1998 Chevrolet Cavalier Review

Pros & Cons

  • Low price, roomy interior, great basic transportation
  • Cheap interior materials, buzzy standard engine
List Price Estimate
$891 - $2,101

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Vehicle overview

For 16 years, the Cavalier has been a staple sales leader for Chevy dealers. Understandably so, because the Cavalier offers reasonable value and is priced low enough to compete favorably in the compact market, often undercutting smaller models from other manufacturers.

The second-generation Cavalier debuted in 1995, and not a moment too soon. A very good car, this recently designed Cavalier, offers adequate room for four adults, decent performance and acceptable interior accommodations. Styling is attractive and contemporary, and there is a model to suit almost everyone's needs.

Changes to this successful formula are minimal for 1998. The LS convertible has been replaced by a Z24 droptop in an effort to drum up more youthful interest in the car. All the Z24's trim pieces are added, but the convertible doesn't get the sharp five-spoke alloy wheels from the coupe version. Instead, mesh-style rims grace the Z24 convertible. Other modifications include the addition of cruise control to the standard equipment lists of the RS, LS and Z24, and the deletion of power window and remote keyless entry availability on Base models. Also, the AM/FM stereo can no longer be deleted from lower rung models.

GM's venerable 2.2-liter four cylinder, whose droning exhaust note you are no doubt familiar with, is standard in the Cavalier. Equipped with this powerplant, the Cavalier lags behind its primary domestic competition, the Dodge Neon, in power and acceleration. Optional in LS sedan is a 2.4-liter twin-cam engine hooked to a four-speed automatic transmission that features traction control. The Cavalier is a much more livable car with this engine, and we wish that Chevrolet offered this powertrain in base models as well. The twin-cam engine is standard in the sporty Z24 coupe and convertible. Manually shifted Z24 coupes are as quick as the Neon Sport Coupe from rest to 60 mph.

Additional changes include one new exterior paint color (Gold), two new monotone interior color schemes and one new convertible top color (Neutral). Overall, we think Chevy has a winner here. The styling is attractive and contemporary. The interior is comfortable and well laid-out. Antilock brakes are standard equipment. And, best of all, the price is dead on; low enough to make the Chevrolet Metro sedan an exercise in redundancy. We recommend that you check out the Cavalier if a compact car fits your needs.

1998 Highlights

A Z24 convertible is introduced, cruise control is standard on all but base models, power windows and remote keyless entry are no longer available on base cars, and buyers can no longer delete the AM/FM radio. Second-generation airbags debut on all models.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

The Catfish of cars (they just don't die)
They say that cars are a liability not an investment, but my 1998 Cavalier proved that statement wrong! I bought mine brand new and drove it for 13 years. It still runs and the only thing I ever really needed to do was regular maintenance. It's been through a lot and if anyone says that a Chevy is no good then there is no way that they have ever truly owned one. I would recommend a Chevy to anyone. It was worth every penny and it showed that American made cars are at the top of the list with foreign competition. I loved my car and my faith in Chevy will never be diminished.
My very first car, and boy am I happy wiith it!
LS 4dr Sedan
I bought this car for $850 from some shady dude. I was skeptical since it's my first time buying a car but I think I got a pretty good deal! Car has 208k miles on it and it runs like a champ. I've owned it for around 6 months now, drive it everyday for work. Gas mileage is amazing, 15 bucks fills the tank and it lasts around a week and half! It handles beautifully and it's pretty fast too. It currently has only 2 issues, the gas gauge went bad and it needs the passenger side engine mount replaced, but it's nothing serious or that can't be fixed. I truly recommend this car if you're looking for your first car.
They just don't die!
I bought my 98 z-24 cavalier with 101k "highway" miles on it in 2003. I have NEVER regretted the purchase. I have only had to have 1 major repair done on it (housing case) in 11 years. Mine has been through a lot. It has been stolen, and they hot rodded it and tore it up externally pretty bad, but it still runs. I let maintenence on it slip pretty bad over the years, and it still runs. No matter what punishment this car has been dished out, it just does not stop running. It also has some real "get up and go" when needed.
I have owned my Cavalier for about 6 months now and I couldn't be happier with my purchase. The Vehicle was a trade in at the dealership I work at. I have always wanted a Cavalier so I inspected it and test drove it right away. It had 119,000 miles on it and the only problem I noticed was it was leaking antifreeze very fast so I new it wasn't the head gasket. I decided to purchase the Cavalier knowing I could replace the water pump myself for $15.00 with lifetime warranty! After I fixed the water pump I have never had a single problem with the vehicle. I drive it everyday to work, pleasure and trips and it has never let me down. People writing bad reveiws don't know how to take care of cars.

Features & Specs

See all Used 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier features & specs


NHTSA Overall Rating

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver3 / 5
    Passenger4 / 5
  • Side Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
  • Side Barrier Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver1 / 5
    Passenger2 / 5
  • Combined Side Barrier & Pole Ratings
    Front SeatNot Rated
    Back SeatNot Rated
  • Rollover
    RolloverNot Rated
    Dynamic Test ResultNo Tip
    Risk Of RolloverNot Rated
IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
    Not Tested
  • Roof Strength Test
    Not Tested
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
    Not Tested
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test

More about the 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier
More About This Model

The Chevrolet Cavalier has been around since the spring of 1981, and somehow, year after year, General Motors keeps coming back with more - interest in this car has never waned enough to cancel the Cavalier. Despite a glut of reasonably-priced compact sedans on the market, the Cavalier - in both coupe and sedan form - is a common sight on America's highways. This is partly due to rental car fleets (we rented an inexpensive Cavalier coupe just last February), but a fair share of Cavaliers actually end up parked in people's garages. Excuse our stupefied expression.

Our test car was painted an awful shade of blue which Chevy calls "Aquamarine Blue Metallic." As if the car were not homely enough on its own merits, this color ruined it for good. Aside from the exterior color, the sedan suffered from black plastic door handles and side mirrors, and one serious underbite of a front fascia: the squinty headlights are set well aft of the front bumper structure, and the abridged hood doesn't quite form an even seam at the front. As a whole, this car's appearance isn't much improved from the 1982 model year Cavalier.

The drive is memorable because it was the worst we've experienced in a long while. The ride is choppy, the engine's hoppy and the transmission's droppy. Overall, we'd call it sloppy, but that's too many rhymes. Let's just say that the car is unrefined.

The engine needs to redline to find any power, and when it does, it sounds as if it's about to push its way through the firewall and land in your lap. Our test car came with the optional 2.4-liter DOHC four cylinder, which makes 150 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 155 foot-pounds of torque at 4400 rpm. That's an extra 35 horsepower and an extra 20 foot-pounds of torque when compared to the base 2.2-liter engine, which is considerable for a 2,630-lb. sedan. But this is by far one of the noisiest motors on the market. Even at idle, we witnessed the little engine shaking like a caffeine addict going through withdrawal.

The LS sedan comes equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission. The tranny performed adequately under light acceleration, but when we stepped on the gas, the car would run to redline and then heave itself into the next gear. While the motor, thankfully, was not powerful enough to create whiplash, the transmission's behavior is not one of this car's highlights.

The seats are uncomfortable for any length of time due to a lack of thigh or lateral support. That includes the rear seats, though they provided more legroom than we had expected. Up front, tall people will fit surprisingly well, but there's really not enough room in the footwell to rest a big left foot. The rear seatback can be folded flat with a simple tug on a strap, and that makes for plenty of cargo space - enough for a few golf bags, skis or whatever bulky items you'd care to haul around.

Noise is abundant in all directions, and comes from all the elements: earth, wind, water and fire. Road noise is present at all times, wind noise permeates the cabin at highway speeds, and when it rains, water is picked up by the tires and hurled at the underside of the car, much like the sound of a carwash. The engine noise is present mostly during acceleration, but it's always in the background. Cruising at 75 mph, however, the engine turns at only 2,800 rpm, which is probably ideal for noise reduction. The stereo, unfortunately, is not powerful enough to compete with the other less appealing sounds.

On the plus side for this car are braking and handling. The brakes fade moderately at first, but then even out and grip well even when hot. Successive panic stops resulted in little loss of traction from the tires, and the ABS action didn't shy us from the brake pedal. Steering is not quite crisp, but it is consistent and gives feedback from the road without feeling too direct. ndersteer isn't bad, but the motor isn't quite strong enough to induce much understeer in the first place.

The interior of the Cavalier is laid out quite well, but it's made up of the lowest form of materials from the GM parts bin. Black plastic bristles are probably the least attractive of the interior accouterments - they line the inside slots of both shift lever and parking brake handle. Truly, the bristles are the bottom of the barrel in terms of automotive parts. In time, they fray. Just take a look at any early 80's rental car, or any slightly-used windshield scraper brush for an example.

We'd prefer that the stereo controls be positioned north of the climate controls, but otherwise the dash layout is quite ergonomic and easy to read. Our test car's dash-top air vent wasn't attached correctly and as a result was coming loose, but the rest of the interior was assembled well. The only complaint, really, was that he exterior paint was plainly visible through the rear doorjambs. This might not have been a source of gripe, but remember that we really hated the "Aquamarine Blue.".

Our test car came with power windows, which seem a bit out of place in such an economy car. We were constantly in search of the old-fashioned cranks. In fact, if we were considering the Cavalier, we'd skip the options altogether, except for the 2.4-liter engine. Our test car came in at an MSRP of $16,524, which is dangerously close to much more refined cars such as the Honda Civic EX sedan, fully-optioned Toyota Corolla LE or the Chevrolet Prizm LSi.

The Cavalier is in a sort of no-man's land, positioned in the Chevy lineup between the scrappy-yet-economical Metro and the competent Prizm. If you're looking for motorcycle-like fuel economy, look at the Metro. Want an affordable, sensible sedan? Drive the Prizm or Corolla. But with such plentiful competition, the Cavalier is not a vehicle we can recommend.

The word "cavalier" has two very distinct meanings. In one sense, cavalier is a noun meaning a courtly or gallant person such as a knight. In another sense, cavalier is an adjective meaning haughty, unceremonious, or thoughtless. We're guessing that the product planners had the former definition in mind when they named this car, but the alternative definition is intriguingly accurate.

Used 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier Overview

The Used 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier is offered in the following submodels: Cavalier Sedan, Cavalier Coupe, Cavalier Convertible. Available styles include 2dr Coupe, 4dr Sedan, LS 4dr Sedan, Z24 2dr Coupe, Z24 2dr Convertible, and RS 2dr Coupe.

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Should I lease or buy a 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

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Check out Chevrolet Cavalier lease specials