Buy/Drive/Burn: Alternative Japanese Compacts From 1998

buy drive burn alternative japanese compacts from 1998

Our last two Buy/Drive/Burn entries covered the 1998 and 2008 versions of three mainstream Japanese compact sedans: Civic, Corolla, and Sentra. Today we look at the alternative offerings in 1998 from Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Subaru.

Our last comparison focused on the cheapest model of each compact. Here, because the Subaru has all-wheel drive standard and is more expensive, we’ll focus on a price point instead: $15,000.

Mazda Protegé

For 1998, the eighth-gen Protegé is in its final year; it’s been with us since 1994. Available in hatchback and all-wheel drive styles elsewhere, the North American market receives Protegé strictly as a sedan with front drive. Three trims are offered this year, DX, LX, and ES. Protegé’s price ranges from $12,000 to $15,000. A top-tier ES with a five-speed manual is powered by Mazda’s 1.8-liter inline-four, good for 122 horses. Yours for $15,295.

Mitsubishi Mirage

Mirage entered its fifth generation in 1995, at which point it grew from subcompact to compact size class. Coupe, hatch, and sedan varieties are offered in most markets, and Mitsubishi sends the coupe and sedan to North America (like the Protegé, sans all-wheel drive). Mirage is offered in both its body styles across two trims, DE and upscale LS. In an interesting pricing tactic, in base DE trim the Mirage coupe is cheaper than the sedan by around $2,000. Swap the trim for LS, and the coupe is about $1,000 more expensive than the sedan. Our five-speed LS sedan is powered by a 1.8-liter inline-four that produces 113 horses. The value option Mirage asks $13,300.

Subaru Impreza

While initially available with front- or all-wheel drive, Subaru changed tact in 1997 and made their all-wheel-drive power train standard on every car the company offered in North America. Subaru has made the first-gen Impreza for a while now, as it arrived in 1993. Here in present times, Impreza is available in base L, very sporty RS, and a cladded Outback Sport trim which will likely not catch on with consumers. Body styles cover coupe, sedan, and wagon. Our choice today is the base L sedan, with manual transmission and 2.2-liter boxer four. That engine produces our top power of the trio: 137 horses. But boy are they gruff. Yours at a heady $15,895.

Which of the three alternative compacts is worth a Buy?

[Images: Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru]

Join the conversation
2 of 31 comments
  • Bullnuke Bullnuke on Oct 14, 2021

    My fathers last vehicle was a '95 Mazda Protege. It may have been a good handling car but it was so gutless that I couldn't flog it enough to try out the handling other than around a corner at the traffic light. It was a pretty harmless vehicle for an 83-year old man to drive around town.

  • Pianoboy57 Pianoboy57 on Oct 14, 2021

    Will there be a Buy Drive Burn for European compact sedans for 1998 that were sold in North America?

  • Snickel Fritz I just bought a '97 JX 4WD 4AT, and though it's not quite roadworthy yet I am already in awe of it's simplicity and apparent ruggedness. What I am equally in awe of, is the scarcity of not only parts but correct information regarding anything on this platform. I'm going to do my best to get this little donkey back on it's feet, but I wouldn't suggest this as a project vehicle for anyone who doesn't already have several... and a big impressive shop with a full suite of fabrication/machining/welding equipment, and friends with complimentary skillsets, and extra money, and... you get the idea. If you don't, I urge you to read up on the options for replacing anything on these rigs. I didn't read enough before buying, and I have zero of the above suggested prerequisites... so I'm an idiot, don't listen to me. Go buy all of 'em!
  • Bryan Raab Davis I actually did use the P of D trope, but it was only gentle chiding, for I love old British cars of every sort.
  • ScarecrowRepair The 1907 Panic had several causes of increased demand for money:[list][*]The semi-annual shift of money between farms and cities (to buy for planting and selling harvests)[/*][*]Britain and Germany borrowing for their naval arms race[/*][*]San Francisco reconstruction borrowing after the 1906 earthquake and fire[/*][/list]Two things made it worse:[list][*]Idiotic bans on branch banking, which prevented urban, rural, and other state branches from shifting funds to match demands. This same problem made the Great Depression far worse. Canada, which allowed branch banking, had no bank failures; the US had 9000 failures.[/*][*]Idiotic reserve requirements left over from the Civil War which prevented banks from loaning money; they eventually started honoring IOUs illegally and started the recovery.[/*][/list]Been a while since I read up on it, so I may have some of the details wrong. But it was an amazing clusterfart which could have been avoided or at least tamed sooner if states and the feds hadn't been so ham handed.
  • FreedMike Maybe this explains all the “Idiots wrecking exotic cars” YouTube videos.
  • FreedMike Good article! And I salute the author for not using the classic “Lucas - prince of darkness” trope, well earned as it may be. We all know the rap on BL cars, but on the flip side, they’re apparently pretty easy to work on (at least that’s the impression I’ve picked up). On the other hand, check the panel fits on the driver’s and passenger’s doors. Clearly, BL wasn’t much concerned with things like structural integrity when it chopped the roof off a car designed as a coupe.