SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 14,673 Price As Tested $ 20,263 Engine Type DOHC 24v 1.8 Liter I4 w/SFI* Engine Size 109.5 cid/1794 cc Horsepower 120 @ 5600 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 127 @ 4400 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 97.1"/66.7"/175" Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 2510 pounds Fuel Capacity 13.2 gallons Tires (F/R) P185/65R14 Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/four-door Domestic Content 62 percent Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) 0.31 PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 28/36/30 0-60 MPH 10.5 seconds 1/4 Mile (E.T.) 18.2 seconds @ 79 mph Top speed 110 mph * Sequential fuel injection
(The Geo brand name is gone, but it's Prizm sedan lives on, says Bob Hagin. He and his son Matt try the latest '98 version which now carries the Chevrolet bow-tie emblem in the grille.)
BOB - The Geo brand name didn't last long, Matt. General Motors had the Geo name put on several of its Japanese transplants in '89 and sold them through Chevrolet dealerships as a separate brand. Now GM calls them Chevrolets and the Prizm is being offered to buyers who want a small imported sedan, but want it with an American label. It's no secret that the Prizm is a rebadged Toyota Corolla, since many of the ancillary units under the hood are clearly labeled Toyota. And that's not a bad thing because Corolla is the second-best selling car in the world, being just a few million shy of the mark set by the VW Beetle.
MATT - When GM dropped the Geo name, it appears to have done it at a time when an upgrade was due. There are a few things on this car that are strictly Prizm, Dad, and most of them are cosmetic differences in the sheet metal department. But the mechanical changes that have gone into this year's Prizm are what make it an almost totally new car. The new twin-cam, 1.8 liter four-cylinder engine is now all-aluminum and puts out 120 horsepower which is 15 more than last year's iron version. And it dropped 65 pounds of weight by going to aluminum, too. The entire car has had considerable attention paid to sound deadening and the new Prizm is noticeably quieter than the '97 car. There's a couple of versions of the Prizm available, the Base and the LSi, which is the car we tried. The LSi features power windows and door locks and an optional 60/40 split on the back seat, an item that's not offered on the Base model. But both of them have a tilt-steering column available as an option. Although this Prizm LSi is considered an inexpensive compact car, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it came with an optional keyless entry system, a very useful and pleasant option.
BOB - To me, it wouldn't be a Chevy if it didn't have tilt steering, Matt. The car we reviewed had an optional four-speed automatic transmission, but I think that the five-speed manual gearbox will be the favorite with most buyers. A stick-shift makes a small car like this more receptive to driver control and it becomes a lot more fun to drive. Either are preferable to the three-speed automatic that's standard. It seems like the suspension has been tightened up some, too, and the handling on the '98 version seems more crisp and responsive on twisting backroads. Anti-skid braking is a $650 option on both versions of the Prizm, but I was surprised to find that drum brakes were standard on both models. Four-wheel discs should at least be optional on the LSi.
MATT - One of the features on the Prizm that I really appreciate is the automatic activation of the air conditioner blower when the windshield defroster is turned on. This keeps the interior glass from clouding up until the temperature in the cockpit stabilizes. The trunk lift-over is bumper-high which makes loading groceries and such relatively easy. I know that you're not an enthusiast of sunroofs, but the Prizm has a power-operated unit that tilts up as well sliding back. The back seat of the Prizm is nothing to write home about in width and legroom, but it isn't too bad as long as you don't try to squeeze three adults back there. The alloy wheels that came on our car look sporty too, and the optional P185/65R14 tires add to the handling.
BOB - The Prizm, along with its Corolla clone, have been a favorite with the car rental outfits since they first came out. It's rugged, durable and still gives the driver and passengers a high degree of comfort and performance. The fuel mileage is 36 mpg on the highway and 28 around town, which is an important factor in the car rental business. The Prizm is a great car for a small family.
MATT - Now that I've got two kids, the main attribute I look for in any car is whether I can easily fit two child seats in back.
BOB - Matt, it doesn't seem very long ago that the attributes you looked for in a new car were how fast it would go and how you looked behind the wheel while cruising Main Street on Friday night.