I bought my 2002 base Cavalier coupe as a car to use to drive to work. It's my primary daily transportation. Price, standard features and fuel economy were my major concerns in looking for a new car. I purchased this car with large cash rebates, a dealer discount of $950 off sticker and also credit card points that I had accumulated. I shopped Honda and VW, but their prices couldn't even come close to the Cavalier price after the discounts. From a purely financial standpoint, it was a no-brainer to buy the Cavalier.
Power is adequate from the 2.2 engine that's been used since the 1980's. It's certainly not a sports car, but then I don't expect it to be one. GM has made some very noticeable improvements in reducing the clatter and vibrations from this engine that I remember from previous Cavalier/Chevy applications. Though, it is not as smooth as Honda or VW motors. Reminding myself of what I paid for the car makes this point a non-issue.
The car is light (~2600 lbs), so that helps with having decent acceleration. For around town, this engine provides decent amounts of power and torque. The torque ratings on this motor are higher than all of the similar priced competitor's cars. I am getting consistently between 30-32 mpg and the motor is not even broken in yet. The German designed Getrag 5 speed manual transmission is very easy to shift, does not balk at all and is a huge improvement over the 1999 and older transmission.
A CD player was standard equipment and actually provides good sound. There is not a huge amount of low frequency response, nor is there lots of power, but it certainly is well above average compared to other car manufacturer's base stereo systems. It plays disks that my aftermarket CD player will not play. I replaced this factory stereo with an aftermarket unit in order to expand the audio system in the car and removing the factory head unit requires disassembly of the entire dash.
The car's handling is below average. Even for a base model car, Chevrolet could have made this car handle better. The car has excessive body roll. Replacing the tires with higher performance models and mounting larger diameter rims did not help much. The freeway ride is good, though the soft suspension does not inspire confidence when doing fast maneuvers. The stock Goodyear Conquest tires are adequate and are what a person would expect in a high volume, economy car (they have to suit many different driving styles and road conditions). They are relatively quiet and perform well in wet conditions.
Instrumentation is very good (clear and easy to read). The tachometer is a nice standard feature and I consider it to be a necessity with a manual transmission. The A/C is typical GM air conditioning: you can make ice cubes inside with the A/C on. Ventilation controls are small and somewhat recessed under the radio area, but are easy to use and work just fine. The 4 speed fan provides plenty of air movement. The dash and interior is well laid out and the rear seat will accommodate 3 adults in a pinch. My children fit perfect in the rear seat.
The front seating is a bit soft and unsupportive, but this is an economy car. The fold down rear seat is a plus (standard) and the power, remote trunk release is also an excellent standard feature. The trunk is large (for a compact car) and has a relatively low lift over point.
Changing the oil is relatively easy as long as you can lift the car up properly to get at the oil filter. Spark plugs and other filters are easy to get at and easy to change. There is actually room to work on this motor if need be in the engine bay.
Overall, this is an very good economy car. It's easy and fun to drive. Fuel economy is very good and there are a lot of standard features. Plus, the large amount of Chevy dealers makes it convenient for service needs. There are certainly better built vehicles to choose from, but at the price point that I purchased this car at, you can't beat it.