1998 Chevrolet Metro sedan
1998 Chevrolet Metro sedan. Click image to enlarge

By Jeremy Cato

Well, it’s not fast and it’s not sexy and it’s so light you’ll get buffeted around in a heavy wind. In fact, drive over a bump, and you get kickback through the steering wheel and a general ruckus from the suspension. In cornering, there has always been lots of body lean and grip is modest at best from the smallish tires and wheels.

But the Chevrolet Metro from 1995-2000 is a remarkably well made little commuter. Better still, a used Metro isn’t very expensive.

If you’re looking, it would be a better idea to lock in on Metros offered from 1995 until the Metro was phased out in 2000. During that time there were no recalls of any significance and the few consistent service issues have not been of much consequence.

Apparently the most recent and last re-make of the Metro was at least in some ways a success. Not a huge sales success, mind you. More importantly, these little grocery getters were not terribly profitable. Couldn’t be; the sticker prices just weren’t big enough. Prices in the used marketplace have not been strong, either.

The ’95 re-make included a styling job inside and out that delivered a clean, aerodynamic look very much at home in the ’90s. Inside both the sedan and coupe you’ll find a rounded, modular layout that is typical of cars in this price class.

For safety, the re-made Metros got dual front airbags. For convenience, there was a glove box, a small cubby in the centre console and map pockets in each front door. Materials – vinyl, plastic and cloth were not what anyone would call luxurious, but quite acceptable for cars at this price.

Do note that even though the Metro looks quite small on the outside – and it is – there’s a surprising amount of interior and cargo room. Height was also given a boost in the last re-do. Overall, the Metro had decent front headroom for even taller adults and the legroom in back isn’t bad, either.

The four-door Metro sedan came in ’95 with a standard folding rear seat, along with child security rear door locks (sedans), full carpeting and Scotchgard Fabric Protector. Options ranged from anti-lock braking to air conditioning and various types of sound systems.

For power, the ’95 base coupe came with a 1.0-litre single overhead cam three-cylinder engine which developed 55 horsepower and 58 foot-pounds of torque. (That version was the most fuel-efficient car in Canada.) The sedan’s base engine was a 1.3-litre single cam four that produced 70 hp. and 74 ft.-lbs. of torque. Seventy horsepower may not sound like much and it isn’t. Step on the gas and the Metro delivers considerable sound and fury, but not much progress. Fuel economy, though, is brilliant.

Certainly the Metro is no sports car, but if you’re not too demanding, it can do the job of everyday commuting quite well. To improve ride and handling, and squelch squeaks and rattles, the Metro’s body integrity was made surprisingly stiff in the last re-do.

Sure, the Metro has been a plain and practical car, but that doesn’t mean it has been sold without some smart features. For instance, with the ’95 makeover, the glass was tinted, the side windows were given their own defoggers for better visibility and the heater and defogger controls became illuminated so you could see them at night.

Now if you dig into Metro’s history, you’ll find that way back then there was the Chevrolet Sprint. Then the Sprint became the Geo and Chevy Metro in the early ’90s. Then the Metro became exclusively a Chevy again in ’98. Along the way, Pontiac also had a version called the Firefly. So many badges for such a basic car.

If you’re interested in an older model, be well forewarned: cars built prior to ’95 were noisy, with minimal creature comforts and almost no padding and sound insulation. Engines? Weak on power, long on noise and fuel economy.

The assembly quality of these older budget-mobiles was “loose” to say the least. If you’re thinking of a convertible (1990-93), don’t. Those cars were simply not stout enough. Non-convertible versions of this vintage bounce about when they hit a dime; the drop-tops – especially ones a couple of years old – feel like shaky erector sets.

Whatever you call this little econobox commuter – three-door hatchback, four-door hatchback, four-door sedan – you can also call it the Suzuki Swift (which disappeared with the arrival of the 2002 model year). That is, if you ignore a few minor and not-to-worry-about differences. After all, Metros, Fireflies and Swifts were all built in the same Ingersoll, Ontario plant jointly run by General Motors and Suzuki.

Oh, and whatever name you prefer, all these runabouts get unbelievably good fuel economy. Certain versions with 1.0-litre three-cylinder engines have been the most fuel efficient cars sold in Canada for many years.

Whatever you do, if you’re shopping for a used Metro/Firefly/Sprint, drive a hard bargain. You do not want to overpay for one.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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