Geo’s Metro is a sitcom on wheels–a minicar never to be taken seriously and certainly more fluffy diversion than earnest transportation.
Even Geo (a division of Chevrolet formed to mask its re-badging and transplanting of Suzuki motorcars) trips the light rather than the fantastic in brochures suggesting it is time we were getting to know Geo.
“Geo Metro is the fun and frugal way to go,” claims literature on the 1990 line. “Around town. Around campus. Past gas stations. And into pint-sized parking places.”
Yet it is not, we might add, a comfortable means of making long hauls unless you are prepared to return by air. Nor is it a vehicle to light a driver’s eyes or flare nostrils as it whizzes past everything in the bike lane.
The Metro has a three-cylinder engine (that’s right, you didn’t lose the others in the car wash) with a displacement of one liter. That is the exact capacity of a bottle of Evian.
Its minimotor produces 55 horsepower, less than a healthy motorcycle. Top speed is a match for today’s high temperature at the Civic Center. Acceleration is in there with parcel post. And how small is it?
At four feet tall and weighing only 1,700 pounds, the Geo Metro isn’t much larger than a can of beans.
It is the Bic lighter of modern motoring and the closest thing yet to the disposable car.
Such compromises in dimensions, power and appearance, of course, are the price of membership in the little league of minicars such as the Ford Festiva, Daihatsu Charade and the Geo Metro.
But with the two-seat Metro LSi convertible–in showrooms this month but only in 10 states and mostly those offering year-round sunshine–price may become an additional penalty.
Originally developed by Suzuki as a sensible, downsized commuter car for the clotted and narrow streets of metropolitan Japan (where the up side of any earthquake is additional parking space), the coupe version of the Geo Metro miser went on sale in the United States for $6,000. Sensible. Worthwhile. Fair value for a dinky four-seater.
Yet as a convertible–without any noticeable attempts at gold plating or vicuna upholstery–the Metro LSi carries a sticker of almost $10,000. And you only get two seats for that.
Add the bare basics of air conditioning, a minimal sound system and a brace of floor mats, and you’re looking at $11,121. You should also be looking at a long stay in some private facility for the quietly disturbed.
For $11,000 will buy a nicely outfitted Toyota Tercel, Nissan Sentra, Ford Escort or other small cars, which come with four-cylinders and four seats. Eleven grand is even well on the way to paying for a $14,000 Mazda Miata, still spiffy after all these months. Or any of the little pickups. Or even the standard Geo Storm sport coupe.
In short, an additional $5,000 is an obscene premium to pay for a cloth roof, some chassis bracing and a decapit ated toy.
Advantages? Of course. The Metro is the consummate gas cheapskate. After some pretty vigorous snorting around town in the convertible, we were logging 38-miles-per-gallon and Geo promises a little better with softer handling. So fill-ups with regular unleaded, even at post-invasion prices, only cost a few pennies over $9.
If your transportation demands be small and your ego strong enough to ignore the snickers of valet parking attendants, then the car does indeed have purpose.
It is a convertible with all the breezy benefits of such vanity. The benign performance makes it pretty harmless in the grip of teen-agers. It is an ideal fifth car to be used as a loaner for house guests.
The Metro does navigate around town like a delivery boy on roller skates. With an overall width of about five feet, you could park the car sideways. And it would be a joy to drive around any campus.
Approached as such, as a runabout, as the object of minim l insurance payments, as a maneuverable answer to any worries that the Saudi Arabian situation will evolve into another gas crunch, the Metro makes sense.
It’s just the high cost of the convertible that’s a little wacky.
Visually . . . well, it is a car where the comments ranged from “cute” through “acquired taste, I guess” to “homey as a mud fence.” Do not expect much in the way of gadgets, and little luxuries are restricted to a slide-out holder for plastic coffee cups. Windows must be cranked. The visor mirrors are good for applying shadow to one eye at a time. There are no power locks, not even a light in the trunk.
There is, though, a driver-side airbag as standard equipment and a three-speed automatic transmission as an option.
Instrumentation, seats and ergonomics are basic, which translates to standard comforts and controls where they should be. Yet we question the inclusion of a tachometer on such a low performance car, especially one offering a green idiot light that tells you precisely when to shift.
Dropping the convertible top is the work of minutes for one person. But the three plastic lids that form a boot concealing the ragtop, have the definite heft and fit of something that is going to break soon.
The performance is pure minicar (which means using at least three gears to hustle up to freeway speed) but just a little more spirited than one might expect from three cylinders and 55 horsepower.
You must stay on top of everything–keeping the engine perking, momentum high and the gearbox straining a tad–to remain ahead of traffic and clear of semis and other freeway mastodons that seem so much more intimidating to a car only a few sizes up from something equipped with pedals and a fire chief’s bell.
Handling and brakes are adequate for the performance, the area behind the seats has room for two tennis rackets and a crumpled teddy bear, and the trunk is 6.4 cubic feet, aboutthe size of a motel refrigerator.
The finish and feel of the car is quite horrible.
This, presumably, is something to be blamed on the engineering of the convertible conversion. Even on average roads, the Metro flexed and rattled and dearly seemed to miss the stiffness and integrity of having once been aunibody.
Lowered, windows clattered in their frames whenever doors were slammed. When windows were up, they squeaked against their rubber buffers and the windshield pillars.
On a brighter note, when the top was up, wind noise was barely a whisper. And with the top down, interior breezes were mild and never a hair musser.
Yet the basic drawback remains–new pricing that effectively negates the original manufacturer’s aim of building an affordable, cost-efficient car.
In their time, the Volkswagen convertible bug and Britain’s little Coopers were absolute classics of precisely how much quality, performance and value could be squeezed out of inexpensive minicars.
Come to think of it, $11,000 would buy a classic, cherried-out VW convertible bug. Or a Mini-Cooper.
And their values will probably appreciate.
1990 Geo Metro LSi Convertible
The Good Convertible freedom. Fuel economy. Decent performance from indecently small engine.
The Bad Much too basic for the price. Body rattles. No vehicle for long drives.
The Ugly Almost bumper-to-bumper.
Cost Base: $9,740 As tested: $11,121 (includes air conditioning and sound system)
Engine Three-cylinder, 1 liter developing 55 horsepower.
Type Front-wheel drive, two-seater, minicar convertible.
Performance 0-60 m.p.h. (as tested, with 5-speed manual) 16.2 seconds. Top speed, estimated 90 m.p.h. Fuel economy, EPA city-highway, 40 and 46 m.p.g.
Curb Weight 1,753 pounds.