This ’90s Car Beats Today’s Hybrids on Fuel Economy

Red Geo Metro

Without question, there is a demand and interest in fuel economy. Buying a hybrid vehicle has a purpose, whether it’s to reduce emissions or just flat out save a few bucks at the pump. However, did you know there was a car made in the early ’90s that outperformed almost all of the hybrids made today?

There was: The Geo Metro. The front-wheel drive, 5-speed, 1.0-liter, overhead cam, three-cylinder engine of the 1990s Geo Metro delivered 53/58 miles per gallon (MPG).

Sister model to the Suzuki Swift, the Geo Metro was made in the USA and sold as a model for people looking for a brand-new car at an affordable list price. In 1991, a new Geo Metro was listed at dealerships for a mere $6,750.

I remember this car vividly because as much as I hate to admit it, I bought one in 1992. I was barely making ends meet, surviving on military pay, and I needed reliable transportation. I was a firefighter in the Air Force at the time. I sat in the kitchen of the fire station one day, bemoaning my need for a cheap car when someone pointed out a great deal in the paper. A low sticker price combined with a small monthly payment peaked my interest. Shortly after my shift, I found myself at the dealership.

I remember looking at the base models of white and blue, thinking, this is not going to work for me. That was until I came across one that was fire-engine red. Not exactly feeling the new car mojo or excitement, I was intrigued enough by the red color to take a test drive. Inside, the interior was grey, and the dashboard was a clean, hard, hollow-sounding black plastic. Everything inside the interior was basic—thin cloth seats, hand-crank windows, basic fuel and temperature gauges, a hard rubber stick shift, and tinny-sounding radio. However, it did have air conditioning, and that was a must.

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I distinctly remember the test drive, as I peeled out of the dealership squealing the tires, thinking the little three-cylinder engine had a little bit of pep. However, the reason it had perkiness was that the car was so small, extremely lightweight, and had a razor-thin metal body. As a matter of fact, the body was so thin it sounded like it was under machine gun fire when it went through the car wash. The gas tank only held 10.6 gallons, and that was okay because that year’s model allowed 63 MPG on the highway (more on this later). Oh, and it had 49 horsepower that seemed to increase like a power booster when you pushed the A/C on and off.

I’ll be honest and say that I have little nostalgia for the little red Geo Metro I once owned. The two-door, red hatchback, however, did provide me a ride home at the end of my military enlistment. I traveled over 2,700 miles from Tucson, Ariz. to Chelmsford, Mass. I had everything I owned in that little Metro. So much stuff that the bumper was only about 2 inches from the ground, clearly testing the hauling capacity and suspension of the little car. At the end of the trip, I calculated that the tiny vehicle, with all that weight, provided me an unbelievable average of 69 MPG. I spent more money on food and tolls than I did on gasoline. Incredible, but true.

What’s even more amazing is that many of the Geo Metros are still selling online. Many are still around and have withstood the test of time.

So, as the auto industry seeks to offer the world more fuel-efficient vehicles, maybe it should look to the past? Perhaps drag a few Geo Metros into the research and development facilities. And maybe, just maybe, reproduce a newer version of the little Geo Metro engine that could?

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