Buy/Drive/Burn: Basic American Compact Coupes From 1998

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
buy drive burn basic american compact coupes from 1998

The Buy/Drive/Burn series has taken on a late Nineties theme lately: Our last two entries represented midsize sedans from 1997. Based upon a suggestion in the comments, we return once more to the period. On offer today are three very basic American compact coupes from 1998.

Note: We’re using 1998 as there was no two-door Escort model at all in 1997.

Chevrolet Cavalier

The faithful Cavalier is in its third generation in 1998, after a debut in 1995 on the same J-body platform it’s used since 1981. It’s even on sale now in Japan as a Toyota! Cavalier is GM’s best-selling car this year and is available in coupe, sedan, and convertible forms. The coupe is available in Base, RS, and sporty Z24 guises, but today we’ve opted for the Base. Spending $11,700 nets us a 2.2-liter inline-four good for 115 horses, paired to a five-speed manual.

Dodge Neon

The Neon has been with us since 1994 and still looks as fresh as ever. A new face to replace Chrysler’s dated K-car offerings, the Neon is available as a sporty coupe or slightly less sporty sedan. Unusual in the class, Neon features stylish frameless windows in both its forms. The coupe is available in base Competition and Highline trims and asks for $11,100 as a Competition. At that price, you’ll receive a class-topping 150-horse 2.0-liter inline-four, paired to a five-speed manual.

Ford Escort ZX2

The Escort was new in 1997 but had no two-door availability at that time as Ford waited for the Probe to finish out its last year. 1998 sees the debut of the new ZX2 model, which carries the sales expectations of Probe and Escort GT simultaneously. ZX2 is lower and more aggressive-looking than its sedan and wagon counterparts, with a unique front and rear clip. Two lamely named trims of ZX2 are on offer: Cool and Hot. All examples are powered by a 2.0-liter inline-four of 130 horses, and the base Cool asks $11,580 with a five-speed manual.

As cheap as can be, and all better than any compact available for purchase a decade prior, which one is worth a Buy?

[Images: GM, Chrysler, Ford]

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  • Theoldguard Theoldguard on Jul 31, 2021

    I had a Pontiac Sunbird Turbo and a Dodge Omni GLH. Throwaway cars, both, but they were also both big steps forward from what had been available in the last half of the 70's. The Sunbird Turbo I had I recall 165hp. I believe there was one year when the Corvette has a base V8 that was 165hp.

  • MyerShift MyerShift on Aug 19, 2021

    I have driven all of these more or less. Escort ZX2 1.9 5-Speed was a friend of mine's. Neon R/T DOHC high school buddy's girlfriend's car. Cavalier (albeit later with the ECOTEC) 4-Speed automatic. DRIVE the Neon. It has the BEST power, handling, and looks of all three. Legendary on SCCA Circuits. Hell, it still looks modern today! A bit buzzy, but a great drive. Be prepared for head gasket, timing belt, and frameless window problems though! If only Chrysler hadn't cheaped out on some of those key components. 3-Speed TorqueFlite? Why, great durability compared to the atrocious 4-Speed electronically controlled UltraDrive units! Besides, Toyota used a 3-Speed automatic in the Corolla until at least 2001 so I don't want to hear the transmission gear number as any kind of demerit. BUY the Escort ZX2. My friend never had any severe mechanical problems with hers all the years she had it. I recall the HVAC system didn't work right or something to that effect. At least it had heat in the winter. Decent manual transmission, decent fun to drive. The "thinnest" feeling of all three here though, and victim of Ford's stupid and atrocious "Everything Oval" design era. BURN the Cavalier. Finishing out eventually after 24 years on the SAME J-Body platform?! I don't care what updates it received. Every update made the Cavalier dopier, dumpier, and more clownish. Coarse OHV I4's until the ECOTEC came along. Limp, flimsy feeling structure. I don't care how durable they are. Those 2.2 OHV's have some difficult maintenance items. Everything seems so... mushy and flaccid. Highly indicative of GM's small car and small car customers disdain. The 2.2 ECOTEC has good power and durability, but unpleasant, rattling coin engine note at some RPM's and throttle openings.

  • Kcflyer in a world where Miata doesn't exist this still seems like an expensive limited use choice
  • Verbal Crusher bait.
  • Rick T. When my wife was practicing law in Chicago back before our move to glorious TN about 10 years ago, several of her clients did quite well investing in parking spaces there.
  • Jkross22 This might just be me, but the times that I've driven an EV, I use the brake regen paddles to quell my inner MT/control freak nature.
  • Randy in rocklin I had a 82 733 at one time. It was an awesome car. Good power and great handling. Smooth shifting and ride.