Diary of a Used Car Salesman: Geo Metro

Car haters love it. Car lovers hate it*. The Geo Metro has come to represent the uncomplicated wet dreams of piss poor eco-weenies, and a bare bones deathtrap on wheels for the SUV faithful. It’s surprising that this car has elicited such strong reactions over the years given that it never rang up the sales charts in the first place. However, thanks to cheap gas and the return of the “tax gas out of the ass” brigade, I decided to drive one for a full week. And not just any one. A rare, non-optioned, rust free version that is as common in rural Georgia as an unsubsidized peanut farmer. To be perfectly honest folks, the Geo Metro wasn’t that good and it wasn’t that bad. It was… well…

Clownish. The white exterior of the car made it look like a dream ride for Bozo the Clown. Even when I parked it next to a Mini and an MX-5, there was no mistaking how diminutive and deformed the Metro looks compared to modern day small cars. Unfortunately the nicely contoured tear-drop silhouette of the Metro sheetmetal is marred in the base model with frumpish front and rear plastic bumpers that are as grey as a Confederate uniform. Over time these $20 protrusions will warp, discolor, lose their ten cent plastic clips, and generally make the lower region of the Metro look like a fat lip. Although I’m sure that LSi versions are less traumatized by GM’s penury, the base models were simply done in with the cheapest exterior plastics this side of a Kia Rio.

The interior though has a few unexpected qualities in it. For starters it offers good seats. Really. The Metro’s seats are well pampered and surprisingly better than most Hyundai’s, Kia’s and even GM’s of the same era. On a 150 mile road trip and 800+ miles over a week’s time they never gave me a lick of trouble. The dashboard also has some nice roundish contours that pass off as contemporary. If not quite pleasing in a tactile sense. Although GM had been busy putting square vents and dashboards in virtually everything they made at this time. The Metro is spared this fate thanks to the fact that it’s really just a re-badged Suzuki Swift.

Other features… um… let’s see. A radio? Nyet! Floormats? Nein! Power steering? Hell no! Power Anything? Surely you must be joking Mr. Feynman! This Metro is as stripped as OJ’s trophy case. The Geo Metro was a precursor to what the Tata Nano eventually became. A barebones new car for those who were determined to buy new and have the car fill the transportation need until the buyer in question finally figured out how the hell to make more money. Speaking of which, that’s the only area where the Metro really outshines the competition.

It’s cheap and it’s damn easy to keep up. You can perform virtually any type of maintenance on this car without fear. A tune-up for this car took all of ten minutes and $35. Oil changes? Absolute piece of cake. Replacing the engine? Heck, you don’t even need an engine hoist. Two people should be able to remove and replace the glorified hamster wheel inside. Speaking of which, the 1.0L 3 cylinder engine was easily able to get the Metro going in town without much drama. Yes, I always stayed in the right lane whenever I saw a Dodge Truck with a kit and oversized wheels coming in full bore. But otherwise the Metro got along just fine.

Even in the highway. Yes, you read me right. Even in the highway the Metro was able to hold it’s own. The engine may have been at nearly 4000 rpm’s at 75 mph, but the cacophony of noise isn’t nearly as bad as most would imagine. The Metro felt secure at anything less than 80 (at least in Atlanta) although the sweet spot was definitely at 55 to 60 mph. On the road, the Metro was far better than a scooter or entry level motorcycle. But a bit less composed than a Honda Goldwing. Plus said Goldwing let’s you listen to a nice array light rock stations instead of the Metro’s, “whoosh! vweeee!!! roar!!!” I averaged 48 mpg which is right on the upper reaches of the 44 city / 49 highway rating.

Those who look at cars as strictly as economic propositions will put the Metro on their list. Of course an Escort, S-Class, Cavalier, Sunfire, Civic, Corolla, Protege, Tercel, Sentra, Mirage, and pretty much anything short of a Lada would be a better car from a driver’s perspective. But this isn’t a driver’s car in stock form. It’s what GM could push to the rental car companies at the time in order to keep their CAFE numbers up. It wasn’t a competitive vehicle then, and it’s certainly less so now with millions of older economy cars heading back down to pre-oil bubble values. The Metro is simply famous for being famous and unless you’re hellbent on frugality, I would take a pass. Or in my case a MARTA subway pass.

*Editor’s Note: Another GM iteration of the Suzuki Cultus, the Chevy Sprint, did come in a turbocharged version that does have a cadre of dedicated enthusiasts.

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