Is the Smart Car Smart?

It is difficult to ignore the Smart fortwo coupe not because it is cute, but because it looks so playful. How it got out of the sandbox we don’t know, but we are sure that the looks are going to appeal to a lot of people. In fact, we don’t see the need for Smart to advertise at all because every car they have on the road is an interactive billboard. Unfortunately, driving the Smart isn’t all that easy to live with. The reason is simple; the engine is just not powerful enough to provoke the transmission into quick changes even using the paddle shifters.

Once underway it isn’t a problem and though it isn’t quick, getting to 60 mph takes about 12 seconds, it enjoys stretching its legs. The fast lane isn’t a problem for the Smart and it can easily go over 80 mph. Our car has a very optimistic speedometer, but we didn’t have any concern about being pushed aside and large trucks and wind didn’t upset the handling as might as one would expect for a short, tallish vehicle. Obviously, Mercedes Benz has spent a great deal of time making this a safe vehicle including four airbags and stability control.

The Smart for two is not really small when you are inside. The driver and the passenger have plenty of room thanks to the clever seat spacing that finds the rider’s seat a few inches back of the drivers. There is a small amount of storage, enough for five bags of groceries. The door pockets and glove compartment are easy to use. The fit and finish are economy car comparable.

Available in three models, the fortwo Passion Coupe and Cabriolet, as well as the entry level priced Pure Coupe are priced for just over $11,500 to over $16,500 for the cabriolet and options can drive that price higher. Gas mileage is listed at 31 city and 41 mpg on the highway, but you need to use premium fuel.

Mom’s view: I didn’t like the hesitation when just starting out. It is best when you give it a lot of gas, but it still isn’t smooth. I also didn’t like the way it followed some of the grooves in the road or the way it handled large bumps. The short wheelbase makes it more sensitive to handling input, but I was quite surprised how stable it was around corners considering its height. With more power this might be a real fun ride. Of course, the engine is mounted in the back and that could make serving similar to that of a Volkswagen Bug. The hood houses the engine’s fluids.

There may be a waiting list at some dealerships for those who want an adorable car that is a breeze to park, gets good fuel mileage, and just makes you laugh every time you look it. Especially when it just takes $99 to hold a spot on the list. Resale should be high if for nothing else its gas mileage and parking abilities. As such, pay the extra $1000 and get the cabriolet.

Young working woman’s view: There is no doubt this car gets the looks, which is good and bad. First, it is nice to have attention, but as a woman it is rather disconcerting to have men drive beside you for extended periods of time on the open road. Driving the Smart requires patience and the mastery of the paddle shifters to gain the best acceleration. Unless this is accomplished you need to brace yourself to the minor whiplash you get when starting out. Once underway it is a blast. You can whip into the tightest parking spots and looking at the bar style fuel gauge in the center cluster is seldom needed. Expect a range of over 300 miles.

The fortwo’s cabin are highlighted by two periscope type gauges which adds interest, but certainly requires you to take your eyes off the road. Speaking of which, the steering is light, but quick so don’t go thinking that because it isn’t a sports car it doesn’t react to driver input. The interior is very airy and light with the optional glass roof and large windows, beware on hot days that the cabin is going to need all the air conditioning that the Smart can provide. The fit and finish are good, but there isn’t any question that this is an economy model vehicle.

Overall, a fun ride with lots of personality and an in your face attitude that I like. A little more vigor from the engine or a manual or CV transmission would make it a lot more enjoyable then the current five speed automanul type unit.

Dad’s view: The engine revs very quickly and gives you all of its 71 horsepower just before it hits the 6500-rpm redline. Driving at highway speed isn’t a problem at all, but don’t expect to be passing on two lane roads without a lot of clear highway ahead. The fortwo weighs about 1700 pounds and the manufacture claims it has a top speed of 90 mph. I didn’t test that limit, but we were frequently going an indicated 80 mph without realizing it, officer.

On curves the fortwo does not lean much, the shocks are quite firm, but when you hit large pot holes this same firmness results in a jolt that can spoil your fun. The way the Smart handles these bumps also provides evidence of a sturdy chassis. You can almost take the fortwo around corners with the pedal to the metal, but beware that the stabilization system is always on call so don’t expect much of anything except the safety inspired understeering that is a must for a vehicle of this shape fighting both gravity and centrifugal force. Having the engine in back of the rear wheels also has to be taken into consideration when running the canyons.

There is a lot of room inside despite the fact that it is only five feet wide and about eight feet long. Let’s put it another way, on most highways you could get two of these in one lane. Despite this size you can get very tall people inside and women seem to love the ease of which they can enter and exit without much problem. The rear glass pops open for loading groceries or small items and the tailgate folds down if you have a larger item. But not too much larger.

Young working male’s view: The sound system is weak and the radio reception is also in need of some strengthening. The gauges have very small fonts and are difficult to read and the periscope type instruments sticking out of the dash are interesting, but so small that you just need to guess at where the dials are pointing. The glove box is small; you can actually get more into the door side pockets. But who really cares. It is fairly quiet, and I should know as I build some of the world’s quietest open source servers and computers at http://www.eracks.com and create my own music at http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=3074683

Overall, this is a babe magnet of the first order. Forget your expensive to maintain BMW and your gas hog Bentley where you have to pay an extra $10,000 for some fancy wheels etc. The fortwo is just that. It is great for two, and with the great gas mileage this coupe gets she doesn’t even have to bring gas money. We are talking frugal, fun, and funky.

Family conference: When you add the positives such as gas mileage and looks to the negatives such as slow shifting transmission and firm ride you come to the bottom line and that is whether or not you want to make a statement about your frugality and trendiness. The Smart in various forms has been around for a few years in Canada and Europe and so it is a proven product. However, this is one car you truly have to drive before you buy. If you don’t mind its exentrities it could well make you the most popular owner on the block. As for gas mileage, there are many others cars that offer seating for four and more room that get similar gas mileage on regular unleaded. But, gosh darn, they aren’t as cute as a Palin wink, and that is what some people like. Is it smart? Well, for those who want the charm, no doubt.

For a list of manufacture websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/auto/index.html

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