Why I Think GM Powertrain has Been Taking Breaks With Chrysler Line Workers

Illustration for article titled Why I Think GM Powertrain has Been Taking Breaks With Chrysler Line Workers

Is it too much to ask that something new actually be improved?

I'm not talking about being observable in a test or experiment; I mean actually better, such that it positively affects your life.

I ask because I looked out the window and consciously compared my car with my wife's.

My wife came with a 2005 Chevrolet Cavalier as standard equipment and I married her anyway. She's not the type of person to actually care for driving, though. In fact, she considers that Cavalier to be vastly superior to anything I have invited to our driveway.


Currently that's a 1992 Saab 900S that I will endeavor to not describe as "quirky," because I took a vow to never do so.

When I saw that pair in my driveway, it raised some questions in my mind, because they have a lot more in common that you might catch at first glance.

Sure, you're going to have to ignore some things. Ignore the fact that the Cavalier looks like a fedora and the Saab looks like a nerd's shoe. Ignore the fact that the Saab's engine rides reverse cowgirl over its transmission. Ignore the fact that the Saab has enough headroom to make K.T. Keller blush. Ignore the fact that the hatchback Saab is, you know, useful. Most certainly ignore their original sticker prices; I put up five benjamins for the Saab. Those things, and many others, make the Saab much more appealing, but they aren't the point.

Both are General Motors products, or at least Saab as of 1992 was half GM. Both are examples of the last gasp of an aging platform: the Saab actually predates ABBA, tracing its structure to the 1968 Saab 99, and the Cavalier represents a significant* evolution of the import-fighting J-car platform introduced for the 1982 model year. Both cars are roughly the same size, and are within four inches in length and width. Without driving to an Interstate weigh station, I can say they're within a hundred pounds of each other in curb weight. Both are front-wheel-drive, and most importantly, both are powered by a naturally aspirated DOHC four-cylinder displacing little more than a 2-liter of Coke.


(*Hush up, Honda forum fanboys. The 2005 Cavalier, while hopelessly outdated and certainly the worst choice in its class, was not the same car underneath as when the model was introduced in Reagan's first term. The 900 has more in common with a Saab 99 circa 1968 than a 2005 Cavalier has with its 1982 counterpart, though the basic design layout contains most of the faulty engineering compromises.)

If, like most people who care about cars, you've been ignoring Cavaliers since around the time Ollie North got into trouble, let me remind you that the only redeeming element of my wife's Cavalier is the Ecotec four-cylinder that the model inherited in 2003. That alone makes it better than the millions of penalty boxes that preceded it.


Thirteen years of progress should make it more impressive underhood than my Saab, too. But it's not. Lets look at the numbers.

For the Saab, 2.1 Liters or 129 cubic inches of displacement, with 140 horsepower and 133 of Jeremy Clarkson's torques.


For the Cavalier, 2.2 Liters or 134 cubic inches of displacement, with, wait a minute, the same 140 horsepower? Proving once and for all that there is no replacement for displacement, the Ecotec came to the party with 150 pound feet of torque, but what we're getting from the same company, mind you, after 13 years is essentially the same output from a given displacement.

Like the fact that Chewbacca, a Wookiee, lives on the moon Endor with two-foot-tall Ewoks, this does not make sense.


The General will tell you that the Ecotec is more refined, but even after my Saab developed an exhaust leak, it still sounds like a more exotic beast, and it imparts no more vibration to the passengers. Points go to the Ecotec over most other engines for the naked top mounted oil filter, but it's little advantage over the Saab, whose conventional canister filter is accessible from the top of the motor.

I'm sure that you're just waiting to inform me that the 2.4 Liter Direct Injection Ecotec has reached 182 horsepower, but so what? The Quad 4 had that kind of power, from within GM no less, more than 20 years ago. And then you would play the "refinement" card again, but after 20 years the curve ought to be higher than that. If all we're getting after GM Powertrain has been on the job for nearly a generation is some loosely defined polish, then that isn't enough.


We're talking about the same group that massaged the Corvette's small-block from 250 to 436 horsepower in the same period with only half a liter in additional displacement. They can add that kind of power to the corporation's eight-cylinder engines, but all the mass market motors get is a dollop of Bon Ami.

A 2005 Corvette has very little in common with the L98 C4, aside from the retained phallic overtones. But tell me how I lose anything over my wife's Cavalier by driving my $500 Saab? Anybody? Bueller?


This piece was written and submitted by a Jalopnik reader and may not express views held by Jalopnik or its staff. But maybe they will become our views. It all depends on whether or not this person wins by whit of your eyeballs in our reality show, "Who Wants to be America's Next Top Car Blogger?"

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Perhaps consider the emissions and fuel economy differences. According to a 5 minute google search, the cavalier gets 23/33, whereas the saab eeks out 18/24.

That's a significant ~30% improvement in fuel economy for almost identical horsepower. One can only imagine the difference in cleanliness.

In cars like these, I don't think HP or performance was a primary design-driver.