995. However, by then it had been softened and saddled with a carryover front-wheel-drive platform and V6 engines that barely hinted at the performance of years gone by. It was, in essence, a Lumina coupe.
The current-generation Chevrolet Monte Carlo coupe debuted in 2000 with more distinctive styling and updated underpinnings from the Impala sedan to better meet the needs of today's buyers. Significant changes in 2006 have helped the Monte Carlo come nearly full circle back to its original mission with sportier chassis tuning, improved driving dynamics and more power in SS models, while freshened interior and exterior styling offer a sculpted and pleasing contemporary appearance.
Although much improved in the past few years -- including a return to available V8 power in SS trim -- we feel that other performance sport coupe competitors like the Mustang offer a more satisfying choice as long as you don't mind giving up some interior room. In reviews, our editors say the Monte Carlo is primarily a comfortable cruiser that's more at home in the fast lane than on twisty mountain roads. If the latter is your preferred driving environment, you may want to consider other brighter, more focused alternatives.
The current-generation Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which received a major update for the 2006 model year, is a midsize two-door coupe that comes in three trim levels: the base but reasonably well-equipped LS, the more upscale LT and the performance-oriented SS. Under the hood of LS and LT models is a 3.5-liter V6 with 211 horsepower, while the SS boasts a responsive 5.3-liter V8 with 303 hp. Impressive numbers, yes. But we'd like them even better if they powered the rear wheels like Monte Carlos of years ago, especially in the case of the SS. A front-engine/rear-drive layout is typically preferable for optimum weight distribution and balanced handling, especially when that engine is a heavy V8.
Overall, this Chevy Monte Carlo is a spacious sport coupe that offers buyers a reasonably good comfort/performance trade-off for a relatively low sticker price. The V8-equipped Monte Carlo SS suffers from a nose-heavy feel, however. If quick reflexes are on your wish list instead and you don't mind tighter quarters, we suggest you consider one of its smaller but more nimble sport coupe competitors.
Used-car shoppers interested in a late-model Monte Carlo will likely encounter the previous-generation model, which was available from the 2000-'05 model years. Based on the then-new Impala platform and wearing distinctive, fresh sheet metal with heritage styling cues, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo was originally offered as an LS with a 3.4-liter V6 engine making 180 hp, or an SS with a 200-hp 3.8-liter V6. A driver-side airbag -- as well as traction control and OnStar on SS models -- was added as standard safety equipment in 2001, and all models received four-wheel disc brakes, traction control and remote keyless entry in 2003. In a bid to boost its performance image, Chevrolet added a 240-hp supercharged engine option for the SS in 2004.
Previous to this model, there was the Lumina-based Monte Carlo, which became available for the 1995 model year in LS or Z34 sport trim levels. Those wishing to hit the fast lane are advised to stick with the 210-hp 3.4-liter twincam V6 in the Z34. Detail improvements carried the Chevrolet Monte Carlo through the next several years, though only the most eagle-eyed used-car shoppers are likely to appreciate the differences.