New Car/Review

Chevrolet Metro LSi Sedan

by John Heilig

Chevrolet Full Line factory footage (22:43) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

ENGINE:                  1.3-liter SOHC 16-valve four cylinder
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:       79 hp @ 6000 rpm/75 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:            Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:            39 mpg city, 43 mpg highway, 28.2 mpg test
WHEELBASE:               93.1 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 164.0 x 62.6 x 55.4 in.
CURB WEIGHT:             1984 lbs
FUEL CAPACITY:           10.3 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:        10.3  cu. ft.
TIRES:                   P155/80R13
INSTRUMENTS:             Speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, 
                         water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:               Power mirrors, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo
                         radio with in-dash cassette player, anti-lock brakes, 
                         dual front air bags.
STICKER PRICE:           $13,000 (est.)

The Chevrolet (nee Geo) Metro is close to a minimalist car. Itís small, isnít loaded with a lot of extras, yet it delivers great fuel economy. Itís designed as either a commuter car or a first car for new college graduates.

Chevrolet research shows that 12 percent of Metro buyers had considered a used car as their second choice. But with the Metro, they get a new car at about the same price, plus a 3-year/36,000 New Vehicle Limited warranty and 24-hour Roadside Assistance service, something they might not get with a used car.

Despite its small size, Metro is attractively styled. The aerodynamic exterior helps the fuel economy by slipping the car through the air smoothly. And with the small 1.3-liter engine that delivers only 79 horsepower, you need all the help you can get.

I thought from the start that the engine would be a problem - not a serious problem but a problem nonetheless. I spend an hour a day commuting on a busy highway. Right-lane cars travel about 10 mph slower than left-lane cars. The left lane is, by custom, the "express" lane while the right lane is the "local." If you have a car that can travel comfortably in the left lane, the commute is not only short but you donít have to deal with exiting and entering cars.

Chevy lists the Kia Sephia as one of the Metroís competitors. When I drove the Sephia I felt it was definitely a right-lane car. The automatic in that car combined with a small engine simply wasnít the right combination for me to travel comfortably in the left lane. With the Geo, though, the left lane wasnít off limits. I could accelerate up to speed to earn entry and was able to zip along with the rest of the "big boys." Granted the difference between and automatic and the five-speed manual on the Metro may have helped.

The five-speed manual was a decent gearbox, but with a small engine shifting was a constant occurrence. I would have preferred a shorter throw and closer gears, but this isnít a sports car. Itís a Metro compact sedan.

You can get a super-economy Metro with a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that promises more than 40 mpg city and highway. This engine may be taking minimalism a bot too far, though.

The driver and front passengers it in fully reclining cloth bucket seats. FOR THE PRICE, they were comfortable seats. They werenít in the same class as the Lumina, for example, but the Lumina can cost up to twice the price. What I liked was the absence of any aches and pains in my back or legs after a ride. The full-folding rear seat is standard on all metro models and helps increase the 10.3 cubic foot trunk capacity. Incidentally, legroom in the rear isnít great, but itís adequate. This isnít the type of car youíd use to take your in-laws out to dinner in (if you need the extra seating, take their car) but you can fit a couple of friends back there for a trip to lunch.

Speaking of the trunk, itís a decent enough size for this type of car. Again, youíre not going to use the Metro for long trips. Even if it is your first car, if youíre moving into new digs, youíll use a U-Haul to take the big stuff and the Metro for clothes, etc. If you have soft-sided luggage or duffel bags, youíre in the right car.

All Metros have a center console with a pair of cupholders. These were a decent size (maybe they stole them from a larger model car) and would hold everything but the largest of 7-Eleven Slurpies. The console also had a storage tray and a coin holder. Other storage areas included door pockets for the driver and front passenger.

Even though itís a small car, the Metro offers a decent ride. It features a four-wheel independent MacPherson strut suspension that isolates the bumps at each wheel and prevents them from being transferred to other wheels. Standard front and rear stabilizer bars help control body roll during hard cornering. Constant readers know I take the hard cornering challenge seriously. My most fun is in Interstate on- and off-ramps, where I can take the corners like Michael Andretti on a race course (assuming thereís no other cars around). The metro doesnít corner like an Acura NSX, but itís not bad. You can still have some fun in exit ramp Grands Prix, but youíre just not going to have the speed youíd have with other cars. This isnít a problem, more of a safety thing. I actually liked going through these corners more slowly, but paying more attention to the correct "line."

Metro isnít a car that I would normally consider. The little engine is buzzy, but thatís to be expected in a small four. The five-speed manual requires a lot of work, but using it extracts the best power from the engine and also contributes to better fuel economy. The car itself is tiny, probably smaller than Iíd be comfortable with, but a younger person would be very happy with the car. My daughter, for example, thought it was cute and fun.

Acceptance of the Metro, therefore, depends on age. And thatís not a bad thing.