Suzuki has always been the red headed stepchild of Japanese auto manufacturers. They began US offerings in the 1980s with their little Suzuki Samurai jeeps and the Sprint, which was sold as a Chevrolet. The original Sprint didn't seem to make too much of an impact in America, even though some models equipped with the 5 speed stick shift got over 50 miles to the gallon. But I have a lot of personal experience with these cars, as my family included quite a few General Motors employees back then, and many of us bought brand new Sprints for right under $5000. I have no idea what the MSRP on them was, but I vividly recall my grandmother taking $5000 out of the bank for the one we bought. I assume they were actually more expensive, but we got the employee discount, and bought a leftover from the previous model year.
When General Motors introduced the Geo
line to peddle their rebadged Japanese cars they included Suzuki's redesign of their 1.0 liter compact car. The new Geo Metro was mechanically the exact same car as the old Sprint, but it had an all new body that was a few inches longer than the old one. Yes, the Pre-Metro version of this car was even smaller, although it didn't seem any smaller to me. Some of the very last Sprints were actually badged as Sprint-Metros. Although I haven't seen a Sprint in any form in a very long time.
If there was ever a car that picked up an undeserved reputation then it was the Geo Metro. They got a reputation as a junk car, which was almost completely undeserved, they do have their problems (which I will touch on later), but as a whole they were actually a good car.
Today there are very few of the original Geo Metros left on the road (and essentially no Sprints or Sprint Metros at all, I haven't seen a Sprint in 10 years, although I do know someone online that owns one). This would seem to reiterate the bad reputation, but that isn't the case. What really killed most of them was depreciation, and poor maintenance. Geo Metro's were cheap, they were the cheapest car available at the time, (other than the Yugo of course), so most of them went to people who weren't very inclined to take care of them.
A new Geo Metro would drop in value faster than a Vanilla Ice CD. This is what really killed most of them. Thousands and thousands of Geo Metros were sent to the junkyard needing only minor repairs, but the minor repairs would have cost as much as they were worth. Why pay $400 for a new clutch when the whole car is only worth $500? Plenty of them went to the junkyards running, just because they weren't running "right" and the owners didn't want to invest any money in them.
Fast forward to the year 2005. Gasoline prices have jumped from 80 cents in the early 90s, to the $2-$3, and all of a sudden tiny fuel efficient cars are starting to make sense again, but the only problem is that there aren't really many of them on the market. All the new hybrid cars are a joke, they are barely able to match the gas mileage of a Geo Metro, yet they are priced more like a land yacht. Well of course there are Volkswagen's diesel cars, which are also similarly priced. So the Geo Metro has begun to make a comeback. Prices on these cars have skyrocketed in the last two years. I am seeing more and more of them on the road again.
In the previous paragraph when I spoke of the Geo Metro making a comeback I was talking about the original one, which was produced until 1994. In 1995 they introduced a new model so they could comply with the new complicated OBD emissions equipment that was mandated by law for all new vehicles. Of course all this new environmentally friendly emissions equipment really hurt the gas mileage of essentially every vehicle in existence, including the Metro (which now looked even smaller and more ridiculous than ever before). The new Metro was very unpopular as it had lost its main selling point, gas mileage. They also started pushing them with a new larger 1.3 liter engine, which got even worse gas mileage. The ones with the automatic transmissions got a mere 34 miles to the gallon, which is pretty good gas mileage by itself, but other larger compacts like the Ford Escort and Toyota Tercel were getting better mileage. This was pretty much the end; they kept making them for another half a dozen years, but not many people were buying them.
As of this writing I own a 1991 Geo Metro LSI convertible. The convertible Metro is my personal favorite model - it shares the drivetrain of the more common hardtop, but it has some noticeable differences. The biggest difference is that the convertibles are only a two seater (except for the first few thousand ones off the assembly line, which came with seat belts on the back wall of the cargo area, they stopped making them that way almost immediately, as it was completely useless, and no one but a tiny child could fit back there anyway. Not to mention the fact that the weight limit on a Geo Metro convertible for driver, passengers and cargo is a mere 350 lbs. I am not sure what prompts that small weight limit, as my Metro seems to perform just fine even at well over the limit. The hardtop Metro had a hatchback, while the convertible has a trunk, and a rather large one at that, at least it is large in convertible standards, it seems to hold quite a bit more than the trunk on my Chrysler Lebaron convertible, and the additional storage space behind the seats means that the Metro convertible might very well have the most cargo space of any recently available two seater.
The different profile of the convertible (especially with the top down) gives it a very different look than the more common hardtops, the addition of one of those auto bras makes a convertible model pretty hard for the average person to even identify, as the bra obscures that tell tale Geo symbol on the hood.
There are a lot of great things about this particular car. They get great gas mileage, and drive like a go kart. You can park them a lot of places and make a lot of maneuvers that are impossible with a larger car. The 5 speed models have more than enough power, at least they do once you learn how to drive them (the Geo Metro is the only car I have ever driven that would ever require a downshift on the highway just to maintain speed). Repair parts are inexpensive, and the tiny engine is quite easy to get at, and to service. They are so light that they are very easy to jack up, even with the crappy jack that Suzuki was so kind to include with the spare tire. Mine has been very reliable, and I am averaging 43 miles to the gallon. I would probably get more, but I can go a month without ever driving more than 9 miles in one shot, so my car is warming up almost all the time.
There are a few issues with Geo Metros, but they are minor. The largest one is rust (especially on the convertibles). All Japanese cars seem to have rust issues. The Metro tends to rust out silently from underneath and not actually show it. My personal car is missing a nice sized section of sheet metal under the carpet on the driver's side (I am currently looking for a rust-free parts car to cut out good floorpans from), but doesn't have any visible rust on the body itself. I have seen Metro convertibles from areas like Michigan that were complete piles of rust, but that doesn't seem to be the case in my area. The tops on the convertibles are also prone to leaking at the corner spot where the top, windshield and side window meets, although that problem is extremely common with all makes of convertibles. The roofs themselves seem to hold up well, although you should expect to replace the plastic rear window every few years. Some models came with 12" tires, these tires are almost impossible to find today, and if you own a 12" model I suggest going to the junkyard and getting a set of 13" wheels from a 13" model.
The Geo Metro was also sold under other names, such as the Suzuki Swift and the Pontiac Firefly. Some versions of these cars had larger engines, and some had turbocharged engines, and body kits. There seems to be a small community of tuners dedicated to these cars who tend to frankenstein together models that never existed in the wild (mostly Turbo Metro Convertibles with Firefly body molding, and things like that).