SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide
Although the Geo brand has disappeared, the cars formerly known as Geo continue to be available under the Chevrolet brand name. In the case of the Prizm sedan, "continue" is not quite the right word. There is far more new in the 1998 Chevrolet Prizm than the Chevy bow-tie logo in the middle of the grille.
As before, the Fremont, California - built 1998 Prizm is designed to appeal to people who would otherwise buy an imported- nameplate car. Two trim levels, Prizm Sedan and Prizm LSi Sedan, are offered. Both have revised exterior styling and a redesigned interior. A new, lighter engine is more powerful than the old powerplant, and helps the 1998 Prizm go farther on a gallon of gas. A more rigid chassis structure and suspension and soundproofing modifications mean better ride and handling qualities and lower noise levels. Features like automatic headlights, delayed-off interior lights, and dual trip meters, usually associated with more expensive cars, are standard equipment even on the base model Prizm Sedan.
I found the new Chevrolet Prizm LSi to be a solid, comfortable small car with plenty of big-car features during recent time spent with one. It had plenty of power for any situation. A very well-designed, useful interior made it comfortable and convenient. Gas mileage was very good. According to Chevrolet, 97 percent of Prizm owners would recommend one to a friend. I can see why.
APPEARANCE: External changes to the Prizm are more apparent in person than in a picture. It's been restyled, but not radically. The basic shape remains, but is leaner, primarily due to a lower hood. This increases visibility and improves aerodynamics. The center of the hood is lower than the fenders, and drops down to a simple grille flanked by elliptical headlights. In the center of the grille, the Chevrolet bow tie replaces the Geo globe. Integrated bumpers are body color, and window trim is matte black. The large passenger cabin is little changed from last year's models, but the high trunk and sculpted tail panel are more stylish. The Prizm LSi has practical plastic wheel covers over steel disc wheels.
COMFORT: Inside, the new Chevy Prizm is unpretentious, functional, and has more room than expected. Five six-footers won't fit too well, but the norm for this class of car is more likely two adults and two small-to-medium children. They'll fit just fine. The Prizm LSi's cloth-upholstered front bucket and rear bench seats have been redesigned, with more width, more foam padding, and a greater cushion height all improving comfort. The rear seat folds with a 60/40 split to carry long items that won't otherwise fit in the good-sized trunk. There is plenty of interior storage space, with door pockets, a two-layer console box, and a larger glovebox. The instrument panel is simply styled and functional. Large rotary climate controls and big pushbuttons for the optional AM/FM/CD sound system are easy to use.
SAFETY: The 1998 Chevrolet Prizm has a safety-cage chassis design with front and rear crush zones. Daytime running lights with automatic full power after 20 seconds of darkness and dual front airbags are standard, with front side airbags and antilock brakes available. All occupants have three-point safety harnesses.
ROADABILITY: If you think of small cars as harsh in suspension comfort, vague in handling, and tiringly noisy, the new Prizm, particularly in LSi trim, will change your mind. It has the suspension sophistication of a larger, more expensive car. The larger, upgraded tires and front anti-roll bar that are part of the LSi option package help both ride quality and handling. While not particularly sporty in intent, the '98 Prizm is nimble and enjoyable to drive.
PERFORMANCE: On the road, the changes under the hood are more noticeable than any external differences from previous Prizms. Both trim levels now share a new 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. This is not last year's optional 1.8-liter engine. Although of the same dual overhead cam, 16-valve design, the new motor has considerable more power than the old one, with 120 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque versus 105 hp and 117 lb-ft. All-aluminum construction means 66 pounds less weight, improving the car's balance and handling. The 1998 Chevy Prizm is definitely not an underpowered automobile. A 5- speed manual gearbox is standard. Two automatics are available, a three-speed or the smooth, refined electronically-controlled 4-speed with which my test car was equipped. Because of the engine's good torque characteristics, any of the transmission choices should work well.
CONCLUSIONS: No suffering necessary. The new 1998 Chevrolet Prizm is proof that small, economical cars can be comfortable and well-equipped.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 14,614 Price As Tested $ 17,799 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 16-valve inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 1.8 liters / 109 cu. in. Horsepower 120 @ 5600 Torque (lb-ft) 127 @ 4400 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 97.1 in. / 175.0 in. Curb Weight 2550 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 21.2 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 87 octane Tires P185/65 R14 Firestone FR680 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock optional Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent MacPherson strut Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 29 / 36 / 32 0 to 60 mph 10.5 sec with 5-speed, est 11.2 sec with 4-speed auto 1/4 mile (E.T.) 17.6 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Side Air Bag $ 295 Single integrated child safety seat in right rear position $ 125 Electric rear window defogger $ 180 Antilock brake system $ 645 4-speed automatic transmission $ 800 CA / NY / MA emissions $ 170 Prizm Equipment Group # 2: $ 550 includes: air conditioning, electronically- tuned 4-speaker AM/FM/ CD sound system, cruise control, handling package with front stabilizer bar and upgraded tires, tilt steering wheel, power windows Destination Charge $ 420