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Car Lust Classic: Car Respect--Geo Metro

Please note: This feature was first posted by Chris Hafner on April 22, 2008. Please place any new comments on the original post.

Metro1I'm not actually going to write a Car Lust for a Geo Metro, simply because it doesn't generate lust for me. I have a lot of respect for the Metro, but as we can see in other walks of life, respect does not always equal lust. My respect for the Metro is a purely intellectual response; the only real emotion the Metro prompts in me is a slight tinge of ennui.

(Note that this isn't really true of the Metro's predecessor, the Chevy Sprint--its turbocharged variant will be appearing in this space someday as a bona fide Car Lust.)

Yet the Metro, in its own way, was as superlative as any Porsche, as extreme a performer in its sphere as any Ferrari. Its forte? Providing maximum fuel economy and usefulness for the minimum price. Within that context, the Metro was the ne plus ultra.

There has been a lot of conversation lately about alternative-fuel cars, hybrids, electric cars, hydrogen-fueled cars, Smart cars, and the like--all very cool developments, all interesting additions to the automotive world. Then fellow Amazon blogger Rich Sloan blogged about his friend's Smart fortwo--and subsequently got roasted in the comments for saying that his friend's fuel costs were $0 after 142 miles.

All of this really puts into context just how amazing the Geo Metro was--or, possibly, that we just haven't made much progress on fuel economy in the last decade. I like both the Smart and the Prius--there's something gadgety about them that appeals to me--but if your goal is just to have a useful gas-sipping car, it would be hard to do better than a Geo Metro.

Geo Metro--economy car hero?
 Geo MetroSmart fortwoToyota Prius
Displacement (L) 1.0 1.0 1.5
Cylinders 3 3 4
Engine Configuration Inline Inline Inline
EPA City (MPG) 46 33 (40)* 48
EPA Highway (MPG) 49 41 (45)* 45
Horsepower 55 70 76 (143)**
0-60 (seconds) 12.7 14.4 9.7
Cargo Volume (cu. ft.) 29.1 12.0 14.4
Front Headroom (cu. ft.) 37.8 39.7 39.1
Front Legroom (cu. ft.) 42.4 41.2 41.9
Weight (lb.) 1,650 1,808 2,932
Price $875 $11,590 $21,100

* The parenthetical fuel economy numbers are from 2007; the non-parenthetical fuel economy numbers are the 2008 numbers.

** The parenthetical horsepower for the Prius is the combination of the gasoline engine and the electric motor.

The Smart specs came from the Smart website, the Toyota specs came from the Toyota website, and the Metro specs came from this site. The 0-60 times are from a variety of sources, and the Metro price was based on the cheapest Metro I could find in my metro (ha!) area. There is one oddity in the numbers above--I think Toyota is dramatically underrating the Prius' cargo space, perhaps by only quoting it with the rear seats up. There's no way a Metro has more than twice the Prius' cargo volume.

Metro2 Nevertheless, as a well-rounded urban warrior, the old Metro aquits itself pretty well against today's flashiest high-mileage stars. The Metro can do everything the Smart can do, but more quickly and more efficiently--if less stylishly. The Metro is smaller and slower than a Prius, but not by a lot--and it matches the Prius' mileague. Considering the fact that hybrids tend to under-perform their EPA rankings, the Metro may actually be more efficient.

Some--I'm looking at you here, Mochi Mochi--would argue that a Honda CRX HF was even more impressive, since it combined otherworldly fuel economy numbers with most of the driving fun of the rest of the CRX line, and they'd be right. Used CRX HFs are somewhat rare, though--my point with the Metro is that extraordinary fuel mileage is easy to find and doesn't require a fancy new car.

Thanks to Flickr user mikeg626 (based on his handle, possibly a Mazda fan?)--these are images of his old Metro.

--Chris H.

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An acquaintance of mine (an ecoweenie and very frugal) had a Metro for some time. I believe that he put several miles on it, and when the time came to get another ride, he went with the Prius. He then sold the Metro outright, and used the proceeds to buy a warranty on the battery pack in the Prius. I have heard that the battery replacement costs are quite high.

Wow. I have a 2000 Chevy Metro with a 1-liter inline engine. Not quite the same, but I'm going to be trying to sell it soon. I just need to yank the CD changer out of the back. Some knucklehead wired it to a hot lead instead of accessory, so it drains the battery. Other than that, it runs great. It's a four-door, too. We'll see what happens.

I had an 85 Chevy Sprint four door that I bought new for $5000 out the door. Driving I-5 between Sacramento and LA at 70- 75 mph I would get 62 mpg consistently.

"All of this really puts into context just how amazing the Geo Metro was--or, possibly, that we just haven't made much progress on fuel economy in the last decade."

A lot of that is weight gain due to greater consumer expectations and safety requirements (sound deadening, more airbags, crush zones, side/offest crash protection, etc.) My Cruze Eco weights 3100 pounds and still beats the EPA of 42 highway. Put its drivetrain in a lighter chassis from 20 years earlier and it could exceed 50 MPG, with the power and acceleration of an early/mid 90's Civic Si.

The Metro is very light, which contributes to its' mileage figures. How are they on tires? Low profile, small diameter/circumference means lots of rotations, therefore tire wear.

Being US based, you're probably not aware, but the unique advantage and selling point of the Smart was
never extreme economy but rather extreme 'parkability' !
In the crowded cities of Europe it still excels, allowing you to clame spaces that are supposedly not there.

Tires are so cheap, it hardly matters. My 87 Sprint Turbo was $100 for a set of brand name units, even though I slapped some Kelly 155 R 12's on it for a mere $15 a tire a few times. 45 mpg and it would smoke all of these cars, while being less expensive to repair and maintain, too. I don't like many cars out now, too bloated and over equipped and too expensive for my taste.

I rented a Pontiac Firefly in 1988 for a multi-province tour in Canada in 1988. With the back seats down, it was an awesome car with plenty of storage space for two people. Also had decent power for city and highway driving. I was very impressed. Might have been a little cramped with >2 people, I suspect...

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