New & Used Geo Prizm: In Depth
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The Geo Prizm was a compact four-door sedan sold from 1989 through 1997, also offered as a five-door hatchback and a wagon in certain years. It replaced the Chevrolet Nova when GM set up its Geo small-car brand in 1989. Eight years later, when GM killed off Geo, the Prizm continued as a Chevrolet from 1998 through 2002.
Three generations of Geo and Chevrolet Prizms were built in a California assembly plant shared with Toyota, and they largely used Toyota Corolla components--making them some of the more reliable vehicles GM offered at the time. But Corollas always retained their value better, due to the strength of the Toyota brand reputation.
The newest third-generation Chevrolet Prizm was sold from 1998 through 2002, but it suffered badly from the loss of the Geo name. Sales of all Geo models fell substantially when they became Chevrolets, but in the competitive compact sedan class, the Prizm took an especially big hit--and it also competed with the compact Chevrolet Cavalier on the same sales floor. After an abbreviated 2002 model year, the Prizm was replaced by the Pontiac Vibe five-door hatchback for 2003.
Chevy Prizms were offered with the same 120-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine as the Toyota Corollas of the same model year, paired with either a five-speed manual gearbox or an optional three-speed automatic transmission. Engine power was upgraded to 125 hp for the 2000 model year. The optional "Handling Package" for 1998 was made standard for 1999 and thereafter, following criticism of the car's handling by the influential Consumer Reports. It was, however, the first compact car to offer side airbags, as an extra-cost option.
The second-generation Geo Prizm, sold from 1993 through 1997, used a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, except on the top-level LSi trim level, which got a more powerful 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and used a four-speed automatic transmission rather than the three-speed unit fitted to the smaller engine as optional equipment. A five-speed manual gearbox was standard, following the Corolla practice. The LSi also received wider tires and a rear stabilizer bar, and leather seats became an option from 1994 through 1997. This was the first Prizm with enough interior volume to be classified as a compact car by the EPA. It was also the first Prizm fitted with a driver airbag, followed by a passenger airbag in 1994, and the last Prizm to offer a wagon model.
The first-generation Geo Prizm, from 1989 through 1992, was sold as a five-door hatchback and a four-door sedan. Both were deemed subcompacts based on interior volume, though they competed handily on interior space with the Honda Civics of the day. It was powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, driving the front wheels through either a five-speed manual or three- or four-speed automatic transmission. From 1990 through 1992, a sportier Prizm GSi model used a more powerful 130-hp version of the base engine, fitted with twin cams and a 16-valve head, along with four-wheel disc brakes and larger 14-inch alloy wheels on sport suspension.