Rover Metro / 100 (1980 - 1998) review

BY JONATHAN CROUCH

Introduction

The Metro was the car that was supposed to save Rover. Ultimately, you would have to say that it failed - though heroically. Early Austin Metro first generation models are best forgotten unless you're on a particularly restricted budget, but the reborn version, launched in 1990 with a Rover badge on the bonnet, was a very competitive little car. It lived on from 1994 until 1998 as the Rover 100 but you'll still find plenty in used car lots across the country badged 'Metro'. Since there are so many around, you can afford to take your time and be choosy. And end up with a bargain that's remarkably good fun to drive.

Models

Models Covered: First generation - Austin Metro - 1980-1990from 1987 - 3 & 5dr hatchback, 1.0, 1.3 [City, Clubman, City X, L,L Clubman, Mayfair, LE, Sport, GTa, GS, MG, MG Turbo, Vanden Plas] Second generation - Rover Metro - 1990-19943 & 5dr hatchback 1.1, 1.4, 1.4 16v, 1.4Mpi 16v, 1.4 diesel [Quest, C, L, S, Li, Si, GTa, 16v GTa, SL, 16v GTi, 16v Mpi GTi, GS, GSi, CD, LD, SD]) Third generation - Rover 100 - 1994-19983 & 5dr hatchback 1.1, 1.4, 1.5 diesel [i, Si, Knightsbridge, Knightsbridge SE, SLi, GSi, Kensington, Kensington SE, Ascot, Ascot SE, GTa, SD, SLD]

History

The Austin Metro was launched in late 1980 to a fanfare of patriotic trumpets; this was the British supermini that was going to single-handedly repel the foreign invaders. Perhaps it would have done if build quality had been better and the engines a little less prehistoric; there was nothing wrong with the design itself. Build quality improved throughout the Eighties and slick marketing with numerous special editions kept the car constantly near the top of the UK sales charts. It never really realised its true potential however until Rover reworked the car in 1990 and replaced the Austin badge on the bonnet with its own. From then on, the car began to enjoy a new lease of life. Once an also-ran in the supermini sector, the Metro, with its facelifted front and rear, its new K-series engines and clever Hydragas suspension, was suddenly catapulted to the top of the class. Initial engine choice centred around 1.1 and 1.4-litre models, with a 1.4-litre 16v GTi hot hatch flagship at the top of the range. Visually, the changes weren't as great, though Rover did their best to re-package the car. Automatics soon followed and a 1.4-litre Peugeot-engined normally aspirated diesel model was added to the range at the end of 1992. Initially, the entry-level three-door model was the C (though an even cheaper Quest variant was added in 1992). Above this, you chose between L and S in the 1.1-litre range, with L, S, GTa, GTa 16v, SL, GS and GTi the trim levels to choose from in the 1.4-litre line-up. In January 1995, the Metro received the mildest of makeovers that saw it take on Rover's numerical model number system. The smallest car in the British company's range became the 100, and to mark the occasion, the former Metro received a new grille. The only new body shape was the low-volume cabriolet, introduced in May 1995. This however, lasted less than two years in production. Mechanically, the car remained largely untouched. Several models were big sellers, such as the Kensington and Knightsbridge, as well as the later Ascot. Rover's clever marketeers realised that upping the level of luxury equipment, while keeping the price low, would ensure steady sales for this enduring little British institution which was finally phased out to be replaced by entry-level 1.1-litre Rover 200 models in the autumn of 1998.

What You Get

In the case of the Austin Metro, cheap transport to get you from A to B - but not much else. In the case of the Rover Metro or 100, it's very different. This is a little car that's fun to drive and surprisingly well put together. In its heyday, Rover Metro adverts had customers in blindfolds sitting behind the wheel believing they were in BMWs.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Watch out for ex-driving school cars which will have had their clutches ruined. Look out too for the inevitable fall-out from a life spent driving around town; bumps, scrapes and knocks which may have been disguised with hastily-applied filler and paint. Be suspicious of diesels with low mileages and expect to find serious front tyre wear on hot hatch GTi models. Look for oil leaks, 'tappety' engines and faulty alternators. Watch for rust around the A-pillar on later models and loose interior fittings. Best to ignore MG models entirely.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 1994 Rover Metro 1.4 - ex Vat) A full clutch assembly would cost around £100, a full exhaust system (excluding the catalyst) is around the £300 mark and a radiator around £110. Brake pads are around £40 for the front and £15 for the rear, a replacement headlamp is close to £75, a starter motor is about £120 and an alternator around £65.

On the Road

If you're buying a second generation Rover Metro or 100, once inside, it's difficult not to like the little car, particularly with the five-speed gearbox that comes as standard on most of the later models. Even early Austin Metros always did have kart-like handling - fun if you wanted to press on, but irritating on potholed shopping trips. The Rover versions, from 1990, had revised suspension, which worked much better. The three-spoke Rover wheel in the later car is grippy and good to hold, with a top section that breaks in the event of a crash to avoid facial injury. The standard of fit and finish is also generally impressive, with the driving position designed to make long journeys less of a chore. Criticisms centre on the lack of rear seat legroom which does restrict full sized adults over longer journeys. That isn't always what supermini buyers want however. Fuel economy certainly is high on the priority list however, and the Metro/100 doesn't disappoint.

Overall

So, strong value, low running costs and pretty stylish looks. Overall then, unless you're thinking of investing in a Korean, Malaysian or Eastern Bloc product, a used Metro/100 makes supermini sense; and it's British from badge to bootlid.