Monday, March 10, 2008

The Smart Fortwo Test Drive

Last week, while getting onto I-15 at 5th South in Bountiful, an adorable little blue car from Europe passed me. I was delighted to see the Smart car finally had finally arrived in America (not counting grey market imports).

I looked up the car online and discovered that they had a dealership in Lindon. We had to pick up our son in Orem anyway so my wife and I swung by and gave it a test drive.

First impressions? Tiny on the outside and roomy on the inside. There is plenty of room for tall and big people. When the dealership lady gave me my turn to drive it, I had to scoot the driver seat IN to reach the pedals (I really do have the family short legs)!

How does it ride? It feels like a normal car. You forget that there is only a few more feet of car in front or behind you. It accelerates and corners nicely at city speeds (never took it on the freeway) and the specs indicate that it can go 0-60 in 12 seconds with a top speed of 90mph. It didn't feel underpowered in the driving I took it through.

The shifting was certainly something else. The transmission is an automated manual transmission (or as I call it automanualmatic). You can drive it in automatic mode or manual mode. In manual mode, you can shift it up or down from either the shift lever between the seats or from the two finger paddles on the steering column. It is a clutchless transmission so there is no third pedal to press. You simply ease up on the gas momentarily and pull gently on the paddles or use the more traditional gear shift lever. It was certainly new to me.

So is it worth it? It depends. The base model costs about 12,000 and the deluxe convertable model is about 16,000. You get 40mpg but it needs premium gasoline. If you want a cute sporty car for less than a Mini-Cooper then this car will certainly by a fun second or third car. As a commuter vehicle it can get the job done with pretty good mileage and parking should be easy to find. It comes with driver and passenger front and side airbags and meets Europes 4 star crash ratings and the USA's 3 star crash ratings. Despite its size it is safe enough.

Is it for me? I'm going to have to say that although I loved driving it, I'm going to pass. For a car its size, it should be getting (but does not get) closer to 45-50 mpg, at least, and I would rather be able to put regular unleaded into it to reduce the cost. If I wanted an economical two seater, I could look for things like a used Mazda Miata or if going for the fuel angle, a used Honda Insight (70 mpg). My current car gets almost the same mileage (32-35 mpg) as the Smart Fortwo in 4 cylinders and 5 passengers. In a few years I wouldn't mind getting a used one to play with unless the Tata Nano makes it to America and keeps the projected $2,500 price tag.

I really hope to see more of these on the roads because we do need to get over our nothing but an SUV mindset. I also hope to see other manufacturers building cars in this class. Drive safe everybody!


Blogger Michael said...

Check out the forums...
Real world mpg, upper 30's to mid 40's.

And you car is...

10:24 PM  
Blogger esperto96 said...

I indicated that the smart car gets 40 mpg (about the same as you indicated) and later that it should get 45-50 for its size, meaning the engineers could have done better but didn't. I'll edit the blog to more clearly indicate what I meant.

My car is a Saturn and I've been getting low to mid 30s (32-35 mpg). I tried hypermiling this week and was able to scrape together a respectable 46.27 mpg on my first tank. Conservative driving in my existing ca beat the EPA estimates of the Smart's 40 mpg.

8:07 AM  

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