Get SMART

If you haven’t seen one in person yet, the new Smart cars are small. Really small. Like, they’re so small that when you pass one (they don’t pass you) you think, “That’s too small to be on the road.” I’ve seen a couple of them zipping around town, but hadn’t seen one up close and personal until yesterday when Johnny drove his (and by his I mean his wife Stephanie’s!) to work.

Johnny is six-foot-two and “a lot of pounds.” Yours truly is six-foot-flat and also “a lot of pounds.” The Smart Car is 8.8 feet long (three feet less than a Mini Cooper), 5.1 feet tall and 5.1 feet wide. There’s not a joke you can think of that didn’t already pop into my mind (most of them involved Crisco) when the two of us decided to take the Smart out for a spin yesterday afternoon.

Surprisingly, we both fit. I’m not going to lie; it was pretty tight with two big boys inside, but we were both comfortable. The problem wasn’t with leg room or head room (there was plenty of both) but in the width; then again, part of that problem was our own width more than the car’s. Two average-size people (or even one XL and one average-size person) would do just fine.

The majority of the car’s interior is devoted to passenger space. The rear “storage area” located behind the car’s two seats has 8 cubic feet of storage. It’s enough room for three or four bags of groceries or a couple of duffle bags or suitcases (if you don’t mind blocking the rear window).

The Smart car is “the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid gasoline-powered vehicle in the USA today,” according to their website. This is due mostly to the car’s tiny engine; a three-cylinder engine that puts out 70hp. The car sips gas and the website claims 33mpg in town and 41mpg on the highway, although according to owners things like hills and lower octane gas can affect those numbers. Again, I was surprised with the car’s performance. While I wouldn’t take it out to the drag strip anytime soon (0-60 in twelve seconds), the car seemed peppy enough to get up to speed and hold its own on the Interstate. The Smart (made by Mercedes) received a five-star crash rating, due to its steel passenger cage and six airbags. I can’t imagine much would be left of the little thing, but supposedly its pretty safe for its cargo. Unfortunately, not even Mercedes could help the Smart’s suspension. Even with decent shocks and 15″ wheels, the car rides like any other eight-foot-long car … kind of like a go-kart.

Then again, those looking for performance probably aren’t buying Smart cars. What the car is designed to do, it does well. You can pretty much forget about parking problems with this baby; people are starting to pull them in nose first in between other parallel parkers. For zipping around town or saving money on morning commutes, the car’s a no brainer.

As you can tell by the ambiguity of my post, I’m on the fence about the Smart. On one hand, if you’re looking for a small car that sips on gas, the Smart delivers. The problem I have with it is you have to give up a LOT for that, including cargo space and performance. The Smart fortwo Passion (the model Johnny owns) stickers at $13,590, but you’ll most likely be adding to that (extras include an alarm and power steering — no cruise control is available).

One thing’s for sure — if you drive a Smart car, you had better enjoy talking to people about it. During our brief outing we were constantly being stared at and waved to. When we stopped at a gas station a lady pulled up and asked if her and her daughter could sit in it. Smart included a handful of information pamphlets with the car and now I understand why. Like the Scion XB and a few other quirky cars out there, people seem to either love the Smart car or hate it.

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2 comments to Get SMART

  • Before I ended up buying my GTI Fahrenheit, I was looking into owning a Smart. It was only because I ended up getting, basically, a sports car that decided not to get it.

    And then I got a Checker. So what do I know.

  • Susan

    Even though the car has a 4-star crash rating, I just can’t get past the idea that it is small enough to drive BETWEEN the wheels of a Mack Truck, UNDER the truck, and the driver would probably never notice. I think Johnny should use the ample trunk space to purchase a set of Jaws of Life – to be used from the inside out in case someone gets wedged in.