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New Car/Review

1998 Chevrolet Prizm

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:                  1.8-liter DOHC inline four
TRANSMISSION:            Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:            32 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, 29.8 mpg test
WHEELBASE:               97.0 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 174.2 x 66.7 x 53.7 in.
CURB WEIGHT:             3051 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:           13.2 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:        12.1 cu. ft.
TIRES:                   P185/65R14
INSTRUMENTS:             Speedometer, fuel level, water temperature, 
                         digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:               Power windows, power mirrors, cruise control, 
                         air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, 
                         anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, dual front air bags, 
                         side air bag.
STICKER PRICE:           $15,430

At the conclusion of the week when I drove the Chevrolet Prizm, I passed a Chevrolet Chevette on the highway. I couldn't help thinking what a difference there was between the successful Prizm and the much-less-then-successful Chevette of the early 1970s, and how far Chevrolet has come in designing and building and executing small cars since then.

Chevette was rear-wheel drive. Chevette had a "normal" front-to-back engine configuration and a four-speed transmission. Chevette was a hatchback. Chevette, at least the one I tested, was not a particular good car.

Prizm is front-wheel drive. Prizm has a transverse engine and a five-speed transmission. Prizm is not a hatch back. Prizm is a nice car.

I'm not saying it took Toyota to teach Chevrolet how to build good small cars, because Chevrolet has been building good cars for a long time, but the NUMMI Chevy/Toyota joint venture that builds both the Prizm and the Corolla, has certainly come up with two excellent vehicles.

The Prizm is powered by a 1.8-liter inline four that drives the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. Prizm's styling is aerodynamic very much in the small car mode. It looks Japanese, reflecting the Toyota influence, and it feels Japanese. It also has "Toyota" controls, which make sit far less Chevrolet than it is a Toyota.

For example, the turn signal/headlight switch are Toyota, the wiper and cruise control switches are also Toyota. The radio is a Delco unit. The instrumentation looks more domestic than imported, especially with the huge water temperature/fuel level gauge.

For the relatively low selling price of the Prizm, you get wind-up windows, an AM/FM stereo with a cassette player, no sunroof, and no power door locks, but you do get a nice solid package for a reasonable price. There are not many equivalent cars running around for equivalent prices. You definitely get your money's worth with the Prizm.

Front seats are comfortable. They recline all the way. Rear seat legroom is adequate for tall people. I wouldn't put a basketball center back there, but a couple of guards or a shooting forward would fit with no problems. The trunk behind those rear seats is a good size and is rated at 12 cubic feet. We used it primarily for grocery bags and for carrying a lot of stuff. We never taxed its capacity, but it did all we asked of it.

With an excellent car like the Prizm or the Tracker I drove a few weeks earlier, you wonder why General Motors spent so much effort and money in establishing the Geo brand image only to drop it after a few years after they got the name recognition. The NUMMI joint venture created the Prizm and should be proud of what they're created. It's a shame the Geo part of it had to die.