Before there was the Geo Metro (a rebadged Suzuki Cultus, there was the Chevrolet Sprint (also a rebadged Suzuki Cultus). U.S. gas prices dropped below a buck per gallon during the middle 1980s, which had the effect of forcing the oil-income-dependent Soviet Union into bankruptcy even faster than predicted, with end-of-Cold-War results. On top of that, cheap gas prices meant that only the most tight-fisted of cheapskates felt that buying a tiny three-cylinder car built by a motorcycle company made any sense at all. Still, enough Sprints were sold that I see them in junkyards every now and then.
This is about as basic as basic transportation could get in 1986. Even the wretched Yugo was more luxurious than the Sprint (though most Sprints lasted about five times as many miles as most Yugos).
A lot of more expensive Japanese subcompacts (e.g. the Nissan Sentra) came with 4-speeds as standard equipment in 1986, so this 5-speed was a nice touch.
Not much to go wrong here.
I’ve driven a few 3-banger Sprints, and I’d like to say they were actually peppier than one would expect. Unfortunately, they were even slower than you’d expect. We’re talking Diesel Rabbit slow. Still, the Sprint would haul four adults at highway speed, if you weren’t fussy about how long it took to get to highway speed.
In the United States, the Sprint had two selling points: price and fuel economy. The first item went out the window in 1986 with the appearance of the even cheaper Hyundai Excel and Yugo GV, but the Sprint still owned the fuel-economy crown.
Meanwhile, in Japan, the Cultus GTI was available with a screaming twin cam engine and “The Final Countdown” playing in the background.
Back in the United States, Suzuki was also selling the Cultus as the Forsa, under its own marque. Thanks to this very long and utterly incomprehensible advertisement— in fact, it’s so incomprehensible that I have a hard time believing it isn’t a spoof created six months ago— nobody bought these things. Later on, Suzuki changed the name from Forsa to Swift and sold… several.