The Metro is a supermini car that was produced by the Austin Rover Group division of British Leyland and its successors. It was launched in 1980 as the Austin mini Metro. It was intended to complement the Mini, and was developed under the codename LC8. During its 18-year lifespan, the Metro wore many names: Austin Metro, MG Metro and Rover Metro. It was re-badged as the Rover 100 series in 1994. There were also van versions known as the Morris Metro and later, Metrovan. At the time of its launch, the Metro was sold as an Austin. From 1982, MG versions became available.
On 8 October 1980, BL introduced the Austin mini Metro. It was intended as a big brother, rather than as a replacement, for the Mini, the earlier Mini replacement project, ADO88, having been replaced in late 1977 by a new project, LC8, for the development of a larger car which could compete more effectively with the successful superminis, such as the Ford Fiesta. Some of the Mini’s underpinnings were carried over into the Metro, namely the 998 cc and 1275 cc A-Series engines, much of the front-wheel drivetrain and four-speed manual gearbox, and suspension subframes. The Metro used the Hydragas suspension system found on the Allegro but without front to rear interconnection. The hatchback body shell was one of the most spacious of its time and this was a significant factor in its popularity. Initially, the Metro was sold as a three-door hatchback.
The name was chosen through a ballot of BL employees. They were offered a choice of three names, Match, Maestro or Metro. Once the result was announced, the manufacturer of trains and buses, Metro Cammell, objected to the use of the Metro name by BL. The issue was resolved by BL promising to advertise the car only as the miniMetro.
The Metro quickly proved popular with buyers, and during the early part of its production life it was the best selling mini-car in the UK, before being eclipsed by the updated Ford Fiesta. Its clever interior design made it spacious considering its dimensions, and Hydragas compensation gave surprisingly good ride and handling. Its updated A+ series 1.0 and 1.3L OHV engines hardly represented the cutting edge in performance, but they were strong on economy.
A major TV advertising campaign was created by the London agency, Leo Burnett which came up with the headline "a British car to beat the world". The advert also featured the similar-sized Fiat 127, Renault 5, Volkswagen Polo and Datsun Cherry as "foreign invaders" and the voiceover spoke of the Metro’s ability to "send the foreigners back where they belong".
The Metro range was expanded in 1982 to include the Vanden Plas and MG versions. The Vanden Plas featured higher levels of luxury and equipment, while the slightly more powerful MG Metro 1.3 sold as a sports model (0-60 mph in 10.1 seconds, top speed 105 mph). The Vanden Plas variant received the same MG engine from 1984 onwards (with the exception of the VP Automatic, which retained the 63 bhp (47 kW) 1275 cc unit). The luxury fittings marking out the Metro Vanden Plas took the form of a radio-cassette player, electric front windows, an improved instrument panel with tachometer, and a variety of optional extras such as trip computer, leather trim, remote boot release, and front fog lamps.
The changes between the MG engine and the standard 1.3 were relatively minor, with modified cylinder head and altered cam profile being the major contributors to a modest increase in BHP. Soon afterwards, the MG Metro Turbo variant was released with a quoted bhp of 93, 0-60 mph in 8.9 seconds, and top speed of 115 mph (185 km/h). This model had a great many modifications over the normally aspirated MG model. Aside from the turbocharger and exhaust system itself, and what was (at the time) a relatively sophisticated boost delivery and control system, the MG Turbo variant incorporated stiffer suspension (purportedly with engineering input from Lotus), including a rear anti-rollbar plus uprated crankshaft and uprated gearbox.
Both MG variants were given a "sporty" interior with red seat belts, red carpets and a sports-style steering wheel. The later MG variants were emblazoned with the MG logo both inside and out, which only served to fuel claims of badge engineering from some of the more steadfast MG enthusiasts. Others believed that this sentiment was unfounded, particularly in the case of the turbo variant, due to the undeniably increased performance and handling when compared to the non-MG models. Indeed, at the time of its release, the MG Metro was the first in a succession of modern cars which heralded a spirited return of the MG marque after several years’ absence of new MGs.
A mild facelift during 1985 saw some minor styling modifications to the Metro’s front end, wider suspension subframes, along with a new dashboard design and the long-awaited 5-door version. This gave it a competitive edge over three-door only rivals like the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, while guiding the Metro in the directions of the Peugeot 205, Fiat Uno, Seat Ibiza and Opel Corsa/Vauxhall Nova, all of which were available with five doors by this time.
A rear spoiler reduced drag coefficient to increase the Metro’s already good fuel economy.
From 1990 until its demise in 1994, the Metro was sold only as a Rover.
Although the new Rover 200 (introduced in 1995 and smaller than previous 200 models) had originally been designed as a replacement for the Metro, it was not marketed as such after its launch. A direct replacement in the supermini class did not arrive until 2004 with the CityRover. The Rover 100 was finally cancelled in 1998, ironically being out-lived (by two years) by the original Mini it was meant to replace.