Madison Avenue likes to tell us that we can, in fact, have it all. But when it comes to automobiles, that only rings true for those buyers who are not hampered by something as pesky as a budget. If your automotive choices are limited by price concerns, then trade-offs really are unavoidable.
The Geo Metro is a perfect example. Since its 1989 rollout, General Motors has justifiably touted the Metro as the highest-mileage entry in the fuel-economy wars. And with a base sticker price for hatchback models hovering below $9000 for 1995, the new Metro is definitely not a budget buster.
But it stands to reason that if you shell out less than five figures for four wheels, you're going to make some compromises - most notably in the areas of performance and safety measures.
Geo designers have wisely made an effort to address both of those concerns. First of all, they've responded to a consumer desire for just a bit more Metro muscle with a 4-cylinder engine in the new sedan, which replaces the manufacturer's old 5-door hatchback.
This 1.3-liter SOHC engine offers 70 hp at 6000 rpm - 40 percent more horsepower than the 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine in the now-discontinued 5-door Metro hatchback of previous years. (The 1.0-liter is still the standard powerplant in the coupe.) Also, the 1.3-liter delivers 74 lb.-ft. of torque at 3000 rpm.
As for safety, navigating a less-than-2000 lb. vehicle through four lanes of 75 mph traffic is obviously a concern. Geo has responded by adding dual airbags, a steel safety cage surrounding the passenger compartment, front and rear crush zones to absorb and distribute the force of impact, and increased rigidity and body strength.
Also, to increase this mini-car's visibility, the Geo Metro sedan comes equipped with Daytime Running Lamps plus taillights that are nearly the size of - and we kid you not - basketballs.
The Metro sedan's other standard features include a 5-speed manual transmission (with fourth and fifth gear overdrive), rack-and-pinion steering, child security rear-door locks, split-folding rear seats with trunk pass-through, Scotchgard fabric protector, 13-in. all-season steel-belted blackwall tires, full carpeting, dual manual outside mirrors, bodyside moldings and a center console with cupholders.
The Metro's two body styles (3-door coupe hatchback and 4-door sedan) are available in either base or LSi trim levels.
Our test sedan carried a base price of $9395 and was equipped with options that included air conditioning, power steering, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, rear-window defogger, tachometer, floor mats and dual remote mirrors. This boosted our test Car's price to $11,275.
The decision to delete the 5-door hatchback and add the 4-door sedan to the Metro lineup was reportedly driven by market surveys and customer clinics. The resulting design is a variation on the modified jelly-bean shape favored by designers of popular midsize sedans.
Small headlights flank the Geo emblem and oval-shaped air dam, which is recessed into the fascia. The black door-pillar trim and bodyside moldings are a nod to more upscale designs; the back view reveals a thick rear fascia that looks as if it would adequately absorb a minor impact.
The Sedan's trunk offers 10.3 cu. ft. of space - or enough for roughly 10 shopping bags. And by replacing the 5-door hatchback with two rear doors and a trunk, the Metro sedan has bought itself an additional 12.6 in. in overall length.
The coupe adds an extra 2.3 in. in height. This may sound negligible, but it can make all the difference in the world when it comes to interior headroom.
Again, it may not mean much to shorter drivers, but we applaud the new Metro sedan for offering significantly more front-seat headroom than some vehicles with sticker prices that are two and three times higher.
However, front legroom, at 42.5 in., is not quite as generous: In fact, our driver couldn't extend his left leg. And although the Metro sedan offers more rear legroom than the 5-door hatch it replaces, this space is still a bit skimpy - the knees of a 6 foot-tall person will be pressed up against the back of the driver's seat.
Ergonomically speaking, Geo designers seem to have made the most of the limited space they had to work with. The climate-control system is conveniently located, clearly designated and simple to read from the driver's seat. And the steering column stalks are positioned so that the headlamp and windshield wiper controls can all be quickly spotted and easily operated.
The cupholder slides out from under the radio and is sturdier than the versions we've seen on some luxury sedans. Also, the fact that it's dashboard-mounted - not console-mounted -means any spilled coffee will go onto the floor instead of the driver's right leg.
For safety reasons, we also like the design of the metro's horn switch, which is wired so that the horn will sound by pressing anywhere on the wheel-hub pad. That eliminates searching for the horn in a panic situation.
Another safety consideration is the sloping hood design, thinner roof pillars and relatively low window lines, all of which improve visibility.
On the downside, the steering wheel spokes obstruct the sight lines to many of the stereo control knobs, the instrument panel light switch and the rear defrost button. In fact, in order to operate the latter two, the driver must lean forward, look down and take his or her eyes off the road. That's never a good idea, especially in a small car.
We were also befuddled by the location of the Driver's seat-adjusting mechanism. It's under the seat on the right-hand side - which is awkward at best.
it's a foregone conclusion that anyone who buys a vehicle of this size is not expecting rocket launches. So measurements such as 0-to-60 mph performance are fairly irrelevant. Incidentally, the Metro requires almost 12 seconds to make that trip, but a more important consideration is whether the car possesses sufficient passing power. And the Metro compensates by delivering the goods at freeway speeds.
At 60 mph, the tachometer hovered at 2800 rpm (in fifth gear), and we didn't hear the engine winding out unnecessarily or being unduly overtaxed. During freeway slalom maneuvers, there was a bit more play in the wheel than we would have liked.
Overall, the ride, if not exactly smooth, was assured and road noise was surprisingly unobtrusive for a small car.
We also found that our Metro possessed enough grit to escape from a possible collision situation. The first day we tested the car, still unfamiliar with its capabilities and dimensions, we spun into a boulevard turn at a speed that was admittedly a bit too brisk for traffic conditions - and for a car of this size. We were forced to simultaneously brake abruptly, negotiate the turn and avoid both the curb and the vehicle in front of us. And although the situation did raise our pulse rate a bit, the Metro delivered a yeoman performance.
So what do you expect for a base price of $8395? Any buyer who's part of the Geo metro's target market is obviously more sensitive to price than to comfort-plus luxury or road-burning performance.
And if that's the case - that is, if you're a first-time buyer or a small family on a budget - the Metro will competently fill the bill until you're ready to move up a class.
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