When you think of classic cars, your mind may drift to 1960s-era Mustangs, venerable models from Rolls-Royce, early Porsches, and, of course, Geo Metros from the 1990s.
Yes, the Metro has become a cult classic, with the high fuel economy XFi being the holy grail of the Metro-centric world. The inexpensive, simple, subcompact Metro was GM’s last attempt to create a car with excellent gas mileage without using the slightest bit of technology.
The Geo Metro XFi was initially rated at 53 mpg in the city and 58 mpg on the highway using regular gasoline. The EPA later changed their testing and downgraded the car to 43 mpg in the city and 52 mpg on the highway. However, some Metro enthusiasts have reported gas mileage as high as 75 mpg. It seems that each time gas prices spike, there’s renewed interest in the car. Learn more about the Geo Metro in the sections below.
The Geo Metro is a simple, inexpensive subcompact car sold by General Motors in the 90s. It saw some renewed popularity in the ‘00s when gas prices spiked and people realized the small, barebones vehicle gets pretty good gas mileage.
But a low price and good fuel economy were only part of the story. Here’s some history:
The Geo Brand
There was an era when GM was loathe to slap a Chevy badge on anything imported or created from a joint venture with a foreign automaker. Instead, they formed the Geo brand and used it to sell several vehicles, mainly through Chevrolet dealers.
Products sold under the Geo banner included the Geo Tracker, which was based on the Suzuki Sidekick; the Geo Storm, which shared a platform with the Isuzu Impulse; and the Geo Spectrum, which was basically an Isuzu i-Mark.
The Geo Prizm came from a joint venture with Toyota and shared its platform with the era’s Toyota Corolla. Some reviewers of the time considered the Geo Prizm LSi to be a better Corolla than the actual Corolla.
The Geo Metro
Finally, there was the fuel-efficient Geo Metro, which followed up the Chevy Sprint in the brand’s U.S. lineup. It was available from 1989 through 1997 under the Geo brand and for a few more years as the Chevrolet Metro.
Based on the second-generation Japanese-market Suzuki Cultus, the Geo Metro was built at a GM/Suzuki joint venture plant in Canada. A similar vehicle was also sold in the U.S. as the Suzuki Swift. For much of its lifespan, the Metro was available in two-door hatchback, four-door hatchback, four-door sedan, and convertible body styles. At the time, it was the least expensive convertible you could buy in America.
Geo Metro XFi
While all Metros were pretty Spartan affairs, there was one that was stripped to the bone for maximum fuel efficiency. The Metro XFi was introduced in 1990, strutting into the market with exceptional fuel economy numbers, especially in the pre-Prius world.
The EPA initially rated the Geo Metro XFi at 53 mpg in the city and 58 mpg on the highway with regular gasoline. They later changed their testing and lowered their estimates to 43 mpg in the city and 52 mpg on the highway.
The XFi model went away when the Metro was refreshed in 1995.
The End of the Geo Metro
Let’s face it. Beyond its amazing fuel economy, there’s nothing special about the Geo Metro. Even new, it was so basic that hubcaps were an extra-cost option. It was designed as a subcompact no-frills econobox.
Geo Metro Engine
In its early years, power came from a tiny 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that produced a grand total of 55 horsepower – or slightly more than one cylinder in today’s four-cylinder 2019 Toyota Camry delivers. In the later years of its life, the Metro’s engine gained a cylinder. The slightly less-tiny 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine produced 70 horsepower.
Geo Metro Features
In an effort to keep costs down and mileage up, the Metro came on small, skinny, very hard tires. Power windows, door locks, and anti-lock brakes? Nope, nope, and nope. Everything was manual, from the lever-operated heater controls to the window cranks. Though the car got great mileage on the highway, you didn’t want to spend a lot of time there, as the seats had little padding and the car had to huff and puff to keep up with other cars.
Geo Metro Safety
In most early Metros, there was one airbag in the steering wheel. There was no airbag for the passenger.
As one reviewer noted at the time, the car’s air conditioning was like a safety device, because it took so much power from the engine that the car could barely do the speed limit on the highway. You could pretty much double your side-impact protection by wearing a thick sweatshirt.
In 1995, anti-lock brakes became an option. Chevy also stiffened the body, making the 1995 Metro the smallest car able to meet the upcoming 1997 side-impact crash test standards.
How Did the Geo Metro Get Such Great Mileage?
Given that its engine had to work so hard to keep the Metro at speed, it’s a fair question to ask how it was able to get fantastic gas mileage without the benefit of advanced fuel injection, a turbocharger, or a gasoline-electric hybrid system.
Geo Metro Weight
It all came down to weight. The Metro XFi weighed in at about 1,600 pounds. By comparison, a base 2019 Honda Fit weighs 2,522 pounds. It takes a lot more gas to haul that extra 900 or so pounds around. The Metro’s three-cylinder engine only weighed 130 pounds. It was a relatively basic engine, without any fancy technology, and it didn't have to move a very heavy car.
Geo ripped every bit of nonessential weight out of the Metro XFi. Even the passenger-side mirror was an option. It came only with a five-speed manual transmission, since automatics of the era were not as efficient as rowing your own gears. The Metro’s interior wasn’t just a sea of cheap plastics; it was a sea of super-thin cheap plastics.
Some high gas mileage enthusiasts, known as hypermilers, have modified their Metros by tearing out even more on the cars’ interiors. They’ve reported mileage figures of more than 75 mpg while hypermiling the vehicle.
How Did the Metro Drive?
In a word, poorly. If the freeway onramp was downhill, it was possible to reach the speed of traffic by the time you had to merge. If you had to go up an onramp to merge, a few Hail Marys were in order – and you’d have time to say them. Zero-to-60 mph was leisurely at best and terrifying at worst.
Though the engine was tiny, its cabin-filling racket under acceleration was mighty, as the Metro didn’t have much sound insulation. When driving at highway speeds, there was a continuing battle between engine and wind noise to see which could dominate.
Like many econoboxes of the time, the Metro's steering is not what you would call precise. You could turn the steering wheel a few inches before the car would notice that you wanted something. The vehicle's engineers obviously figured that a lightweight vehicle only needed lightweight brakes, so it didn’t stop that well either. There was so little weight in the back end of the Metro that it felt like the tiny rear wheels could leave the earth during a panic stop.
So, Why All the Buzz?
Whenever there’s a spike in gas prices, consumers are drawn toward ways to use less gas. That invariably leads them to cars like the super-high-mileage Geo Metro. The Metro wasn't the only econobox of the 1990s – there was also the Ford Aspire, Honda Civic VX, Ford Festiva, and others. It was the Metro, though, that was advertising mileage numbers above 50 mpg.
Enthusiasm for the Metro grew to almost cult-like status during a 2008 run-up in fuel costs, with Metro XFi models commanding prices near their original sticker prices. Car and Driver even used a 1998 Chevrolet Metro in a fuel mileage comparison with the 2010 Honda Insight and 2010 Toyota Prius. The Metro beat the hybrids.
Even if your car-buying budget isn't very big, you should not buy a Geo Metro. While it might give you excellent fuel economy, the trade-off in safety, performance, and reliability are too high to justify a purchase.
Even the last Chevrolet Metro produced is now 18 years old. The newest high-fuel-efficiency Geo Metro XFi would be at least 24 years old. Though the Metro is built simply, you could still expect to have significant expenses to keep it in drivable condition. In some states, the Metro may still be required to meet emissions tests, which would represent a costly challenge.
How Much Is a Geo Metro?
A quick run through Craigslist reveals a few models available nationally, including an $1,100 ‘95 Metro in Brooklyn and a two-for-one special near Philly – two Metros for $2,995. Models in better condition would command higher prices, though it seems like the market for this diminutive 18-year-old GM product has cooled in this era of lower gas prices.
Alternatives to the Geo Metro
In the decades since the Geo Metro was released, new technology has been developed to improve efficiency and safety. A quick search of preowned cars in the U.S. News and World Report used car listings shows dozens of models priced below $5,000. Most are six to 12 years old, so they have anti-lock brakes, an array of airbags, and meet more stringent crash test requirements than the Metro.
For a reasonably low price, you’ll find early Toyota Prius hybrid models and other vehicles with good fuel efficiency, such as the Honda Civic, Mazda2, Mazda3, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Spark, Nissan Versa, and others.
The 2019 Mitsubishi Mirage is one of the least expensive cars you can buy brand-new. On the used market, you’ll find 2014 Mirage models starting at around $6,000. It’s rated at 37 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway, which isn’t quite as good as a Metro, but you get multiple airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control. However, the Mirage gets very low ratings on our site, so we don’t recommend it.
Our guide to buying a used car walks you step-by-step through the preowned car-buying process.
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