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Small wonder

UPDATE (November 2001) - see the poll at the bottom of the page

The asymmetrically split rear seat

The biggest innovation in automotive design since the internal combustion engine

Now every car more than two feet wide has them, but the Metro was the first. In the bad old days the whole rear seat folded down in one piece. Hard to believe, I know. Then a few cars started splitting the rear seat, but into halves. The Metro was the first car to split the rear seat into one-third and two-third pieces, so you could fold down the small bit for a bit of extra luggage space whilst still carrying four people, or fold down the large bit for some more luggage space whilst still carrying three people, or the fold the whole lot for loads of luggage space. Really clever stuff.

See how the Metro can accommodate even these hair dos

Space craft

And the Metro had loads of space for its time and size. With all the seats folded it had 45cu.ft in the boot, about a third more than the Fiesta had. Passenger space was also generous for the amount of road the car used up.

You could be six feet tall and drive it with no problem (provided you didn't have too elaborate a haircut). There was room for five adults in perfect comfort, provided they didn't have many issues about personal space. You could even get in and out comparatively easily, despite there being only 3 doors - the front seats SLID as well as folded. It's design details, you see, that make all the difference.

The only car on the road with more space inside compared to the amount of space it used up on the road was probably the Mini.

Green machine

The Metro HLE was the car from the original range tuned for economy (although they were all pretty economical). It beat every other car on the official tests. Plus, BL's own tests showed that if you drove at a steady 30mph (unlikely, I know) you could get over 80 miles per gallon!

Plus, the Metro was the first car to have true 12 month/12,000 mile servicing, that is, without an irritating 6 month oil change.

Metro vs the space shuttle (NEW November 2001)

I remember having long debates with Colin's dad about the relative merits of the then-new Metro and the then-new Ford Escort mark 3.  For some reason this debate strayed onto a comparison between the Metro and the then-new NASA space shuttle.  'I bet the Metro has better fuel economy,' I argued.  'I wouldn't be so sure,' replied Colin's dad.  'OK it uses a lot of fuel to get into orbit, but once it's there it goes round and round, hundreds of thousands of miles, using no fuel at all.'

I've never done the sums and to this day I don't know.  Which is more fuel efficient?  A Metro or a space shuttle?


What a looker

And, of course, the Metro's a damn fine pretty car. Now, you may think it looks pretty ordinary, but you have to put this into the context of the other cars that were around at the time, and the other cars that BL were making at the time (the Morris Marina!?!)

Neat, well-proportioned, smart. And cheeky. Quite a trick to pull off that combination.

Before you ask, no I am not the guy who got in the news some years ago for getting physical with a Metro.

It looks like a hatchback - and it IS a hatchback!

British Leyland and its forerunners had a long and surreal history of producing cars shaped like hatchbacks that were actually saloons, and this was clearly in the days before saloon cars' rear seats folded. The Mini, the Austin 1100, the Allegro, the Princess. You could buy the Austin Maxi, I suppose, if you wanted a car that looked like its design brief had been to build it around the doors from another car (er, actually that WAS the design brief). For Austin to strap a hatchback on the back of a car was a major step forward... to bring it into line with every other car on the market.

Click for larger image

It's British and it's not crap!

Putting the Metro firmly into the context of what British Leyland was producing back in 1980, it's quite a contrast. Remember the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina/Ital? The former a bulbous, bloated buffoon of a car that looked like a hatchback but instead was an oh-so-practical saloon. The latter the most boring piece of metal ever forged, whose glorious design features included a radio (in luxury models) that faced AWAY from the driver.

You could compare a Metro with a Ford Fiesta or a Renault 5 without laughing. The advertising boasting "A British car to beat the world" wasn't all hype. It didn't beat the world, but in Britain sales were very good, certainly to begin with. There was a time when it was the best selling car in Britain (about a fortnight, I think).

And the winner is...

The Metro! Yes, I'm not the only person to think that the Mini Metro was great. The British Design Council did so as well, as it gave it a Design Award. And "The Design Council identifies, develops and promotes the best use of design to improve competitiveness, fuel economic growth and stimulate British success," so there you go.

During its first decade, the Metro was a top seller

Don't just take my word for it, 1

There were 2,089,219 Metros built over 18 years. Over two million people's lives enriched. During its early years the Metro sold particularly well, as the picture (courtesy BBC Online) shows. During its later years, the Metro's appeal became more selective.

Don't just take my word for it, 2

Austin/Rover Metro owners' reviews of their own cars.

...and the same for the Rover 100.

Don't just take my word for it, 3

For further proof of the Metro's wonderfulness here are some extracts from car magazines. They're all quoted in a Rover Metro brochure, ie slightly more than halfway through the Metro's life, during its transition from Austin Metro to Rover 100.

'Big refinement for small car money: that's what the Metro is all about.'
What Car? - October '92
'Best small car in the world'
Autocar and Motor - October '90
'Effortless transmission and sweet engine make this one of the best small automatics on the market.'
What Car? - July '92
Metro has that Rover magic, everything about the car's interior trim smacks of quality.
Motoring Express - March '92
Drive it against its rivals and the Metro comes out way ahead on its quality feel.
What Car? - October '92
The Metro is one of the smartest, best built and most space efficient of the superminis.
Which Car? - Nov/Dec '93
Steering is crisp and the chassis accomplished, fun even - a rare quality is this class.
What Car? - October '92
Never before has stepless transmission made such a convincing automatic as in the Metro.
Autocar and Motor - July '92. Metro 1.4L CVT
It's quiet, refined, good to drive like any Metro and has the potential for tremendous fuel economy.
Autocar and Motor - May '92. Metro Diesel
It remains refined, never raucous and never anything but a paragon of smoothness.
Motoring Express - March '92
The Rover's 75 bhp makes for a nippy town runabout and gives enough power for lively motorway cruising.
Auto Express - January '94
As one would expect from a Rover, the finish is good and attention has been paid to every detail.
Company Car Magazine - July '92
The key to the Metro's success is its smooth, big-car feel.
Auto Express - March '92
As you'd expect from Rover the Metro feels very classy with excellent fit and finish.
Which Car? - Nov/Dec '93
In short the Metro, in one bound, became probably the classiest, most refined small car on the planet.
Lancashire Evening Post - April '92