After testing a bumper crop of expensive cars lately from Saab, BMW andVolvo, I had nearly forgotten what it's like to ride in the economy class.The 1998 Chevrolet Metro sedan has just given me a crude reminder.This small sedan - a staple of airport rental car fleets - isn't a bad car,but the low sticker price means you don't get much in the way of refinement oraccessories.Forget about cruise control, power windows, mirrors and door locks. Getused to large expanses of hard plastic on the dash and on the doors. This carisn't about coddling the driver and passengers.If you are on a tight budget and you need a set of dependable wheels, theMetro, along with various Kia and Hyundai models, should be given a solid kickin the tires.PERFORMANCE, HANDLINGRev the Metro's 1.3-liter engine and you may think there's a chainsaw motorbuzzing wildly under the hood. Yes, the 79-horsepower engine is loud andcrude, but it gets the job done.With the optional ($595) three-speed automatic transmission, accelerationis acceptable, even decent. From a stop, the Metro moves off well for a carwith a tiny engine. But the harder you press the accelerator, the angrier thegrowl from under the hood sounds.The Metro's claim to fame is its outstanding fuel economy. For seven of thelast eight model years, certain versions of the Metro have been America's fuelmileage champion. Our test car logged an impressive 32 mpg in the city and 36on the highway in a 450-mile, weeklong test.The Metro is equipped with four-wheel independent suspension, which issomewhat unusual for an entry-level economy car. Our dark-green test caractually had a pretty decent ride. Bumps didn't upset the car or make it hardto control.The Metro handles the curves admirably. The four-wheel anti-lock discbrakes also work well. The power rack-and-pinion steering system enables thedriver to maneuver the small, light Metro effortlessly into tight spots.Parallel parking, for instance, is a breeze.FIT AND FINISHThe Metro is built in Canada in a factory operated by Suzuki, whichdesigned and engineered the Metro. The car is basically a rebadged version ofthe Suzuki Esteem, although the GM version is a bit spiffier.With every Suzuki vehicle I have ever driven, some piece of plastic trim, abutton or a switch has broken or fallen off. The Metro almost made it throughits stay without any breakage. But, as (bad) luck would have it, the flimsyplastic knob that releases the folding rear seat snapped off in my hand as Iwas showing someone how it worked. Suzuki's perfect record remains intact.You get a lot of dull plastic in the Metro, which is typical of mostentry-level vehicles. So, even though the interior won't win any awards forstyle, it is moderately comfortable, easy to use and sensibly laid out.The sliding levers for the air conditioner are strictly old school, butthey work well. The air conditioner is a bit slow to cool the car on abroiling day. You have to get moving before it really starts to blow cold air.The manual controls for the outside mirrors are easy to reach and use, andthe old-style wind-up windows are not terribly bothersome. Two levers controlthe seats, which are easy to adjust.The back seat is cramped for adults but OK for kids. Even though the Metrois a subcompact, it does offer a good amount of room in the front for two. A6-footer could sit comfortably.Visibility is good. The trunk offers a fair amount of room, and the carseems to be bolted together reasonably well. But it feels and sounds a bittinny when you slam the doors or trunk.With a decent rebate and plenty of wiggle room in the price, the Metro canbe one way to beat the high cost of automotive transportation.Specifications: Base price: $10,055 Safety: Dual air bags and anti-lock front disc/rear drum brakes Price as tested: $13,795 EPA r ting: 30mpg city/34 mpg highway Incentives: $750 Truett's tip: The Chevrolet Metro is just basic transportation. If you can get by without power windows, cruise control and things of that nature, the Metro can be an OK small car.
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