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May 25, 2008

How far are you willing to go for all-around economy?

Geometro A subject has come up in discussions with my colleague Rich Truesdell: He asks "Is the prospect of $5.00/gallon gas causing people to lose their sense of reality?"

Apparently people are buying 13-year-old Geo Metros for more than they cost new, just because they get great gas mileage. Do you remember the Metro? Basically a rebadged, domestic version of the Suzuki Swift, the little tiny econobox was powered by a 1.0-liter/55-horse three-cylinder engine. Sold in the early 1990s, it was powered by the most fuel-efficient production engine used in a General Motors car to date, boasting over 49 mpg in manual models and up to 39 mpg with the three-speed automatic. As Rich says, "I've driven lawn mowers with more horsepower."

In his story at, Rich includes a few links to some completed auctions at eBay, which include this recent sale of a 39,000-mile 1993 Geo Metro for $7,300 and another Metro that sold for $7,200. If you're gonna go to ebay to buy an old used car simply for high mileage, why not consider these other great little gas beaters from days gone by:

Redfordfestiva I remember the econobox I drove from 1988 to 1996: a 1988 Ford Festiva. My automotive rollerskate got better than 40 miles per gallon on my commute, and sipped only about 9 gallons a week, even though I often drove it more than 400 miles between fillups. Built in Mexico using Korean parts on a platform shared with Mazda, that tty bitty box on wheels defined the concept of "global manufacturing," and provided economy and versatility. It was cute. I paid about $7000 for that car, new, and put more than 117,000 miles on it before it imploded.

1988hondaciviccrx Or what about the Honda CRX HF?  The adorable 1.3-liter car offered amazing gas mileage more than a decade before gas-electric hybrids appeared on the market, promising 49 mpg city and 52 mpg highway. I always wanted one of these, but balked because I couldn't imagine life with only two seats. I still regret my choice to buy the four-seat Civic model instead.

The coming era of $5.00/gallon gas is going to cause drivers to think twice before buying their next vehicle, but if buying a 20-year-old car is not for you, then what's the alternative?

Rich priced a brand-new Kia Rio sedan (which promises fuel economy of 25 city/35 highway) at $10,761 (after deducting the $500 rebate). This vehicle offers an extremely low cost of entry, while still promising very good fuel economy.

I went over to and ran some price checks of my own on some of the vehicles rated with the highest fuel economy, and here is what I found:

  • *The darling new smart fortwo two-seater promises EPA mileage of 33 city/41 highway for $13,590
  • *A Mini Cooper with manual transmission claims EPA estimates of 28/37 for $18,050.
  • *The Toyota Yaris (manual tranny) promises 29/36 for  just about $12,225.
  • *The Honda Civic Hybrid promises 40/45 for an MSRP of $22,600.
  • *The Toyota Prius boasts 48/45 with an MSRP of $21,100.
  • *The Honda Fit (with manual transmission) promises 27/34 for just $13,950.

And if you don't want to drive something as small as these, the Ford Escape hybrid promises mileage of 34 city/30 highway for $27,445 (and this one also qualifies for the Hybrid tax credit of more than $3000).

As Rich says "The price of gas notwithstanding, the decision to buy a 15-year-old Geo Metro for more than it cost new just doesn't seem like a sound idea to me."  With brand-new high-economy options like the ones priced above, why not just go with a new car that is less likely to run smoothly without requiring much maintenance or repairs and all of today's comfort and the safety of airbags, high-tensile steel, and anti-lock brakes? 

We'd love to hear your own low-cost suggestions on how you beat the high cost of filling up. Is there a balance between economy, safety, reliability, performance, and fun? Share your opinions with us.

Brandy_schaffels_office_s Brandy Schaffels

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