Fuel Economy Challenge: 1990 vs. 2014


In 1990, a car was available that had a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine that took regular gasoline and had a 5-speed manual transmission. It wasn’t anything special to look at, but delivered economical travel. Today, the car carries EPA ratings of 38 mpg city, 45 on the highway and 41 combined.

Used versions of that car are still around today and typically cost between one and two thousand dollars.

Today, as we approach 2014, there’s a car available with a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine that takes regular gasoline and has a 5-speed manual transmission. It’s rated at 32 mpg city, 45 on the highway and 37 combined.

What a difference 24 years makes, huh?

Granted, the modern car will feature far better safety, design and comfort than the 1990 car. The number’s don’t lie, though, and the truth is that fuel economy technology really hasn’t increased much over the last few decades.

The 1990 Geo Metro is actually a disguised Suzuki and puts out somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 hp, which certainly isn’t up to modern standards. While it will never win a drag race at a stoplight or pass other cars on the highway, it will provide a smooth ride once up to speed while delivering those stellar fuel numbers.

The 2014 Ford Fiesta SE uses a turbocharged 3-cylinder to reach its fuel economy numbers, making it the most fuel efficient non-hybrid gas-powered car on the market. That also means it’ll blow the Metro out of the water on the horsepower front while providing at least a semblance of acceleration power. Along with features like Bluetooth, airbags and traction control, the Fiesta offers all the modern conveniences and safety features. Of course, it’ll cost around $16,000 to take one home.

If I were buying a commuter and wanted to hit 40 mpg using regular fuel, the Metro would be on my shopping list today. The Fiesta might also make the list… in about 24 years.

For the same fuel economy, would you get a $1,000 Geo Metro or a $16,000 Ford Fiesta?


Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Ford Fiesta
Used Geo Metro


  1. If there were no safety differences in the cars I would prefer a Geo, however, safety of cars has increased quite a bit since 1990. Little bit of extra fuel spent to me is definitely worth keeping myself and my family safe. I do agree that we have not made very significant advances in fuel economy of our new vehicles.

  2. You’re missing part of the story. That Geo, if built to today’s standards, would be at least 50% heavier and get a fraction of the original mileage. So really, mileage has increased quite a bit since 1990, but car weights have offset much of the gain due to stronger construction, more air bags, stability systems, ABS brakes, better glass and much stronger seating systems. I’ve driven a Geo Metro, and frankly, it is a death trap compared to a modern compact like the Ford Fiesta. While I would happily drive the Fiesta, I wouldn’t drive (or let a family member drive) a Geo Metro or similar subcompact of that era.

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