Chevrolet Corsica, Chevrolet Berretta, and Chevrolet Lumina
Succeeding Citation as Chevy's compact were the Corsica sedan and Beretta coupe, introduced in March '87 as early '88 models. Both used a new 103.4-inch-wheelbase L-body platform exclusive to Chevrolet, though with engineering that owed much to the J-car and the front-drive N-body models at Buick, Olds and Pontiac.
Among other things, that meant coil-spring suspension with front struts and a twist beam rear axle on trailing arms, rack-and-pinion steering, and front-disc/rear-drum brakes. Standard power at first was the latest Cavalier four, with the division's 130-bhp 2.8 V-6 optional.
Styling was also unique to Chevy -- and a welcome change from GM's earlier "cloning:" smooth, rounded, aerodynamically efficient. Best of all, these cars reflected Chevy's strongest efforts yet to ensure tight, thorough fit and finish. Corsica/Beretta got off to a strong sales start, with 225,000 built in calendar '87 alone. The "true" '88s saw only running changes. So would most later models.
A Euro-style Corsica called LTZ arrived for 1989, along with a four-door hatchback that was hard to tell from the normal notchback. That same year, Beretta's sporty GT option became a separate model and gained many appearance features of the racy GTU package from mid-'88.
The GTU (named for the under-2.0-liter Grand Touring class in the International Motor Sports Association) was distinguished by 16-inch aluminum wheels, "ground effects" lower-body skirting, a five-speed manual gear-box designed by Getrag in Germany, and a tinted upper-wind-shield band with "Beretta" in big, bold letters.
Beretta GT, GTU, and the Corsica LTZ all came with a V-6. A firm Z51 handling option made Berettas corner as slick as they looked. A similar Z52 setup did the same for '91 Corsicas, though it killed the LTZ.
The GTU bids fair as a minor collector's item, being a low-volume short-timer with only 3814 built for '88 and 9813 for '89. Its 1990 replacement was the Beretta GTZ, identified by a neat grilleless face instead of a broad eggcrate. Under the hood sat the High-Output version of Oldsmobile's vaunted new 2.3-liter "Quad-4," a genuine Euro-style twincam engine with four valves per cylinder and an excellent 180 bhp.
But though faster than a GTU, the GTZ was far noisier and stiffer-riding. As if to acknowledge its shortcomings, Chevy offered a credit-option V-6 for '91 GTZs, a 140-bhp 3.1-liter unit.
Chevy made an odd bit history by announcing a 1990 Beretta convertible that never made it to showrooms. A handful were built for Indy 500 pace-car duty, but all were prototypes.
Like Oldsmobile's new 1990 Cutlass Supreme ragtop, which did see series production, the open Beretta was basically a roofless coupe with a structural metal "hoop" bridging the B-posts. The hoop helped restore some lost torsional rigidity and preserved the coupe's pillar-mounted outside door handles.
Chevy dropped Cavalier convertibles to make way for the soft-top Beretta, only to revive them when quality-control problems proved insurmountable on the Beretta. It was a minor but embarrassing episode symbolic of larger troubles.
Spring 1989 ushered in the belated 1990 replacement for Celebrity. Named Lumina, it rode the front-drive GM10 platform first used for 1988 coupes at Buick, Olds, and Pontiac. This time, though, there was no delaying the planned sedan. Base Luminas carried a humble 2.5-liter four -- the old "Iron Duke" still hanging on -- and offered the 3.1 V-6 at extra cost. The latter was standard for a sporty Euro coupe and sedan with black exterior trim, sport suspension, and wider 16-inch wheels and tires (versus 14s or 15s).
All Luminas naturally boasted the GM10's laudable all-independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. But the Euro, as Car and Driver observed, was really quite "Amero" in ride, handling, performance, and interior treatment.
That wasn't necessarily bad, of course, but Ford's Taurus remained a much more-popular midsize. Even into the '90s, Lumina was handily outsold by Taurus and Japanese rivals Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Styling was a likely factor. Even Charles M. Jordan, then GM design chief, admitted that Lumina sales suffered because the design sat on a shelf for some seven years before the public saw it, by which time it was no longer "clear" or "up to date."
For more on Chevrolet cars, old and new, see:
- Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
- Chevrolet Used Car Reviews and Prices