YOU SORTA figure that when two great actors take to the stage, you're gonna have a great play; that when two great teams take the field, you're guaranteed a great game; that when two great lovers take to each other, the results are gonna be -- zowie! -- all right. Know what I mean?.
So, who would have guessed that the product of a union between General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., two of the greatest car makers in the world, would be an, ah, that it would be, er, um -- well, that it would be an uninspired econobox with the recycled name of "Nova"?
Oh, it's not a bad little car. In fact, it's probably the best little Chevrolet that Toyota ever made. But, golly, Darlene, it's so-o-o-o boring.
Both GM and Toyota have individual cars in the same category -- subcompact and compact economy -- that are more exciting than this. Either company could produce a car as ordinary as the Nova on its own. (Toyota, in fact, does. It's called the Corolla.)
Now, Roger Smith is a great guy. He's probably the smartest chairman ever to take the wheel at GM. But I'm sorry, Roger. There's just no way you can convince me that you and the folks at Toyota had to create a company called NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) to turn out this car called Nova.
Outstanding complaints: The Nova -- the name was first used in 1962 for the Chevy II Nova -- lacks the charming quirkiness of the aging but reliable Chevrolet Chevette; and it lacks the identity of a Corolla. It is a schizmobile, with wheels in both worlds -- the perfect car for people who don't like cars, who see them as "just machines," necessary mobile evils designed to get you from Point A to Point B.
Outstanding praise: Are the Nova's fit and finish good? Yes, of course. Its production is supervised by executives from Toyota. Those people really know how to install plastic -- as in plastic dashboards, gearbox casings, support-beam covers, etc. It all fits quite nicely, thank you.
The Nova's five-speed-manual transmission is excellent, just like the one in the Corolla and several other Toyota models. The little 1.6- liter, 2-barrel, 4-cylinder gasoline engine has lots of hustle, just like the Toyota cars. The Nova has sure-footed, front-wheel-drive traction, just like several Toyota models, but unlike the rear-wheel-drive Chevette.
Braking action is also fine. I mean, come on, how much friction do you need to stop a car that weighs 2,160 pounds?
Head-turning-quotient: Annnh, it has all of the appeal of a G-rated movie playing next door to something like "Body Heat."
Sound system: Well, okay! Finally, here's something great in the Nova. The AM-FM stereo-cassette is from GM's people at Delco. Those people really know how to boogie. Maybe, they'll teach the Japanese the Detroit Bop. Only thing is, I thought that NUMMI was supposed to be a technical exchange program instead of a cultural exchange project. Mileage: About 34 miles per gallon, combined city-highway, running lightly loaded with air conditioner off. This car is bound to destroy any relationship you might have with your neighborhood gas station.
Price-as-tested: $7,485, affordable, boring, competent and apparently priced to stay that way.