Curbside Classic: 1991 Geo Metro XFi – The Pre-Prius Mileage Champ

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There’s nothing like stable or slightly declining fuel prices to induce Metro-amnesia, like the now-forgotten fact that someone bid up the price of a sixteen-year-old 1992 Metro XFi on an Ebay auction to an eye-popping $7,200 back in 2008. Would this one even fetch $720 today? Well, if its owners think oil prices are cyclical, they’ll stash it away until the next price spike, which admittedly might be a bit of a wait.

The Metro XFi surfed the tide and ebb of oil prices from day one, which explains its demise in the oil glut of the mid-90s. And then the Prius took its place as the mileage champ. It’s always a good exercise to be a contrarian, so lets celebrate the current moderate fuel prices with the thriftiest little car sold here during its reign.

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The Geo Metro was the All-American version of Suzuki’s Cultus, which first arrived in the US in 1985 as the Chevrolet Sprint.(above).

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The second generation version arrived in 1989, and had a number of changes, perhaps the most significant ones being the name, as it was now to be sold under Chevy’s Geo sub-brand, for Japanese cars. Well, Japanese designed, as the Metro was actually built at CAMI, a 50-50 Joint Venture in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada. Suzuki’s first big direct entry in NA production was not well timed, as oil prices had been dropping all through the 80s, and except for a brief spike during the Gulf War, resumed their long decline in the 90s.

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Needless to say, the regular Metro was thrifty with fuel from the get-go. But to really ace the EPA numbers, something a bit extra was cooked up with the XFi. Or should I say a bit less, as the second compression ring on the pistons was deleted for reduced friction. The cam profile was altered. Engine management jiggered. The final drive lowered (numerically).

The results were eye-popping EPA numbers of 53  city/58 hwy. Well, those were the bad, old, unadjusted numbers; the revised ones are 43/52, with a combined 47 mpg. Which places it (and its immediate predecessor Sprint ER) right behind the gen1 Honda Insight (49/61/53) and the gen3 Prius (51/48/50) in the list of all-time most fuel efficient cars ever sold in the US. In real-world driving, achieving 50 mpg is supposedly pretty easy. But of course, that’s just the jumping off point.

Geo Metro skirt

The Metro developed a cult, just like the Prius, for those looking to squeeze the most out of a gallon of gasoline. There’s a large number out there to pick from, so we’ll sample a few. This one has fairly mild body modifications to reduce aerodynamic drag, but a slew of other little mechanical tricks all the way down to the combustion chambers. The result is a consistent 60 mpg in the owner’s commute, but the goal is 65. That’s easier said than done. (Full story here)

Geo Metro 75 mpg

Back in 1993 (when fuel prices were spiking, of course), Doug Heffron decided that 56 mpg from his XFi wasn’t enough, and sought 75 mpg. That required a bit more drastic surgery to reduce drag, turning it into a (presumably) 1+1 seater.

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Here’s a next-gen Metro with some aero aids. One could spend all night finding these hyper-mile eco-mod Metros on the web. And needless to say, these were pretty much the favorite car for EV conversions. Remember those? A big heavy pack of lead-acid batteries in the back seat that yielded maybe a genuine 25 or 30 mile range,. with a little help from a tail wind. It already seems like so long ago...just be patient guys, in a couple of years all your efforts will be for naught...

Chevrolet 2015 spark ev

As in the current Chevy Spark EV, which costs just $17,495 in California after federal and state tax credits. MPGe? Over 100. Official range is 82 miles; plenty for scooting around town and such. The spiritual successor to the Metro XFi, even if it doesn’t run on spirits. Now if oil were spiking, folks would be fighting over it. But it’s not.

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There’s been a lot published over the years telling folks they’re fools to buy one of these when oil prices spike, because they’re miserable to drive, with mediocre performance, safety and other criteria, and that the fuel savings don’t pan out. True enough, but don’t tell that to the Cultus cult.

I’ve never driven the XFi version, but the regular Metro isn’t such a bad drive if you’re the kind of person who values simple, honest, direct, reliable, and cheap transportation. For what they are, they’re very good cars. And caning one can actually be fun. No pretense, no false aspirations, no opera lights and loose-pillow seats.

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Probably not the best car for a family, but it probably beats a bike with a Burley kiddie trailer for longer runs.

Geo Metro hipo

Of course, there were those that saw a different potential in these, and there’s many different approaches to the subject, this being just one of them. The Suzuki Swift GT, essentially the same car with a 1.3 L four and other mods to enhance it’s performance is another Cultus cult classic.

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It’s not a stretch to see the Metro as perhaps the closest thing to a VW Beetle successor. It was pretty much the cheapest way to drive, and easy to turn into all sorts of other things that Suzuki’s engineers never planned for.

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Although they did take credit for cutting its top off, the most obvious alteration. But then VW did that too; another point of comparison.

Geo Metro 5 door

Suzuki did VW one better by stretching the wheelbase and building a surprisingly roomy four/five door version. I always thought that was dumb of VW not to do that, but then they were selling all the two-door Beetles they could build, so why bother.

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I’m digressing, but this is what I mean. Since the factory wouldn’t, coach builder Rometsch did, primarily for taxi use. Wonder if anybody used a five-door Metro for a taxi?

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The Metro really is like the VW in the way that once you start exploring all of its permutations, it’s like falling down the rabbit hole. Well, I’m going to pull myself back up, and wrap this up. I’m sure you can add plenty more. Just think small.

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Related reading:

CC 1985 Chevrolet Sprint (Suzuki Cultus/Forsa, Pontiac Firefly, Holden Barina

CC 1987 Chevrolet Turbo Sprint: The Fiat 500 Abarth Of Its Time

CC Geo Metro Convertible: Did I Take The Autopia Off Ramp?

CC Capsule: Chevrolet Sprint Turbo (Canadian version)