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]

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