1998 Chevrolet Prizm Review

Pros & Cons

  • Toyota reliability but made in the U.S.A. Optional side airbags a first in the compact class. Powerful new engine turns Prizm into stealthy sports sedan. Optional integrated child seat.
  • New styling not as crisp and clean as old model. No aggressive sport suspension to complement the new motor.
Other years
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List Price Estimate
$768 - $1,811

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Vehicle overview

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.

1998 Highlights

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.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the 1998 Chevrolet Prizm.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

Very good mileage, reliability. However...
I've owned a well used '98 Prizm for for over six years now and at 166K it still runs and does not give me headaches. The mileage is great, I can go almost a whole month without refilling the tank. Heater and AC are strong and quick to action. However it handles poorly, becomes shaky, and burns huge amounts of oil at high speeds, so avoid the interstate. May get water into engine if roads are wet enough to puddle. Interior is very cheap, with some parts snapping or peeling with age. Door handles WILL eventually bust. Steering wheel module and shifter unfortunately made of very soft materials that easily scratch & collect dirt or hand gunk. I have had to replace rear shocks, power steering.
Exception to the Rule?
My prizm is a one owner, used, 1998 Geo Prizm with 34K miles from a Toyota Dealer. The car had been previously leased so the presumption is that it was well maintained because of lease constraints. The car promptly lost seven quarts of oil in 2000 miles without burning any smoke. The dealer says the oil rings are collapsed. The dealer told me the problem had been traced back to one of two factories that produced engines for the Geo Prizm. The cross-hatching in the cynlinder walls allegedly was faulty and caused premature failure to the rings. When I called Toyota they said no technical service bulletins had been issued and my problem may not be covered. I will not buy a toyota again.
My Grandma gifted me her '98 Prizm
And it's easily the best car I've ever owned. It has just under 60,000 miles on it, and based on most of these reviews on here, I've a long way to go before I experience any of the more serious (but routine) issues. I'm looking forward to owning this car a very long time. And the gas mileage, MY GOD! It's phenomenal!
love my prism
I love my little prism. This was the first car I bought in 2002 with 59,000 miles on it. I have not had too many problems. Like most ppl on here i have replaced all my door handles inside and out, ac, the clear coat has chipped, and i have replaced some front end parts. Other than this my prism currently has 261,000! i keep thinking its almost done and it keeps me moving... never has she left me stranded and just when i think of getting a new one i think of all the fun i have had in her... haven't been able to part yet... i would definitely recommend this car!

Features & Specs

27 city / 34 hwy
Seats 0
5-speed manual
120 hp @ 5600 rpm
27 city / 34 hwy
Seats 0
5-speed manual
120 hp @ 5600 rpm
See all Used 1998 Chevrolet Prizm features & specs


NHTSA Overall Rating

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver4 / 5
    Passenger4 / 5
  • Side Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
  • Side Barrier Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver3 / 5
    Passenger3 / 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 Prizm
More About This Model

Geo redesigned the Prizm for 1998. Wait, that’s not exactly right. General Motors dropped the Geo nameplate and blended all of its models into Chevrolet this year. OK, let’s start over. Chevrolet redesigned the Prizm for 1998. No, that’s not right either. The Prizm is hardly a Chevrolet product; in fact, it is little more than a rebadged Toyota Corolla. How about this? Toyota redesigned the Corolla this year, which you can purchase at Chevrolet dealerships under the Prizm name. That’s good; I like that.

Name and origin notwithstanding, a badge-engineered Toyota Corolla has been part of the General Motors’s lineup since 1986 when the Chevrolet Nova was reintroduced as an economy sedan and hatchback. In 1989, General Motors decided to spin its foreign cars into a single division that would appeal to import buyers. The Geo nameplate was born and products normally seen at Suzuki, Toyota and Isuzu lots were suddenly being sold alongside Cavaliers, Blazers and Corsicas. For some reason GM executives decided that the Geo nameplate had fulfilled its purpose and was no longer useful. As a result, they dropped it at the end of the 1997 model year.

This nameplate drop serendipitously occurred with the aforementioned redesign of the Prizm. As such, it allowed Chevrolet to offer a new and different Prizm from the one being sold last year. Although the Prizm has never sold as well as the Corolla, it has always been viewed by savvy shoppers as the easiest route to solid and reliable transportation.

Our test Prizm was an LSi model equipped with loads of goodies including side-impact airbags, automatic transmission, antilock brakes a handling package, power windows and locks, cruise control and a stereo with CD player. Despite this, I was unable to get excited about the Prizm. Maybe it was the sandy brown color that blended too well with all of the dead winter lawns in my neighborhood. Maybe it was the hideous discount rack wheel covers that assaulted the tires of the Prizm. Maybe, just maybe, the transformation from Geo to Chevrolet robbed the Prizm of some of its greatness; a little of the uniqueness that set it apart from the other compact sedans it competes against.

One area that wasn’t screwed up was the powertrain. GM dumped the 1.6-liter engine with the redesign, deciding to power all Prizms with a 1.8-liter 120-horsepower four-cylinder motor. The result is a peppy car that accelerates quickly and has plenty of power for passing slow movers on the freeway. Gas mileage doesn't suffer with this larger engine; the Prizm is capable of achieving 28 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, even when saddled with an automatic transmission.

The interior of the new Prizm is nice for the compact class, but somewhat lacking when compared to the model that preceded it. All of the controls in the Prizm are well positioned and easy to use. Likewise, the interior upholstery and dashboard materials are upscale. The missing component seems to be the Lexus-like isolation from wind, engine and road noise that the previous model enjoyed. The engine in our test car seemed buzzier than it should, and the tires roared like lions across most road surfaces. I can’t help but think that some of these problems with noise arose as a result of the cost-cutting measures that make the current Prizm less expensive than the 1997 model.

Although we were disappointed by the Prizm’s high noise, vibration,and harshness levels, it was nothing compared to the loss we felt when first trying to hustle the new Prizm along a twisty road. Last year’s model wouldn’t be confused with a Miata, but it was certainly more fun than its sedate sheetmetal suggested. The driving experience in the new Prizm can be described in one word: boring. The suspension does not do an adequate job of smoothing over irregularities in the road, transferring much of the shock of an unseen pothole directly to the driver’s derriere. The steering is plagued by severe kickback that threatens to jolt the steering wheel out of the hands of drivers who hold it with less than a vice-like grip. These are problems that we could get over if there was anything about the Prizm that endeared itself to our enthusiast nature. Unfortunately there is not. The steering is numb and slow, the suspension allows too much understeer, and, although the brakes are firm and offer decent feel, they lose their effectiveness under hard braking, while the tires give up too quickly. The scary thing is that we formulated these opinions of the Prizm driving experience while testing a model equipped with the handling package. Imagine if we had gotten a base model without the front anti-roll bar and more aggressive tires? Yikes.

Although the Prizm isn’t the most exciting compact on the market, it has become one of the safest. Our test car came to us sporting optional side-impact airbags, making the Prizm and the Toyota some of the cheapest sedans in the country with this level of safety technology. The Prizm also has standard depowered front airbags and optional antilock brakes. Traction control is missing from the standard equipment list and option roster, but we didn’t have much difficulty controlling this front-wheel drive car on snow-covered roads during an early spring snowstorm.

The Chevrolet Prizm is a solid entrant in the crowded compact car market. Unfortunately, the current generation is a bit staid. The Prizm is also rather expensive, costing more than the powerful Ford Contour SE V6, the fun Volkswagen Jetta GLS and the peppy Mazda Protege ES. Each of these cars represents a great value and an even greater personality. Is it worth giving up the Prizm’s outstanding reliability record? That’s for you to decide. We know, however, that if we were in the market for a small sedan we’d be heading to a Mazda, Volkswagen or Ford dealership for a little excitement.

Used 1998 Chevrolet Prizm Overview

The Used 1998 Chevrolet Prizm is offered in the following submodels: Prizm Sedan. Available styles include LSi 4dr Sedan, and 4dr Sedan.

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Should I lease or buy a 1998 Chevrolet Prizm?

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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