What's New for 1997
The Prizm is essentially carried over for 1997, sporting new door trim panels, standard power steering, new exterior colors, and strengthened side-impact protection.
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 Prizm has earned very high marks in initial quality studies, scoring better than the Infiniti G20 and Honda Accord.
But who's gonna buy the darn thing? Rebates were available throughout most of the 1996 model year, as dealers struggled to reduce a serious oversupply of Prizms. If the car is so good, what's the problem? The Chevrolet Cavalier is the problem. The two models compete for showroom space at Chevrolet/Geo dealers, and compact car shoppers have discovered that the Cavalier is not only more powerful and roomier inside, but it is also less expensive.
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.
Order the optional 1.8-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engine, mate it to a five-speed manual transmission, and you've got yourself a zippy little sedan. The torquey 1.8-liter motor pulls strongly around town, and cruises effortlessly at highway speeds. 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 snicks from gear to gear fluidly.
The Prizm is due for a complete redesign next year, so news for 1997 is rather limited. All Prizms meet federally mandated side-impact standards for the first time. Base models add power steering to the standard equipment list. New door trim panels with front map pockets debut, and the LSi Convenience Package now includes a passenger door power lock switch. Four new exterior colors help keep things fresh until new sheetmetal arrives.
Prizm is strictly econo-issue in base trim, but add aluminum wheels and leather seats to an LSi, and the Prizm transforms itself into a mini-Lexus. 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 Chrysler Cirrus LXi, a Ford Contour SE, or a loaded Cavalier LS (which would save you several thousand dollars). Keep a lid on the options, and the Prizm makes much more sense.