What's New for 1998
Chevy replaces the Geo badge with its own on the completely redesigned Prizm. Among the improvements are a larger standard engine, optional side airbags, an optional handling package for LSi models and new colors inside and out. Front airbags are of the depowered variety.
In short, the Prizm is one of the best compact cars money can buy. It does everything well, and looks good too. Better yet, it is essentially a reskinned Toyota Corolla, which bodes well for reliability and resale value. To top things off, the previous-generation Prizm earned very high marks in initial quality studies, scoring better than the Infiniti G20 and Honda Accord.
But there is a problem, and that problem is price. Slotted between the Cavalier and Malibu, the small Prizm is no bargain once options are added. In some cases, a well-equipped Prizm is more expensive than a similarly loaded Malibu. During 1997, a $1,000 rebate was available on this little sedan for the entire model year, as GM attempted to subsidize the high price a bit.
Still, there are compelling reasons to choose the Prizm. Its excellent reliability record, coupled with tasteful styling and outstanding assembly quality go a long way toward selling consumers on the Prizm. The car feels substantial, conveying the impression that it will last quite a long time. In contrast, the Cavalier feels somewhat cheap, flimsy and unrefined. The solid Malibu doesn't appeal to buyers looking for a smaller package. This leads to problem number two. For 1998, the Geo brand disappears. For the past decade, savvy consumers have recognized the Geo badge as the import-oriented division of General Motors. Now the Prizm is just one more Chevrolet. It will be interesting to see how this move affects resale values in comparison to sister model, the Toyota Corolla.
Perhaps this year's complete redesign will inspire consumers to shop Chevy. A new 120-horsepower engine is standard on all models, and acceleration is greatly improved. Side airbags are optional on the 1998 Prizm, a first for the compact sedan class. Optional on the new Prizm is a handling package consisting of larger tires and a front stabilizer bar. A rear stabilizer bar is standard. All interior fabrics feature Scotchgard stain protection and the exhaust system is composed of stainless steel. As on last year's model, and in a break with GM tradition, antilock brakes are optional rather than standard.
Interior accommodations are rather sparse in base Prizms, but LSi's come with uplevel fittings and trim. Either model offers excellent ergonomics; all the switches and controls fall readily to hand, and the gauges are clear and legible. The seats are firm but comfortable. The clutch is a joy to work, and the five-speed manual shifts from gear to gear fluidly.
Prizm is strictly econo-issue in base trim, but add aluminum wheels and a premium equipment package to an LSi, and the Prizm transforms itself into a mini-Camry. Also available is a CD player and extended range speakers that sound great. Truly, a fully loaded Prizm is a fine car. However, a Prizm LSi with every available option closes quickly on $20,000. For that kind of cash you can buy a Honda Accord, a Ford Contour, a Nissan Altima or a Chevrolet Malibu LS. The identically sized Cavalier LS would save you several thousand dollars and include generous level of trimmings. Keep a lid on the options, however, and the Prizm makes much more sense.