2008 smart fortwo: What's It Like to Live With?
Read the latest updates in our long-term road test of the 2008 smart fortwo passion as our editors live with this car for a year.
What do you want to know about?
- Blown Away
- (Re)Learning to Drive
- Make Your Own Armrest
- The L.A. Welcome
- Damage Repair, Part 1
- Highway Adventure
- The waiting game.
- The Friendliest Little Car in the U.S. of A
- Fears No Parking Space
- Seeing Red
- Men on Film
- Yabba Dabba Do!
- Track Testing!
- Less to Love
- Things are as close as they appear.
- Thing Runs On Premium
- Parking Problem
- Passion at the Laundromat
- Five Reasons To Buy
- Audio Controls
- Perfunctory Praise And Brutal Honesty
- Tall and Skinny
- I'll Take a Justy Instead.
- Rose-Colored Glasses Are Off
- Editor Loses All Credibility in Tiny Car
- Checking the Oil is Kinda Easy, Kinda Not
- Tell Me Why I'm Wrong
- Gridlock Car From Hell
- My Turn
- Aux in Box
- Road Worry
- You're a Winner Just For Showing Up
- Proving it's not all bad
- See? It Can Carry Some Stuff
- Fashion = Money
- Help Us Help The Smart
- Gas Gamble
- Smarten Up
- Fuel Economy Update
- Dumb Money
- Time for Service? You Better Have Good Eyes.
- A Mouse in the House?
- Orange is the New Black
- Better than the R8
- Please Don't Hit Me
- The Anti-Yaris
- They Have a Hermes Edition?
- Anatomy Of A Smart
- The Handless Manual Upshift
- Keeping Me Warm at Night
- Do it, Wall-E!
- Needs Clearer Lock/Unlock Symbols
- There Is No Keyhole
- One More Reason Not to Hate the Smart
- Pirate Hat
- Spotted on the Freeway
- Rubber Mat is Dumb ForMe
- Promotes Conservation
- FMVSS 102 Transmission Shift Position Sequence
- Keeping the Pressure On
- How It Gets More Power in a Hurry
- You Want Cheesy Bread With That?
- Moving Paddle Shifters
- Little Big Car
- "Pull a U-Turn and Get Out of Here!"
- Road Trip to San Clemente
- It's Magnetic
- Don't Bother with the Power Steering Option
- Separated at Birth?
- Mr. Smart Goes Used Car Shopping
- Bad For Picking Up Sick People
- Packs a Punch
- Almost as Good as Walking
- A Different Cloth
- Suspension Walkaround
- Smart vs. Nano
- Doesn't Seem Safe, She Says
- Not Just Great For Parking
- Transmission reprogram
- David Coulthard Has Two
- Greener Vehicles
- My Girl Friday
- Not Sure I Like the Transmission Reprogram
- Why My Vespa LX150 Is Better
- New Beetle?
- My Dream Smart
- Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner
- Great Car for Recon
- I Want the One I Can't Have
- Two-For-One Parking Spots
- Sales Wrap-up and Departure
- Parting Shots
- Editors' Least Favorite
This can't be good. We're parked on the side of a go-nowhere road in the middle of go-nowhere California while we're cleaning the car for photos and we have a visitor. We're interloping on private property — a cattle ranch and oil wells — with our newest long-term test car and an unmarked white pickup truck with no license plates has just cornered us. Frankly, we feel about as welcome out here in our new fuel-efficient microcar as a vegetarian.
"Par-don me, fellas," comes a low drawl, "but what the heck is that?" The last syllable rings with an undeniable sense of joy. We feel like we've dodged a bullet. He isn't going to wrangle us off of his property. Like everybody else that sees the diminutive Daimler product, he just wants to know more about our 2008 Smart Fortwo Passion coupe.
And so do we. That's why Edmunds' Inside Line has bought a Red Metallic Smart Fortwo Passion for a year-long road test.
Why We Bought It
"How did you get one? They're sold out everywhere!" — comment from passerby while we're trapped in gridlock after the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Indeed they are. Well, at least they are here in L.A. When the word came down from on high that the Smart — already in its second generation in Europe — was finally coming to the States, the deposits funneled in faster than a dealer network could be set up. Within days, all of the Smarts tagged for our consumption in 2008 were gone. And we had one. At least, we had a deposit down for one.
With $99 of our own money laid down early, we fully expected to be at the front of the list. We weren't. When cars started funneling into dealerships, we were told that ours would be here late in 2008. That wasn't going to work for us. We decided to go to a different dealership and see what we could manage.
Call after call after call failed. "Sold out." "Not 'til September." "We've got one; what's it worth to you?" No, no, no. And so, being hip to that whole Internet thing, we went 21st century on the car-buying experience and hit eBay.
After a little searching we found what we wanted for a reasonable starting bid. It had virtually no miles, was located in California and was clearly being flipped for a potential profit. We jumped on it right away, watching as the minutes ticked down with our bid still the highest. When the auction finally ended, we paid $17,000 for $15,300's worth of Smart Fortwo. We didn't get to pick options or color. We took what we could get this time.
What We Bought
"Is it electric? Is it safe enough to go on the highway?" — comment from passerby while outside of a Starbucks in L.A.
No, the 2008 Smart Fortwo is not electric. It's not even a hybrid. It has a traditional gasoline engine. Residing in the trunk is a 1.0-liter inline-3 that produces 70 horsepower and 69 pound-feet of torque. Volumetrically speaking, the Smart's 70 hp/liter nearly matches the Chevrolet Corvette Z06's 72 hp/liter. Yeah, it's a stretch, we know, but even our used 2005 VW Jetta makes more power than the Smart.
Attached to the engine is a five-speed automated manual transmission. While it is geared especially for fuel economy in the automatic mode, there is a manual mode with shift paddles on the steering wheel so you can take control of the revs when the situation calls for a little bit of pep. The two units working together eke out an EPA average 33 mpg city/41 mpg highway.
And speaking of the highway, yes, the Smart is safe enough for highway use. Boasting a Tridion Safety Cell — a fancy way of saying an alloy roll cage — the Smart gets a four-star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for the driver position. The passenger rating is a disappointing three stars, however. The rating for side-impact crash is an impressive five stars, even though the driver door did open during the test.
The scariest part of the Smart's NHTSA crash test rating is the rollover performance, an unimpressive three stars. Who'd have guessed that something narrow, tall and compact is a rollover risk? Apparently the standard electronic stability control is no match for simple Newtonian physics.
What we have here is a 2008 Smart Fortwo Passion. The top-of-the-line Passion trim substitutes nine-spoke alloy wheels for the stock steel ones, then adds air-conditioning, power windows and power mirrors. Since our Smart is (thankfully) a coupe, the Passion model features a transparent panorama roof as standard equipment. It doesn't open, but it lets in the light, which helps the cabin feel airier than it really is.
The Road Ahead
"Is it good?" — Everyone
Hopefully in the next 12 months the questions will stop. At least we hope people will stop following us home to ask them. For one thing, that sort of thing is creepy and when driving a car that's smaller than the average commercial washing machine, it's a tad intimidating. And the other thing is, we have enough of our own questions about the Smart that we don't need anyone else adding to the stupor.
Is driving something this size reasonable in the country that thinks super-sizing is a good idea? Does it feel safe? Did we just waste $17 grand on a novelty or is the Smart Fortwo a real car capable of real duty in the real world?
And you're right, we've already put almost 5,000 miles on our Smart.
Current Odometer: 4,619 miles
Best Fuel Economy: 43.4 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 25.7 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 34.8 mpg
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Welcome to a year of grievances, where we explore the oxymoronic nature of badging this car the Smart. For those on staff who have nothing but 95 octane running through their veins, the ForTwo was never even going to be approached. However, some of us (such as myself) like little cars and wanted to give the Smart an honest chance. You'll see how well that went.
I've already had several adventures in our red ForTwo Passion Coupe, but my favorite occurred during the first leg of our recent four-car fuel sipper smackdown. This was the Fontana to Death Valley stretch on a two-lane road with a very heavy cross wind. I wasn't so much driving the Smart as I was sailing it. For a good chunk of the drive I had the wheel positioned at 30 degrees to port as if I was on a huge skidpad. Problem with that is, when one or several big rigs drove by, that cross wind would stop and I'd find myself steering right for impending doom. It was like driving the plastic bag from "American Beauty."
For the guys in our support truck (aka Buick Enclave), it wasn't the most beautiful thing they'd ever seen, but it was certainly one of the funniest. Luckily, our trip videographer Seth Compton managed to get some footage of me Smart surfing (see below). And really, it was more hilarious for me. At one point, I couldn't help but laugh hysterically as the winds whacked the Smart all over the road. It's one of the few enjoyable moments I've had behind its tiny wheel.
(By the way, prudent XM channel change by Jacobs)
The 2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe is, well, it's cute. That's what everyone told me this weekend. A few people asked if it was electric, one guy even called it sporty. I didn't have the heart to tell them that there's nothing I like about it. Except it's easy to park. Yeah, yeah.
The most utterly confounding part of this car is its godawful transmission. If you have anything resembling a weak stomach, stay away, because this car evokes the first-time driver learning how to shift. And not getting the hang of it. The shifts are really that awful. It jerks and stutters like a punch-drunk boxer if left to its own devices, so the real answer is to self-shift, using the handy-dandy shift paddles (as seen above).
But this takes a certain amount of skill, because you don't just shift. You have to pretend you're driving a standard-shift car without a clutch. Rev it up, then remove your foot from the gas pedal, then shift, then put your foot back on the gas. It takes some practice, as you don't want to shift too early and you want to be in the sweet spot of the revs. 1st to 2nd is the trick. Once you're in 3rd, it's smooth sailing.
For me, it's the anti-Ferrari. (I know; no-brainer) I love the Ferrari, although it certainly has its own learning curve and certain quirks of its personality.
But with this car, you teach yourself the shift method just to get through driving it, to make it barely tolerable. It's not so much a reward as an avoidance of punishment. But you can actually get better at it. It takes practice. And a willingness to endure people telling you how damn cute it is.
Let's be clear: I like driving the Smart Fortwo, and I'll have the next 11 months to expound on that. It's not that I think the car's automated manual transmission is great. It's just that a liberal dose of throttle followed by a prudent lift will get around many a minor inconvenience... and surprise unsuspecting 3 Series drivers... But today I want to talk armrests. The Smart doesn't have one in the center. So here's how I get around that. I travel with this big old-school CD case (probably holds 50 or 100 CDs) and after I select my music, it becomes my elbow cushion.
The L.A. Welcome
Seasoned L.A. drivers really know how to welcome new arrivals into the fold. For example, a few days after I moved to L.A. I took my personal car to the drugstore, went in to buy some toothpaste, and returned to find a sizable dent in my passenger door along with a shattered passenger-side mirror... An attentive sales clerk informed me that an SUV had sideswiped my car while executing a wild U-turn in the parking lot. I've taken to calling this the "L.A. Welcome" — think of it as our version of the Bronx Cheer.
Although the long-term Smart Fortwo is new to you, dear readers, it actually received its own L.A. Welcome way back on the morning of February 26. We'd just procured our pint-sized Passion a week or two before, but already everyone was avoiding the car like it bore a Yugo badge, so I — the new guy — had ended up with the keys for the previous night. At one point on my way into work that morning, I eased to a stop in a long line of traffic, turned to the passenger seat and started rummaging around in my duffel bag for my sound system-testing CD... BAM! Next thing I knew the Smart was smarting, having been unceremoniously rear-ended by a late-'90s Explorer that never braked (as the eminently pleasant driver explained, "I just looked down for a few seconds").
As a good L.A. resident, my first thought was of prospective fame and glory. I figured I had to be the first person to have conducted a real-world test of the new Smart's Tridion Safety Cell on American soil, and I'm pleased to report that negotiations for a book deal and possible screenplay are now underway. I also got a tweaked back for my trouble, as did the Smart, which was out of commission for a few months while convalescing (stay tuned for specifics — the damage was more extensive than the photo suggests). Anyway, we're all just tickled to have it back in the lineup. With the notable exception of those who get stuck driving it home.
We drove the Smart Fortwo back to our garage folowing the crash. Turns out we couldn't just crawl underneath it to diagnose the damage as hoped. We dusted off our backs, went to the local tire shop and put it on a lift. We were in for a surprise.
Our local shop is Stokes Tire Pros in Santa Monica. They were our third option. We'd already called two Mercedes-Benz dealerships to locate alignment specs for the Smart. Neither had access to them, or a clue where to look.
Stokes techs found alignment specs for a Euro-Smart in their database. US-specs were unavailable. It was the most progress we'd made so far. We decided to have the alignment measured but not adjusted. Cost: $25.
The right-rear tire was toed out. A visual inspection seemed to back that up. It appeared that a portion of the muffler (top of pic) was pushed into the right control arm on impact.
In the back of our minds, we wanted to repair the Smart ourselves. When we confirmed the alignment was out and control arm bent it was time to turn it over to the pros. We found even the pros were unprepared for this car.
Stay tuned for more.
First things first, doesn't this face look like that of a Japanese anime character's? Kawaii!
OK, due to my propensity for cute cars, I was eager to try out our 2008 Smart Fortwo. And instead of just driving it around Santa Monica, I drove it clear across town about 20 miles away to Los Feliz to visit my friend Beth, an avid toy collector. I knew she'd get a kick out of this toy box vehicle... Thing is, I had to take a bunch of freeways to get there. Driving the Smart during stop-and-go rush hour wasn't a big deal. It was the coming back at night with crazy drivers on that one stretch of 101 to the 110 South that worried me. Our Fortwo only has 70 horsepower and 69 pound-feet of torque. I already couldn't trust it with its spotty acceleration, how could I trust it tangling with fast-moving traffic?
After I left Beth's house at 10pm and hit the highway, my heart started to beat faster and my mouth turned dry. I was actually really nervous. But once I got up to speed, I was fine. That lag in acceleration only seems to be more pronounced shifting from 1st to 2nd. In the higher gears, it's actually not TOO bad.
When I merged onto the 110 South a CHP pulled up behind me. I irrationally imagined him pulling me over for driving the Smart on the freeway or something like that. But he just tailed me for a little bit and then went on his way. Other drivers around me had the same reaction. Which was a good thing; they were super aware of the car so I wasn't in danger of getting sideswiped by someone who couldn't see me.
Still, I'd probably be more apt to use this as a city car (meaning driving on city streets) than for driving long distances (anything that requires you getting on the freeway). I see it as a step up from a Vespa.
Oh, another funny thing, or annoying to other drivers, about the Fortwo is that when I accelerate, I noticed that its headlights shining on the car in front of me ride up and spotlight the driver's rearview mirror briefly. Fortunately, no one has mistaken this for high-beaming and gotten pissed off by this yet. But then again, can someone really get mad at someone driving a clown car?
Spared from certain death by the Tridium Safety Cell, Associate Editor Josh Sadlier was able to explain pre-posthumously his experience of sitting inside of a smart fortwo passion being struck by a careless SUV . Part II of our smart story had us paying $25 to get numerical data that backed up what our eyes had been telling us; the damage to the smart was more than cosmetic. At the very least there was an alignment issue caused by a bent control arm.
In this installment we begin on the phones... No smart dealer in the western part of the United States was able to take on such a project at this time. They didn't have tools, they didn't have training, they didn't have parts. Running low on ideas and high on frustration, we gave Beverly Coachcraft a ring. They do the bulk of the body work for Beverly Hills Mercedes-Benz and said bring it over, they'd be glad to give us an estimate.
Still very new to the States, the smart got the immediate attention of everyone in the complex. They walked past Maybachs (2), AMGs (at least 6), and an SLR to get a peek at the babiest of Benz products. One in particular stopped to chat with us, too. He wanted to know if it was fast. We shook our heads no. At least fun? A shoulder shrug in lieu of an answer got our point across. His final question, "Is it at least easy to live with?" required a verbal answer, "Not if you're trying to fix it" I said.
We spent the next half-hour or so there peeking at some banged up exotics (including a Flying Spur who's owner, "Ozzy", wanted it back asap) while the staff there exhausted all of their resources to get parts. No such luck. Unpainted body panels could possibly be shipped over from Germany but nobody could tell if they were the same as their US counterparts or if they had the correct paint codes. Or if the $700 made any sense in relation to what the parts should cost us.
They finally conceded that there was nothing they could do shy of taking a few photos for the insurance companies and said our best bet was the leave the car with Mercedes of Beverly Hills, an authorized smart dealer. They could handle all of the parts and repairs best.
And so we drove to Beverly Hills and left the car with only one instruction: Call us when you hear anything.
Feeling overlooked and unloved? Don't get therapy; get a Smart Fortwo. The Smart is a shiny, cute popularity pill that can help you win friends and influence people. Here's the proof:
1) Some guy all but flung himself across the car's hood as I was driving in the hills this weekend, gurgling words of affection for the crafty little people magnet.
2) A neighbor whom I'd never spoken to previously knocked on my front door on Saturday morning to tell me how smitten he is with the Smart, after seeing it parked in the driveway...
He's thinking about buying one, and begged me to give him a tour of the car's interior.
3) Some random woman who lives on my street cornered me as I was leaving to buy groceries on Sunday so she could gush about the car, a look of glazed adoration in her eyes.
Men and women, boys and girls — no one is immune to the Smart's charms. As I cruised around town this weekend, people were pointing and laughing everywhere I went. Were they laughing with me or at me? Questions like that are much too weighty to ponder when you're tooling around town in the cuddliest little 70-horsepower coupe on the planet.
Since this weekend had bee-oo-tiful weather, EVERYone was out and about. But fortunately, finding street parking was never an issue since I was driving our 2008 Smart Fortwo around. In fact, I had a lot of fun finding spots that no one else could possibly fit into and cramming the Smart in there. Then I'd stand back and admire my parking job...
Parking by Venice Beach on a gorgeous Saturday morning? A cinch. West Hollywood during the Pride parade? Piece o' cake. That's why I think it's a great around-the-city car. Bad parking jobs by inconsiderate schmucks and areas crowded by events are nonissues.
It's pretty freeing for someone like me, who frequents highly trafficked areas of the city, to not have to worry about where I can park for once. I didn't have to worry about getting to events early or about having to wear my comfortable shoes so I can endure the long walk back and forth from my car to the event. I just rolled in whenever I wanted to in my 5-inch heels. So nice.
Armed with the advice given by many of my colleagues to shift our long-term Smart fortwo's gears myself for an improved driving experience, I ventured forth. And I have to say that it is much, much better that way. Shifting the automated manual myself, I actually was able to enjoy myself in the little thing and relax enough to realize that I really like the
Smart fortwo Passion's bold orange-red interior, particularly the slightly nubby fabric that covers much of the dash. The little nubs catch the light and give it a bit of a sparkle, which just adds to the fun factor and suits the car's personality... To me, it wouldn't make sense to have a Smart dressed in understated tones like grey, black and beige (which are all available). This car is all about fizzy, pop-y candy colors.
I took my chances the other night and rolled out in our long term Smart. My overall reaction borrows from my favorite movie reviewers, Blaine Edwards and Antoine Marryweather, from "In Living Color": Hated it! What exactly did I hate? Well - almost everything. I'll save you from a snooze fest and discuss just two topics.
When I first got in, it took me several minutes to find the ignition slot. I looked all around the left and right side of the steering column and on the column itself. Nothing. I stared at the key to see if it was an RF (radio frequency) - type. Nope. The others in the office apparently haven't mentioned that the ignition is behind the shift console, very low in the car, a la Saab. How charming. The Smart also has an automatically shifted manual transmission. In normal driving it porpoises like crazy, like you're piloting a dinghy in the North Atlantic - I almost became motion-sick. As Bryn mentioned yesterday, it's better to shift with the paddles, but I only learned this after my drive.
Why anyone would choose this over a Civic or something else in that price range is beyond me. But if you fancy yourself as Eurotrash, or want a preview of what's coming from the People's Republic of Beijing, then by all means, have at it.
Driving home in the Smart Fortwo last night, I noticed there are three distinct kinds of Smart spectators on the road.
1. Over Interested - This crowd was way too happy to see the Smart and kept either driving next to me smiling and waving as if they just spotted some kind of cartoon character come to life, or kept slightly behind in my blind spot with camera phones out. I'd much rather they paid attention to the road instead of me... One woman cut me off by making a left turn in front of me while talking on a cell phone, then noticed the Smart and almost came to a full stop in front of me in the intersection. Not cool.
2. Blissfully Unaware - These people just wanted to get home from work and weren't paying any attention to who was around them or what they were driving. Love those people.
3. Full of Anger - These people see the Smart, assume that it is slow, and that the traffic jam we're in is its fault. They tailgate and honk and assume that if only the Smart were out of their way, they could get home in record time. Never mind that the 405 freeway sucks every day and has nothing to do with the Smart which is perfectly capable of keeping up with the flow of traffic. Haters.
All in all, I'd rather not have the attention this little car attracts.
When I finally got home, I was suddenly much more interesting to my neighbors and every little girl on the street.
As I climbed out of the Smart, I felt like I was hatching out of an egg. Later that night, a friend said it looked like I was driving a football helmet. Another said it reminded him of the Flintstone's car.
Well, it wasn't as bad an experience as I expected it to be. But I'm sure glad I've been assigned the Mercedes C300 for the weekend.
The day you've all been waiting for has finally arrived, kids, the track test results for our 1.0L, 70 horsepower Long Term Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe!
As you can plainly see on the face of Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot, we were on the edge of our seats for this one.
Follow the jump for the full results...
1/4-mile: 19.1 @ 70.0 mph
Comments: "Very little "driving" matters in the smart. Stick it in drive and floor the gas."
60-0: 124 feet
30-0: 31 feet
Comments: "Lots of dive with full ABS. Grip limited."
Braking Rating (excellent, very good, good, average, poor): Average
Slalom: 55.4 mph
Comments: "Electronic limits make all handling tests pointless in this car. Limits are set arbitrarily low."
Handling Rating (excellent, very good, good, average, poor): *No rating given. 'Pointless' written in blank space*
After reading the blog comments about the 2008 Smart Fortwo's track testing I realized that if you say anything good about our Smart you better run for cover.
So, just to establish my masculinity right up front I'll weigh in first with a typical jab of the Smart: "The acceleration is a joke!" Now, with that out of the way, let me point out something that's pretty convenient about the Smart.
You never have to take it to the car wash.
After driving it out of our dungeon — er, parking garage — I woke up Saturday morning and found the nose covered in weird white stuff, like it had been driven through a blizzard of moths. I knew the car wash would be packed so I decided to give it a hobo bath... I got some detailing spray and a clean cloth. The nose cleaned up with a few swipes. Encouraged, I got some glass cleaner and did all the windows. Then, for fun, I cleaned the rest of the car. Five minutes later, I was tooling around in a clean car.
Clean, waterless, free. That's a good thing.
Has this ever happened to you? Upon leaving the filling station you're met with a strange new clunk and then, upon visual inspection out the side view mirror you notice you've forgotten to shut the fuel door. And to screw-in the filler-cap.
Well, in just about every other car on the market, to remedy this you'd have to pull over, get out of the car and fix it. What a pain!
But if you were to be driving the smart fortwo, and had a nearly six-foot passenger with moderate levels of flexibility, all would not be lost. Just ask him to reach out and screw it back in while you continue to drive as normal. No time lost. No unnecessary stopping.
Ummm. Talk about ironical. Last night I drove home in our long term 2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe. Don't worry, I scooted down in the seat so nobody I know would see me. The zany part is that this little car runs on premium fuel. There it is in black and white on the fuel filler door. I couldn't believe my eyes. Reminds me of the time I was forced to listen to the musical stylings of the Bacon Brothers. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!
What's next in this mad, mad world, a car with a gasoline burning engine and the added efficiency of an electric motor. The world needs a vacation.
Even with the jerky transmission and the brakes which get a little touchy at low speed, the Smart is remarkably easy to park. Easier still is finding spaces to park in. Well, easy until you have to deal with the local parking enforcement drones. It's not fun.
"Leave it there I'm gonna ticket it."
"Can't park two cars in the same spot. And it's facing the wrong way."
"How do you know that guy didn't steal my spot? It's not in the road, and it's not backwards, what's the problem? Would you ticket a motorcycle parked like this?"
"No, but that's a car. You leave it and there'll be a ticket when you get back."
Being a native of an eastern seaport town whose roads were planned and carved 100-years before the Model-T and parking is an art form as much as it is a guessing game, I was a fan of the Smart before I ever had a chance to drive one. But now, having driven one a LOT, the disappointment is overwhelming. It's not good in the city, and thanks to needlessly rigid parking jerks it's no easier to park than a Mini, Fit, Aveo or Yaris. It's sort of a let down.
But hey, it's cute, right?
Things were looking up as I drove our 2008 Smart Fortwo to the laundromat: I got a longing look from a guy in a yellow Pontiac Aztek. It was a first-year Aztek, black cladding and all, so he's hard-core.
On a more practical note, the Smart's clamshell-type hatch makes it easy to slide a laundry basket in and out.
As with perhaps too many things on this little car, though, the hatch has one major design flaw that's guaranteed to drive you crazy if you own the car.
There are two release latches for the tailgate, one on the left side and one on the right side. If you had both hands free, you could press them simultaneously and open the gate in one motion. But what are the chances you'll have both hands free while unloading stuff at the laundromat? Zero.
Why Smart couldn't just put a single exterior latch above the rear license plate is beyond me.
Everything you've read in the blog posts so far is true. This car has issues. But having driven our Fortwo around for the past few days, I can see why somebody would still want to own one. Here's why:
1) It's cute. When it comes to car-buying, this isn't a factor to be ignored. Remember how popular the VW New Beetle was when it first came out?
2) It's efficient. Yes, you'd hope it'd do better. But it still gets 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway, which is better than just about every other car out there.
3) It's inexpensive. Yes, the value equation is pretty poor for a Smart Fortwo. But a base Passion coupe like ours lists at $13,590. That's not a whole lot of cash for a new car.
4) It draws lots of attention. I've had more people come up to me in this car asking questions than anything else in recent memory. People notice Ferraris and such, but there's an aura of elitism that keeps them away. Because of reasons one through three, people feel comfortable talking to you. Guys want to know about it. Girls smile at you.
5) It can be fun. This is mostly a combination of all the elements above. A Corolla is a better car, but buying a car is rarely just about functionality.
The 2008 Smart Fortwo is all about efficiency of space. But that idea didn't quite make it to the audio controls. If anything, the "head unit" is wasted space.
The prominent "SRC" button cycles just two things: the CD player and AUX input. There's a "Mute" button, but it effectively does the same thing as the power button. The "Menu" button is hardly a menu as there's just one function listed: Loud, which is a bit ironic given that our car has just two speakers.
Meanwhile, you're left with a plain-looking display, presets with poor tactile feel, a small volume knob and tedious tune/seek buttons.
Here's a photo with a representation of a traditional double-DIN head unit. Smart, if it were smart, would have consolidated a lot of the audio buttons and made the whole thing smaller or more efficient.
There's one way in which our long-term smart fortwo is by far my favorite car in the fleet: it makes my parking space at home seem adequately sized. Look at those concrete walls on either side — not pleasant when I'm trying to squeeze a midsize sedan in there (anything larger than that gets parked on the street). But the smart's tiny turning circle and golf-cart length make quick work of tight spots like this one. And hey, it's even better than a golf cart — it's got an enclosed cabin.
Alright, now for the brutal honesty. We have a whiteboard "Question of the Week" here in the editorial department, and this week's prompt was "Forms of transport I'd rather take than the smart." As you'll see after the jump, we're harboring a fair amount of bitterness toward our creamsicle-colored cruiser. (Note: regarding item #7, please direct all vitriol to M. Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant.)
I couldn't resist taking a cellphone pic yesterday of the visual dichotomy presented when I parked the lightest car sold in America next to the second-lightest car sold in America.
2008 Smart Fortwo: 1,808 pounds, 106.1 inches long, 60.7 inches tall
2008 Lotus Elise: 1,984 pounds, 149 inches long, 44 inches tall
Remember that list we showed last week? A staff survey on forms of transport we'd prefer to our Smart Fortwo? Well, hop in Doc's Delorean — we're going for a ride back to 1988...
Twenty years ago, I needed a second car, something for short money that was good on gas and good in the snow. I didn't want to use my nice '69 Firebird 350 Convertible (Blue with White top and interior) that I bought over the summer as a daily driver. I ended up buying a new, leftover '87 Subaru Justy GL 5-speed.
Okay...after you're done laughing follow the jump.
Okay, I know it's not one of the cooler rides that I've owned ('88 MR2 Supercharged, '70 Chevelle SS396) but that little bugger was a great car. Bought it new for $6,200 (with A/C), put 100k on it and the only thing that ever broke was the A/C compressor. It averaged nearly 40 mpg the whole time I owned it. Nearly every upshift was conducted upwards of 4500 rpm and it never let me down.
The point of this? That was a car from two decades ago that equaled the Smart's fuel economy while being driven in a manner not conducive to max mileage and boasting a seating capacity of four adults. It could also haul a lot of stuff with those rear seats flipped down. Granted, it didn't have the airbags and whatnot that the Smart does, but cut it some slack — it's from the '80s. Given all that, I'd expect the much more modern Smart to get 50 or so mpg (our team of leadfoots is averaging around 37) and have a better transmission.
If the Smart were available with a turbodiesel engine and a six-speed manual, it'd probably get close to 60 mpg and be a lot more enjoyable to drive to boot.
My best friend was visiting from San Francisco so I took a couple of days off and asked to borrow our 2008 Smart Fortwo. No, I wasn't trying to punish my friend. I figured since we were going to be driving all around Los Angeles it would be the perfect car to have since it can fit in nearly any size parking space. I also thought she'd get a kick out of its novelty.
I used to like the Smart...before I had to drive it two days straight in and around Los Angeles — on freeways, crosstown, in rush-hour traffic, to the airport. I don't like it so much now. It seems to have gotten worse or maybe now that my rose-colored glasses have been thrown off I am more aware of its faults. But it vibrates a lot, even when stopped. When I press the brake (which you have to press firmly all the way down so the car doesn't creep) and am just sitting there, the Smart jerks as if someone has bumped it from behind. I don't know why it does that.
Also, and this isn't the Smart's fault but more due to my impatience, but I really hate how when waiting to drive onto a busy street, I have to wait until there are absolutely NO cars coming before I can go. That is, when I'm using the automatic mode. If I use the manual then I can probably jump in front of a car that's several car lengths away when in 1st gear, but I still wouldn't chance it.
But when I use the automatic and floor it, I mean stomp the pedal to the floor, there's that moment when the Smart leaves you hanging, wondering if it'll kick in in time to get out of that oncoming motorist's way.
No matter how I feel about the Smart now, spectators still love it lots and seem to be disappointed if I reply in a less than enthusiastic way about it. One time while I was waiting at a light, a man in an old Mercedes pulled up alongside me and beeped his horn to get my attention. Through his open window he asked me how I liked it. When I replied, "Eh. It's OK," he frowned and looked genuinely sad.
The look on his face reminded me of the time when I was a kid at Disneyland standing next to Mickey Mouse waiting to have my picture taken. "Mickey" said something to me to get me to stand in the right spot but he didn't say it with that sing-song falsetto Mickey Mouse voice but rather the voice of man who smoked five packs of cigarettes a day. Very disappointing indeed.
Hmm, maybe I should have lied to that motorist.
Last night I got on the freeway in our long-term 2008 Smart Fortwo, and I made the mistake of enjoying myself.
By any reasonable and modern standard, the Smart is not a good car. But I like driving not-good cars. Even downright bad cars are sometimes OK. And I can think of at least one way in which our Smart is better than my stepfather's '92 Civic VX hatch: It doesn't feel like it's going to shake itself apart at 85 mph — in fact, with no crosswinds on a calm evening, the Fortwo feels relatively stable. Of course, it hops and crashes over expansion joints, but what do you expect from a car with a 73.5-inch wheelbase and rudimentary suspension?
The main reason I like driving the Smart at freeway speeds is that I feel like this car needs me. It's not a 3 Series or a Passat. In trite terms, it's not going to "drive itself." It needs me to pay attention and drive defensively.
I realized that around town I've gotten in the habit of short-shifting (I never, ever use "D"), because the 3-cylinder makes decent low-end torque (relative to the weight of the car, obviously). But to merge onto the freeway safely, you need to draw out the revs more. And because there's no tachometer, you need to listen and make sure you get your paddle-executed shift in at the right time (the transmission will try to upshift on its own if you stray too close to the rev limiter) — with an ever-so-subtle lift off the throttle to minimize the interruption in power delivery.
For a lot of people, this would be boring. But consider this: I'd say more than 50 percent of LA drivers cruise down entrance ramps at 40 or so and then hammer on the gas at the end of the ramp. Works fine if you're driving a V8 Tundra, but not so well in a Smart, which needs time to build up speed. So your heart rate fluctuates a bit.
Bottom line: There's risk and ingenuity involved in driving this car that none of the other cars in our fleet require — at least not at typical traffic speeds. And I like that.
I realized this morning that the novelty (or more likely, my own lack of knowledge) of the Smart's rear-mounted 996cc three-cylinder engine was keeping me from checking the oil. So this morning, I went around the back of the car and ripped up the carpet, determined to engage in this gratifyingly simple act of basic car maintenance.
First order of business was to unscrew the metal panel over the engine compartment (shown above). There's only one screw, and there's a handy plastic tab on it, so no screwdriver needed.
Then, I moved the panel out of the way, but still had to hold up the carpet and padding, which seems to be fairly permanently attached. Seeing the three-cylinder engine for the first time was a pretty unceremonious occasion. However, the engine looks exactly as I expected it to — based on how it sounds and feels under hard acceleration.
Getting the dipstick in and out is easy, because it's right up front and the tube is nice and straight. The dipstick is completely made of plastic, meaning a Smart hater could have snatched it from my hand and snapped it in two. Thankfully, none of you were in the area at the time.
After replacing the engine cover, I came to what's probably the most annoying step in the process: having to stuff the carpet piece back under the cheap plastic trim pieces.
The Smart Fortwo is utterly pointless. It makes about as much sense as adding an instant replay rule in the middle of baseball season. OK, I can park it almost anywhere - when I live in the crowded Assemblie Nationale area of Paris, I'll get one. Until then, I'll just hang my head in sorrow each time I see someone who spent good money on a car that has almost no redeeming qualities. Even the Saturn Ion was better than this thing.
The added benefit of parking ease and slightly better fuel economy in NO WAY makes up for the compromises in ride comfort, handling, convenience, interior noise, flexibility and pride. Get a Ford Focus, Honda Civic or Mazda 3 instead.
You'd think a car this small would be perfect for gridlock. It's tiny footprint should allow it to slice through tight spots and zip through traffic, and actually, it does that. Unfortunately, it's a still a nightmare. We've already gone over ad nauseum the automated manual transmission that jerks and jiggles you around at 5 mph speeds as if a teenage driver is slipping the clutch for you.
But for me, the biggest issue is the brake pedal. I don't know how other people drive (in particular weirdo Franco-German mini car designers), but I leave my heal on the floor and fan it from accelerator and brake. The Smart's floor-mounted brake pedal is at an angle like this / , but my foot is going at it like this \ . That means I usually have to lift my heel off the ground and push it with my toes. That's when the Smart's Mercedes-like modulation comes into play, with a lot of nebulous dead travel greeted by abrupt grab. So I often jerk to halt, or if I actually manage to be more gradual about it, then the transmission comes in and jiggles and jerks things.
I really wanted to like the Smart, but honestly, what a heap.
Since I had some seat time in the Smart this weekend, I've finally got some first-hand impressions to share. In the spirit of the Smart, I'll keep my comments short - compact, even.
Guess what? The transmission sucks. I know it's been said before, but it needs repeating. No one should ever make a transmission this bad again. It's so bad, it needs its own paragraph.
As does the stereo. It has two speakers. Two really, really, bad speakers.
It's not all bad though. The seating position is good and the seat is comfortable. You've got good visibility too. The motor has nice snarl to it and, even though you're basically sitting on it, its noise and vibration are well controlled. It's not really that slow, either. You've really got to give it a good caning, but it'll get you up to speed.
Even in southern California, this car attracts attention. Everywhere I parked the car, someone came up and asked me about the car. Supermarket? Check. Gas station? Check. Bookstore? Check. My driveway...you get the idea. You've got to be prepared to deal with the attention.
On a side note, Mr. Magrath had asked me to put some license plates on the car this weekend. It shouldn't be a big deal, except there are no pre-drilled plates holes on the Smart. There aren't even any dimples. There's just painted plastic. So, in order to not 'G8' our Smart, I busted out a ruler and a level to center up the plates. A little painter's tape to prevent the paint from cracking, a fully charged drill and 10 minutes was all it took to plate up our Smart.
Last Friday I did the unthinkable. I drove the car I was assigned to, the Hyundai Veracruz, out of our office complex, turned immediately around and went back into the building to get the keys to the Smart. Now it's not that I don't like the Veracruz (save for the steering, I dislike that greatly) it's just that for my needs this weekend the Smart was the better option.
My needs you ask? Driving home Friday while listening to an audiobook on my iPod and then driving into work Monday while listening to the same tale. I planned on doing a lot of walking this weekend, I doubted I'd put 50 miles on whatever I took home.
Concealed conveniently in the glove box (where it should be to prevent wires snaking throughout the cockpit) of the Smart is an aux input. The Hyundai doesn't have one. Chalk one — and just one — win for the little red shoe.
On the freeway this morning, I couldn't resist taking this photo over my shoulder of the massive Ford truck that kept riding up on the Smart Fortwo's stubby, little bumper.
After a few miles of him playing cat to my mouse, the camera flash seemed to encourage him to back the heck off.
It wasn't until I uploaded the photo to my computer that I realized there were actually three large trucks abreast right behind me.
Driving the Smart can be fun, but it often comes with a feeling of inadequacy. Especially in heavy traffic.
I have been going to the same car wash for 8 1/2 years (yes, I am old, and no, I don't like change). In that time, less than a dozen vehicles I've driven there have been special enough for the staff to park them out front while toweling them off. Most vehicles are banished to the side lot, which is only visible from a side street. Our 2008 Smart Fortwo is by far the slowest, least expensive car that has ever been bestowed the "out front" honor.
In other news, I continue to drive the Smart with abandon, even at the risk of upsetting freeway mates and blog participants. However, during 120 miles of driving over the weekend, the car averaged only 26 mpg, which is directly attributable to my driving habits. As seen in Edmunds' Gas Sipper Smackdown, in the right hands, the car is capable of much better numbers.
I also decided that one reason I enjoy the car is its excellent driving position. Considering the minimal adjustments (fore/aft, recline, no tilt wheel), I can sit the way I want to in the Fortwo and I have an excellent view in all directions.
But, and yeah, there's always a but with this car, it's noteworthy that I am of very average size for an adult, so if the Smart didn't fit me, it wouldn't fit anybody. Also, given how defensively one needs to drive this car, it would be a crime if it didn't have a good driving position.
Figuring that traffic wasn't going to be bad last night (Monday's are often free and easy), I opted for the Smart. Good move, because the Smart really is an excellent little city car when you're not herking and jerking around in gridlock. Like all small cars (and moreso), the Smart cuts through cars with ease and can fit through gaps like nothing else can. I once even hyphothetically dodged a stopped bus at an intersection by briefly buzzing up onto a sidewalk and through a gas station. Couldn't hypothetically do that in a Fit.
I also like that I fit comfortably in the thing. I wish the driver seat went as far back as the passenger seat does, but even without the extra inches of travel, I'm more comfortable in this itzy bitzy carlet than most other compact and subcompact cars.
Finally, I like the bins on either side of the steering column. It's a perfect place for leaving an iPod while driving, especially given the glovebox-mounted jack location that's useful when parking. It was also the perfect place to store a full-size walkie talkie during our Fuel Sipper Smackdown.
So there, it's not all bad. If they just fixed the damn brake pedal and transmission, I'd really like this little thing.
Check out what I was able to do with our 2008 Smart Fortwo during the weekend of my big move. Fortunately I also had use of a rented U-Haul and a Dodge Ram pickup to move a one-bedroom apartment's worth of stuff but the Smart was good enough to tote four of my moving boxes at least, as well as serve as the go-fetch car when I just wanted to pick up food for my hungry friends who helped me move.
And since it helped a bit, I feel I have to say one more good thing about it. I like that it has bun warmers. Not something I'd normally expect of an "econocar" with cloth seats.
Fashion = Money
With the Hummer limping out into oblivion, gas prices on the rise and a global economic downturn making freak out about money, the Smart has become a hot buy for the budget conscience. Well, a hot buy here in West LA. I see them zipping up and down Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards all the time.
Prices are commensurate with such trendy adulations. The dealership I drive past every day on my way to and from work has a lot filled with Smarts all priced at an affordable $22k. Wait, $22k?!? I thought this was supposed to be an economy car! Ours had an MSRP of $15,305 just six months ago. Supply and demand can really suck.
I drove our Smart for the first time last night and just kept thinking, "is this car worth it?" from a money and a "could I live with this" perspective. The answer was simple: No.
I'd much rather have an alternative, like the 2009 Honda Fit. Priced just over $18k, you get more power, more room, four seats and a nav system. It might not be as fuel efficient as the Smart, but our observed 30mpg is pretty darn good. If you figure there is at least a $1,400 price difference between the two here in LA and gas at an overestimated $4 a gallon, that's 350 gallons of price difference!
Driving those 350 gallons, or roughly 10k+ miles through LA traffic highways and byways, I'd much rather have the comfort, the space, the power and the nav of the Fit.
Our long-term Smart Fortwo needs help. The vitriol we've spewed in this thing's direction makes the Aura look like the M3, yet its year with us is barely halfway over. Every time I've driven the Smart in recent weeks, I've returned the keys with one thought on my mind:
What can we do to spice this car up?
I've got my own ideas, but I want to hear yours first. And no, this will not fit in our garage.
Whoever drove the Smart on Monday evening was kind enough to leave the next driver with an 1/8 of a tank of gas. Or rather, somewhere between an 1/8 of a tank or empty since the Smart features an annoying gas gauge that features only 8 digital bars rather than the more nuanced swinging dial or even the 13-bar digital gauge found in the Nissan Rogue Pumpkin Edition I drove this weekend.
Unfortunately, I didn't discover the Smart was drained until a split second after I had passed our nearby gas station. I could either get out of the line for the freeway and turn around somewhere, or I could risk it. I knew there was about 7 miles until the next gas station, so I gambled seeing as no gas light came on (that's if the Smart even had one. You'd think it should, but you never know with this thing).
I made it home with no gas light and the 1/8 bar was still in tact. Fine, I'll gamble again the next morning. Half-way in this morning, the gas pump logo started blinking and the trip meter was replaced by a gallon countdown. The latter is actually pretty useful. I made it to the gas station and pumped 7.875 gallons into the 8.7-gallon tank. When I looked into the fuel log, it turns out this was the second-most someone had gambled. Magrath put 7.953 gallons into her.
Fuel Mileage Update After the Jump
MPG to date: 33.3 mpg
Best: 43.4 (323.4 miles with 7.449 gallons by Phil "It Up Rarely" Reed)
Worst: 25.7 (200.3 miles with 7.8 gallons by John O'Dell)
EPA is 33 mpg city, 41 mpg highway and 36 mpg combined. Given how much any Smart is bound to stay in the city, I think the combined number isn't as applicable to it. Most of our fill-ups are several days apart, which generally indicates we've been driving it mostly in the city.
Here's the biggest problem with our long-term Smart Fortwo:
It's priced like a real car.
Whenever someone asks me for my opinion of the Smart, I reply, "It might make some sense...if it cost eight or nine grand." But ours listed for over $15k. That's real-car money. Honda Fit money. Base Mazda 3 or Elantra or Civic or Corolla money. Hell, our Smart even makes the base Yaris looks like a bright idea at $12k and change, not to mention the Accent coupe at $11k.
Now, suppose the Smart got ridiculously good gas mileage. Say, 50 city/70 highway, something like that. In that case, it would be understandable that this thing is exceeding sales expectations, with the first two years of stateside Smarts already spoken for back in March. Fuel economy is sexy these days, so I could see why people would want to pony up real-car coin for a toy car with mega-MPGs. But the Smart's 36 mpg combined figure is frankly pathetic for something this small — and that's using the required premium unleaded, of course.
So the Smart's sales success leaves me scratching my head. Lop $6 or $7k off the price of our Fortwo, and sure, I'd recommend it as an unrefined and impractical but affordable alternative to a real car. As it stands, though, this has got to be the worst $15k you could possibly spend on a new car today.
My reward for bad-mouthing the Smart on Friday? Keys for the weekend, of course. I bucked and droned my way down the 405 to Newport Beach yesterday and came up with a brilliant idea for a three-car comparo: Wrangler, Elise, Smart — Cruising On The Highway Like It's 1923!
Anyway, fuel efficiency is supposed to be one of the Smart's strong points, right? So I figured it was time to update the fuel log and see how we're doing. Against an EPA combined estimate of 36 mpg, we're averaging a somewhat disappointing 33.4 mpg — and I'm hesitant to blame our chronically leaden feet for this deficit, since wooding it in the Smart is about as pleasant as punching yourself in the face.
Moreover, that's 33.4 mpg on premium, which means the Smart will run you an extra 27 cents per gallon at current prices. If premium costs $3.27 and regular costs $3.00, then as far as your wallet's concerned, getting 33.4 mpg in the Smart is the same as getting 30.6 mpg in a car that runs on regular.
As our man Jacobs reported recently, Angelenos just can't get enough of the Smart. Here's a shot of the local dealership mentioned in that post. Want your very own 2008 Fortwo Passion Coupe, same model as ours, with a pristine 21 miles on the clock? "Bring money," as Snake Doc likes to say — $25,825, to be precise.
But here's what really got me. While I was staring incredulously at that price tag, another one caught my eye.
I strolled over to take a look. It was a mint 1999 Porsche 911 Carrera, six-speed manual, with 59,835 miles. Yours for $574 more than the crappiest car on the market.
I love L.A.
One convenience feature in our 2008 Smart Fortwo is an oil service reminder. But like the rest of the car, the reminder is tiny and easy to miss. It's an itty-bitty wrench that flashes for about 15 seconds at start-up. If you're busy with something else like buckling your seatbelt, you'll miss it.
That is why we're now at "-500" — meaning we should have changed the oil 500 miles ago. The "-500" also only appears during the 15-second window; thereafter, you see the normal odometer display.
If you're wondering, we do take foolish pride in our lack of punctuality. However, at this point, it seems like the Smart's maintenance wrench should be staying on all the time to give the owner a necessary kick in the butt. But it doesn't.
A service appointment is being scheduled. We'll let you know how it goes.
We've got a new one to add to the list of complaints about the Smart's brake pedal: it squeaks. Over the weekend, not only was I reminded of how much effort it requires to keep the Smart stopped while waiting at a light (I've just resorted these days to putting it in park), but it now emits a sound similar to that of a distressed rodent — or a doggie squeeze toy.
Hopefully they'll take care of that when we finally take it in for service (we're T-minus 600 miles now, btw). Otherwise, I'm unleashing a can of WD-40 on that sucka.
It wasn't until I left my neighborhood this morning that I realized both the Smart Fortwo and I were wearing orange.
The car attracts enough attention on its own. Didn't need to be the dorky girl who dresses to match her car.
On more than a few occasions people have come back into the office after driving the smart and compared it with the R8: They both get a lot of attention from onlookers. Both cars seat only two and both cars have absolutely pathetic transmissions. They're also both pretty useless vehicles despite the Audi's claim to the 911's title of every-day supercar. Well guess what, every day people go grocery shopping. And for this type of thing the smart fortwo is clearly superior to the Audi R8 by one Whole Foods bag.
Smart of Beverly Hills couldn't schedule an appointment until next Wednesday. That is, except for one 7:00am appointment on Friday morning that would see our car returned "no earlier than 4pm". Forget that.
I made a quick call to the smart center of Universal City — closer to my house anyways — and they could take me the same day. Funny how a change of only a few miles translates to vastly different realities...this dealership, as opposed to the ones here in Santa Monica, is selling smarts at MSRP.
The dealership is under construction and I drove by twice. When I finally got there the smart was whisked away almost immediately with a promised return time of 1-hour. I was waiting on this one so I really hoped they 'd stick to that. 45-minutes later I got the call that the service was complete and I could pick up the car.
The damage was $210.93 for an oil change and routine checks. This proves once again that the smart is in only an economy car in build quality. I want to like this car but it's getting harder every day.
In Los Angeles, drivers have this habit of either not signaling when they want to switch lanes or signaling as they switch lanes, never mind if you back off and give them room or not. You just have to be on constant guard so that you don't get sideswiped.
I've gotten used to dealing with this in normal-size cars but when it's in our 2008 Smart Fortwo it's a terrifying experience. The front and rear ends are so close to where I'm sitting that I feel like these crazy drivers are going to take me out as they come across the front of me or come up behind me at fast speeds. I honk my horn to say "Please don't hit me" but it sounds so ridiculous that people just laugh.
However, I have found that this size is also handy for moving through slow-moving traffic. I just downshift and squirt in between cars as soon as I clear them, which takes no time at all. This morning I danced around a distracted G35 and shamefully slow Cayman. Ha! OH and I was able to make a three-point turn in my small one-car driveway so I could merge onto my street nose first.
The Smart is a blast to drive. Is there some reason we're keeping this a secret?
For all the comments recorded so far, you'd think that the Smart is some kind of high-fashion Trabant, a crude auto-troglodyte dressed up in a snappy marketing campaign. But instead it's a city car for people who like cars.
You can tell that you're in something good as soon as you take a seat. The whole cabin is a masterpiece of ergonomics and style — expansive field of view, superior driving position, supportive seat, great steering wheel and simple, intuitive controls. The Smart shows you what a horror of bad manga animation the cockpit of the Nissan GT-R really is.
Yet it's the driving where the Smart really makes its point. The controls feel perfectly European — direct, communicative and lively. And the Smart asks you to drive it. If you want to go fast, you must use the throttle pedal and then the triple behind you answers with a smooth, motorcycle-style growl, as if it's turbocharged.
You can also work the single-clutch automated manual transmission pretty effectively with the throttle pedal in Drive, without any thrashing about with the shift paddles on the steering wheel. The drivetrain gives you so much advance warning of its intention to shift a gear that it practically sends a semaphore signal, so it's simple to ease shift shock with a lift of the throttle at slow speed or instead just put your foot down to hold a gear for uninterrupted acceleration. Kickdowns are slow (although quicker than the Ford Edge's six-speed automatic), while upshifts are quicker than almost anybody (including many in this office) can work a clutch-type transmission.
As a result, you find yourself hurtling around town in the Smart at top speed without any thought to fuel economy, making a pest of yourself just like those early adopters in the 1950s who drove the VW Beetle. In fact, the Smart is the VW Beetle of the 21st century. It's a car with a simplicity that can be mistaken for crudeness, and it tests your attitudes about transportation as well as your driving skill.
If you like to drive, the Smart is your kind of car. If you like to be carried around in a coma-like state by some kind of transportation pod — one of those sad little entry-level cars like the Toyota Yaris that begins to apologize for its cheapness as soon as you twist the ignition key — well, good luck to you.
I was telling Edmunds editor Michael Jordan about how our 2008 Smart Fortwo caused a motorist distracted by it to crash into a concrete pillar in our parking garage the other day when he told me about the new Hermes edition of the Fortwo. Immediately I Googled it. It's so...pretty!
The Hermes "Fortwo edition Toile" Smart Car, created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Smart Fortwo, is swathed in sumptuous Hermes leather and is available in 10 fashionable colors. However, it costs about $48,564. And I think that's just due to its luxurious interior materials; there was no mention of performance mods.
At least our $13,590 is an eye-catching, accident-causing Red Metallic. I saw a black Fortwo this morning. Bo-ring!
PS: Regarding the Smart maintenance invoice mentioned earlier, apparently it's not itemized so we're currently working on getting a more detailed listing. Look for a future post on the matter.
Long-Term Blogophiles will recall that I've had some trouble with non-auto-off headlights. This morning I had an inconvenient case of deja vu. I hit the remote unlock button on the Smart's key...nothing. After popping the plastic cover off the door lock and manually unlocking the door, I confirmed that I'd left the lights on overnight — and the battery was as dead as Marvin of Pulp Fiction fame.
What I needed was a trusty Magrath, and sure enough, he rolled up in the GT-R a few minutes later, jumper cables in hand.
"Huh," he mused aloud. "I wonder where the battery is in this thing."
That turned out to be a good question. First we opened the hatch and checked the engine bay. No dice. Then we tried the front hood compartment thing. The washer fluid's in there, but no battery. Time to RTFM, a task that fell to Magrath while I snapped pictures and passers-by gawked at the sight of the GT-R, bonnet propped open, parked next to the Smart with its dangling hood.
So where's the battery? Why, in the passenger-side footwell, of course.
So we passed the jumper cables through the driver side of the Smart and stretched them over to the footwell. There was just enough slack for the cables to reach their destination.
After a few false starts by me (hence the grimace), Magrath performed a brief voodoo ritual, and the Smart fired up on his first attempt. My punishment was a half-hour drive around L.A. to charge up the battery. Also, I had to stand shirtless behind the company ping pong table while the rest of the editorial team whacked balls off my chest, Texas-style.
Moral of the story for Smart drivers: Our man DiPietro's '87 Subaru Justy may have had auto-off headlights, but the Smart does not. And you don't want to find this out for yourselves.
During our long weekend I found out something interesting about our lil' 2008 Smart Fortwo: Even in manual mode it still upshifts on its own. I was jumping on the freeway, which was unusually empty due to most Angelenos being out of town for the holiday, and had the car in manual mode so that I could have more oomph to merge when I noticed this. When the car hit its limit loudly in 1st gear it automatically went to 2nd before I could flick the paddle shifter. I checked to make sure the gearshift was in fact moved over in the manual mode and it was.
Funny enough, "shifting" this way is a lot smoother than when you do it yourself or when you have it in automatic mode.
BTW, I also noticed while on the freeway that there aren't any other Smarts out there. I see Fortwos out and about on the city streets but have yet to see another one on the freeway. This leads me to wonder if Smart drivers are purposely avoiding the highways.
This is the reason I chose to take our 2008 Smart Fortwo over the biodiesel Jetta last night. I don't know about you but 58 degrees is pretty chilly out and I wanted to keep warm on the drive home. OK, I use seat heaters even when it's 72 degrees out.
In any case, I kinda like the cloth seats with the seat heater, it makes the seat feel like I'm sitting on a heated blanket. And at the highest level — the two bars — I was comfortable, not scorched. The heating seems focused primarily on my lower back though and not so much my bottom. But I'm not complaining. Rush hour was nice and cozy.
For those of you who maybe haven't seen it, Wall-E, the eponymous title character of Disney-Pixar's doomsday flick, crushes the trash which has rendered earth uninhabitable into tidy cubes and then stacks them into neat skyscrapers. I parked here hoping the inflatable would do the same job to the smart. It didn't which I suppose is a good thing as in the last few months since this picture was taken I've come to respect and, in some instances, really like the silly little smart. But that's not the point. I took this picture in July and have yet to come up with a clever caption for it. Your turn.
Caption this photo.
Something that always bugged me about our 2008 Smart Fortwo is the unlock/lock symbols on its keyfob. In the picture above you can easily tell the difference which symbol means to unlock or lock the car.
When you're in a low-light condition it's not so easy. That little gap in the unlock symbol isn't distinctive enough. This may not be an issue for most people, owners of this car will probably memorize which button does what but I have a terrible memory! And I can never get it. I always have to use my cell phone light to make sure I'm pressing the right button. Not fun when I'm in a dark garage, creeped out by my surroundings and just want to get in the car right quick.
Following up on my post on Friday about the not-too-clear unlock/lock icons on the keyfob, a few of you (i.e. commenter fadetoblackii) may have wondered why I don't just use the actual key to unlock our 2008 Smart Fortwo, especially when in a hurry. As commenter epbronw pointed out, there is no keyhole.
There is, however, a key symbol to let you know where the keyhole is located. Unfortunately it's concealed by a plastic cover that appears to require implements to remove it. So no quick and easy entry for me.
I tried looking online how to remove that cover but no such luck. The user manual I downloaded makes no mention of it, just that if your keyfob doesn't work, you should replace the battery.
Our 2008 Smart ForTwo is small and skinny, so when you park it, there's plenty of room to open its doors maximum-wide. That makes it easier to get in and out.
Our M3 is still on the DL, by the way, as it waits for a fresh set of tires.
Have you ever seen the movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High? Remember that part when Judge Reinhold is delivering food and a beautiful woman pulls up next to him and smiles? Then she laughs and takes off? It's only then that he notices he's wearing that stupid pirate hat?
Well, the same basic thing happened to me when I drove home from the office last night. Cute girl, giving me a look, then giggling and leaving.
It was then I realized I'm driving a bright orange Smart. It's a giant pirate hat on wheels. She wasn't looking at me, but my car. Then laughing at the both of us.
That hurt the ego just a bit.
On a side note, driving into the office this morning I passed by a Mercedes dealership and saw the first Smart under $20k in a long time. It was fifteen and change, making a hell of a lot more sense that ridiculous $25k+ I'd seen earlier. If the price was a little lower still, the Smart would make a lot more sense to me.
In another post on our 2008 Smart Fortwo I mentioned a theory I had about how Smart Car owners were avoiding the freeway since I had never seen one on our SoCal highways before, well, other than our own. But not only did I finally drive alongside and pass one going 50 mph in the No. 2 lane on the 10 East last weekend (sorry for the blurry photo above) but last night there was a police chase in L.A. involving a Smart.
You have to see it to believe it. Speeds were quoted as "often reaching 90 mph." The Smart's top speed is 93 mph. Were they able to catch him? Well, the cops only stopped chasing the driver when they confirmed his home address on the license and registration he had left behind when he was pulled over for speeding earlier. What a maroon.
And I swear it wasn't our Smart. The felonious Smart is blue.
I've already bitched-a-plenty about the Smart's stupid floor-mounted brake pedal, but as I drove home last night I recognized one issue that exasperated the problem. The person who originally bought our ForTwo (we purchased it from him off eBay shortly after he took possession) ordered it with the accessory all-season floor mats. Naturally, they are rubber and have grooves in them. I noticed last night that my right shoe's rubber sole was constantly getting snagged by these rubber grooves. This, along with the added floor height made operating the wonky brake pedal even harder since I couldn't slide the bottom of my foot along the carpet.
Recognizing this, I immediately de-Velcroed the mat from the floor and chucked it into the trunk, or whatever that space behind the seats and over the engine is called. I noticed an immediate difference, with my foot now capable of sliding across the interior's carpet. The brake pedal design is still terrible, though, and it still takes concentration to not jam on the brakes and jerk the Smart to a stop.
Seeing as there's only 1 1/2 seasons here in SoCal, I'm thinking we can live without the all-season mats. I went ahead and left the driver's one in the trunkish area, so we'll see if it makes a difference for anyone else.
There are a lot of negative things that can be said about our Long Term Smart: It's ugly. It's pointless. The transmission is lousy. The brake pedal is hinged in the wrong spot. It's uncomfortable. It's too hot because of the giant greenhouse and weak AC. You get the idea.
But what very few here have mentioned (or noticed) is that, when treated appropriately, the Smart can be fun to really drive.
What exactly is meant by "treated appropriately" ties directly into the title of this blog. And not in some lame tree-hugging eco way. Driving the Smart Fortwo teaches conservation of momentum — A principle that allows Miatas and Elises to keep up on the track with cars running twice the horsepower. Driving the Smart requires the driver to be on the ball. Like a chess match, you need to be thinking ten steps ahead and be able to make decisive changes when that Camry drifts across three lanes with no blinkers and your entire game plan is shot.
In his second opinion of the 2009 BMW 335d, Josh Sadlier wrote: "Flat-foot the 335d at 10 mph and you, too, will be a convert to the Temple of Torque." That mentality is the opposite of the Smart and the opposite of smooth driving. (It is fun, though.) With cars like the 335d, GTR, or G8, thinking isn't always necessary. Get stuck behind some jerk going 15 under the speed limit? Wood it over to the next lane and you're clear. But the Smart's gas pedal is virtually useless, especially at freeway speed. As opposed to real cars where stomping on the throttle makes something happen, prodding the right-most pedal in the Smart is more like dropping a note in a suggestion box. Someone will get to it eventually. To keep pace in a Smart you must be constantly aware of your surroundings and must be constantly modulating the throttle inputs. Coast, half-throttle, 1/10th throttle, it doesn't matter. You do not, at any point in Smart driving, want to slam the brakes or be in a position where full throttle is necessary. If you do the world will pass you in a heartbeat.
Conservation of Momentum is a key to automobile racing not only because going faster is faster, but because it promotes smooth driving and smooth driving promotes longer tire life, better fuel economy and less stress upon vital brake and engine components.
A while ago at a track day I sat down with Chris Walton and asked him what I could do to get faster and be smoother. See, he had just set a lap record at Streets of Willow and I had spun harmlessly off the track. "Buy a motorcycle," he says, "it's all about throttle control, weight transfer, and intelligent braking." But I see another alternative; buy a Smart Fortwo Passion. It's as difficult to drive smoothly and quickly as anything on the market. Master that and the lessons learned are bound to transfer to simpler cars.
In my last smart fortwo passion blog, the comments strayed away from the topic at hand (as is the point of the internet) and onto the shift pattern of the US model versus that of the European one. The statement from Bumby was "We didn't get the Euro shifter because the PRND layout is required by US law." EPBrown found an exception to this quickly "We're swimming in cars that use semi-auto gearboxes that use the N/R/+/- shifter. It's on every SMG-equipped BMW." That got me to thinking and then to researching exactly what is required by the NHTSA. And let me tell you now, it's not easy. The NHTSA only lists a "quick reference" guide to searching the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. In order to access the full text, one needs to go to http://www.gpoaccess.gov/ and search for "49 CFR 571." Obvious, right? Whatever, here it is:
FMVSS Rule 102 beings "Sec.571.102 Standard No. 102; Transmission shift position sequence, starter interlock, and transmission braking effect. S1. Purpose and scope. This standard specifies the requirements for the transmission shift position sequence, a starter interlock, and for a braking effect of automatic transmissions, to reduce the likelihood of shifting errors, to prevent starter engagement by the driver when the transmission is in any drive position, and to provide supplemental braking at speeds below 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour). " That sounds about what I was looking for.
The section that pertains to our question is S3.1.1: (S3.1, of course, being titled Automatic Transmissions.) "Location of transmission shift positions on passenger cars. A neutral position shall be located between forward drive and reverse drive positions." And S184.108.40.206: "Transmission shift levers. If a steering-column mounted transmission shift lever is used, movement from neutral position to forward drive position shall be clockwise. If the transmission shift lever sequence includes a park position, it shall be located at the end, adjacent to the reverse drive position."
Oh, but that only appears to deal with column-mounted shifters, not the nub of a shift lever the 2008 X5 uses,
let's try "S3.1.4 Identification of shift positions and of shift position sequence. S220.127.116.11 Except as specified in S18.104.22.168, if the transmission shift position sequence includes a park position, identification of shift positions, including the positions in relation to each other and the position selected, shall be displayed in view of the driver whenever any of the following conditions exist: (a) The ignition is in a position where the transmission can be shifted; or (b) the transmission is not in park." That would mean that the BMW's park button is legally acceptable, but still stupid.
But what about the R8 and BMWs with SMG? Well, S22.214.171.124 handles that:
"Except as specified in S126.96.36.199, if the transmission shift position sequence does not include a park position, identification of shift positions, including the positions in relation to each other and the position selected, shall be displayed in view of the driver whenever the ignition is in a position in which the engine is capable of operation."
The rest of FMVSS 102 isn't nearly as exciting, but that seems to have settled the debate pretty thoroughly: PRND is not required, but N must be between D and R and, if applicable, Park must be labeled (as it is in the X5), and if there is no park (like the R8 and the M3 with DCT), gear position must be labeled and visible to the driver.
Here are quick links to FMVSS 102 and to the entirety of the Code of Federal Regulations Title 49: Transportation.
Keeping the Pressure On
Last night I did what just about any driver does when they come to a red light. You've got nothing to do for the next 30 seconds, so you fidget with the radio, look at the people at the bus stop, adjust a vent, whatever to waste those 30 seconds.
But what I didn't realize is that while I was tuning the radio the car was slowly creeping forward. It was only when I looked up and saw a rear view mirror with a set of bug eyes staring at me in panic did I realize I didn't have enough pressure on the brake pedal.
I tried it out a little later when I had another opportunity and I wasn't completely negligent. This sucker needs a lot more pressure than you might realize to keep it from moving. Almost to the point that if the light is a long one, your shin will start to burn.
Last December I mentioned how our 2008 Smart Fortwo upshifts on its own, even when you're in manual mode. But another thing I found out that it does is downshift when you stomp on the throttle looking for more power in a hurry. Sure, automatic transmission cars do this anyway but I don't think I've ever seen an automanual car do it in manual mode.
This weekend when I was trying to follow a friend who was driving a Lexus SUV to a restaurant via the freeway, they jumped on the on-ramp and just gunned it. Since I was in the Smart (um, hello!), there was no way I could catch up with them but at the same time I didn't want to get lost. So I stomped on the throttle while in 4th gear. Wait for me!
Suddenly it seemed like the Smart was trying to muster all the strength it had and I saw that it downshifted to 3rd gear. Its little engine roared and strained. I thought for sure once it hit redline it would upshift itself to 4th as it had before. But nope. So I upshifted. Eventually I caught up with my friend...but that was just because when they realized they lost me they slowed down and waited for me in the slow lane.
Apparently the Audi R8 does this, too, in manual mode but the Nissan GT-R and Mitsubishi Evo X don't. Not that I'm saying the Smart in the same league as those cars. Pshaw! Just thought it was interesting and wondered which other cars do the same thing.
With Obama's stimulus package hung up on the hill, I've taken matters into my own hands. Last week I started delivering pizzas at night in our long-term 2008 Smart Fortwo. Hey, times are tight, private school is killing me and that new 4-speed for my '55 Chevy is not going to pay for itself.
So far so good, the money ain't bad and the Smart is accumulating the miles, but I'll tell you, taking that wrap off every morning and reinstalling it every night is getting old. Plus, everyone is wondering why the Smart smells like pepperoni.
Now remember, tips are appreciated.
Some cars have this, too, but I'm not crazy about paddle shifters that move with the steering wheel, like they do in our 2008 Smart Fortwo. If I want to downshift/upshift at a turn, since my hands always go back to 10 and 2, I'm inevitably eyeballing or feeling around the wheel for the paddle shifters. Not good. I've since given up shifting with them at turns and just use the gearshifter.
I prefer paddle shifters fixed to the steering column because I don't have to search around for them and wait for them to come to me. Fixed, I know where they'll be every time. Not faulting the car, just letting you know that's how it is with the Smart. The R8 has traveling paddle shifters, too.
Something to appreciate about our 2008 Smart Fortwo: Even though it's a teeny-tiny car, it's still pretty tall. Driving it I've found myself riding higher than most other compact cars and even at nearly the same level as some crossovers. OK maybe that last part is just my imagination.
In any case, the Smart's unlikely height is why I don't get as intimidated by most cars as I am when I'm in my daily driver, a Corolla. In the Corolla, I fall below most people's line of sight and therefore it feels kinda scary. Can they see me? In the Smart, I can actually see over traffic a bit better on rush-hour crowded freeways.
Just for the heck of it, I thought I'd compare the height of our Smart to some of the other cars in our fleet.
Out of the following long-termers, which do you think is taller than the Smart (60.7 inches tall)?
2009 Audi A4 Avant?
2008 Ford Focus?
2009 Honda Fit?
2009 Mazda 6 i?
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX?
2009 Suzuki SX4?
2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI?
The answer after the jump.
Only the Suzuki is the tallest at 60.8 inches. Did you guess right?
2009 Honda Fit — 60 inches
2008 Ford Focus — 58.6 inches
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX — 58.1 inches
2009 Mazda 6 i — 57.9 inches
2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI — 57.4 inches
2009 Audi A4 Avant — 56.5 inches
Saturday night I was on the way to dinner with a friend in the 2008 Smart Fortwo when the traffic on Pacific Coast Highway came to an abrupt stop.
Up ahead there was trouble but we couldn't see what was happening. The light turned green and we inched forward then came to a stop next to a wrecked car with tongues of fire flicking out from under the hood. As we waited for the light to turn the whole front of the car went up in flames.
Cop cars and fire equipment were pulling up all around us. I heard a frantic rapping on my window and rolled it down.
A cop's face filled my vision. "Pull a U-turn and get out of here! That thing's going to blow up!"
It was like one of those old movies when a character yells: "Run for your lives! She's gonna blow!"
I threw it in reverse — but where could I go? I was boxed in by a fire truck and a cop car. But wait a second. I was in the ultimate U-turn car. After a few reverses and some frantic cutting of the wheel, I cleared the fire truck, reversed my direction and was flying away from the scene, waiting for a fireball to fill my rearview mirror.
Well, this was just a long way of saying, safety comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sometimes you can drive your way out of danger.
In other news, the Smart delivered 43.2 mpg over a weekend of driving all over Southern California. Checking records, I see that the worst tank was 29.7 mpg and our average at 14,274 miles is 33.7 mpg.
A city car like the Smart is all very cute when the sun is shining and you're motoring on city streets to the local bakery to pick up a load of baguettes. But what about when it's mid-winter and one of those big storms has come in off the Gulf of Alaska and you face a long drive home on the freeway where the water has puddled inches deep between the uneven concrete slabs?
Not so bad. Far better in fact than some of the hot rods around here, which skip across the puddles like stones across a pond, a consequence of summer performance tires that don't have enough tread cuts to evacuate standing water and tire footprints that are far wider than they are long.
The Smart Fortwo doesn't seem as if it should add up for low traction surfaces. It tends to weave down our freeways, since its short 73.5-inch wheelbase doesn't quite deliver the straight-line stability required to resist the influence of the Continental tires, which pick up the grooves that the California transportation department etches in our freeways to keep us all from skidding off the flooded concrete when it rains.
Nevertheless, the Smart gives you total confidence in bad weather, even when the there's so much rain that it's like driving through a carwash. The tires produce much of the magic here. With 155/60R15s in front and 175/55R15s in the rear, the Smart has tire footprints that are longer than they are wide, which is what you want to cut through the puddles. In addition, Continental is based in Hanover, Germany, where it rains a lot, and the Smart's ContiProContact tires are meant to cope with weather that puts the season in your basic all-season descriptor.
It also helps that the view out of the Smart's windshield is expansive and the wipers clear most of it. Of course, it's not enough that you can see them. Even in a car that looks like a bright orange Jujube, you have to wonder if they can see you.
I have a lot of LA freeway miles in our long-term 2008 Smart Fortwo under my belt. For reasons not entirely clear to me, I keep coming back to the challenge of driving this car . Perhaps it's because I don't value my own life as much as some of you do yours. Perhaps it's because I'm on the Penske payroll. Perhap it's because I'm simply dumb.
However, I tend to drive the same 25-mile stretch of freeway over and over (because it happens to lead to my boyfriend's house), so I know the traffic conditions and I know where all the ruts and joints are, and I plan accordingly to keep the engine its power band and the suspension relatively settled. Yesterday, I deviated from the plan and drove the car 70 miles from Santa Monica to San Clemente.
Because I am crazy, I found a way to enjoy the trip. The transmission, for example, works well when you call up a downshift at 70-80 mph. I tend to look very far ahead when I drive the Smart, so whenever I anticipated wanting to pass or could see an uphill grade coming, I maintained throttle position and pressed the paddle shifter for a 5-4 downshift. It was quick and smooth, and I didn't lose even 1 mph of speed.
In this one very specific situation, the Fortwo's automated single-clutch gearbox is preferrable to an automatic transmission.
Still, this is not a relaxing road-trip car. Obviously. During lunch, a business acquaintance asked me if the wind noise was really terrible at 70 mph. "No, not really, I don't think so," was my reply.
Then on the trip back, I realized there's a ton of wind roar. It's just hard to make out over the three-cylinder engine at full cry and the rumble of the 155/60R15 Continental front tires directly beneath me. At least, there wasn't much of a crosswind yesterday, so I didn't have to sail the Smart.
Of course, I turn up the stereo to drown out the noise, because, hey, it's a 996cc, three-cylinder engine, so I'm not missing anything.
More bothersome was the way the cabin heated up on a sunny, 80-degree afternoon. This is a problem on any car with a huge glass area, particularly hybrids like the Prius and Insight. I'm not usually an aggressive air-conditioning user, but finally, even I had to blast the A/C at 60 to offset the crockpot effect. I lived in Florida for 4 years growing up. If I moved back, I would not drive a Smart. Or a hybrid.
So one day, we come down into the depths of the parking garage and our Smart Fortwo seems to have found a friend. Jon Barrett, a vehicle data editor at Edmunds.com, reports the circumstances:
"I've been lucky enough to have been loaned a 2008 Smart Fortwo for the next couple months by a friend to help him advertise his designer watch store, Valencia Time Center. Driving the Smart around town is like driving a cute-looking magnet. Even friends of mine who maintain that they hate the Smart invariably ask the same question, "Can I take it for a drive?" And you know what? They usually come back with a grin, whether it's from enjoyment or just from laughing at how ridiculous the car is.
"There might be something to this 'magnet' thing. In the first week that I have been driving it, I have seen more Smarts on the road than I ever have before — usually around three per day.
"But is using a Smart car truly an effective means of advertising? If you think about it, it really is. Nearly everyone that sees a Smart car on the road can't help but stare at it. Whether it is a curious fascination, an extreme dislike for the car, or something in-between, the Smart car always commands an audience.
"And my friend is not the only one to have the idea. While driving home the other day, there was a neon-pink smart driving up Pacific Coast Highway right next to me that was advertising a party planning business. I will admit that when I saw that bright pink bubble in my rear-view mirror, even I couldn't help staring at it.
"Seeing as people are pretty much guaranteed to be looking at it anyways, the Smart Fortwo provides the perfect rolling billboard."
Our long-term 2008 Smart Fortwo Passion has the $450 power steering option, which provides a small electric motor to power the car's steering. So far, this is one of the few things we haven't complained about on our Smart.
The Fortwo's EPS doesn't have much feel, but I don't think it's the worst of the lot in this price range. Perhaps, more importantly, effort levels are Prius-easy at low speeds and the steering is weighty enough at highway speeds that the car feels like it'll stay planted in its lane — assuming there's no crosswind. Of course, it doesn't hurt a bit that the Smart's German engineers gave the Fortwo a big helping of caster, too.
Well, the Smart Fortwo Passion that Jon Barrett, an Edmunds.com vehicle data editor, is driving doesn't have the optional power steering. Today we took his Smart for a spin around the neighborhood. Jon had warned me that it takes a little extra muscle to coax the car into a turn from a stop — and it did, but not much more. After all, this is a car that barely cracks 1,800 pounds soaking wet. Although, with the two of us aboard, we were past the 1-ton mark.
Once the blue Smart is up to 15-20 mph, the steering feels pretty similar to our Smart's. So, apparently, there's minimal EPS assist being provided once our long-term car has any kind of momentum going. Drop this option, and our 2008 long-termer drops from a $15,305 MSRP to $14,855. But I think I'd pay another $120 for the "additional gauges" option: I'm tired of living without a tach, dammit!
Smart Fortwo meet Big Wheel
OK, they don't look that much alike but they drive very similarly. I wish the Smart had the nifty blue hand brake.
You might remember that Jon Barrett, a vehicle data editor at Edmunds.com, has been driving a 2008 Smart Fortwo pretty extensively in the last few weeks. Here's his report of his latest adventures:
"Lately I've been spending a lot of time in a Smart that a friend of mine has bought for promotional purposes. The other weekend when I fired up the Smart and attempted to put it into gear, I couldn't get the brake interlock to disengage the shift lever. I tried turning the car on and off a few times, stepped on the brake pedal a bunch of times, and even smacked the top of the shifter. But all of this was to no avail; the button on the shift lever just wouldn't depress.
"Finally I called Smart USA for roadside assistance. They informed me that the car would have to be towed to the dealer for repair and said that a tow truck would be there in 90 minutes. Cut to nearly 4 hours (and many phone calls) later, and a huge flatbed finally arrived.
"While waiting for the tow truck, I jumped on-line to check some forums for Smart car owners to see if anyone else had experienced a similar problem. To my surprise, this shift lever issue appeared to be an all too common occurrence. Even the tow truck driver admitted that he sees this problem quite often. According to members of the 451s.com forum (www.451s.com), the problem seems to stem from the unique center console that the U.S.-market Smart gets and a lack of proper lubrication of the parts inside the shifter.
"When I picked up the Smart after its warranty repair, the work order showed that the shift knob had been removed, the interior parts had been lubricated and then the knob had been replaced. Everything has worked perfectly since.
"But some good did come out of this whole episode. I learned from dealership personnel that an upgrade is on the way for all 2008 and some 2009 Smarts. It includes a software update to modify shift timing for better drivability, replaces the battery with a larger-capacity one and substitutes some misprinted VIN stickers on the car (NHTSA TSB 10025723). Apparently Smart owners will be modified by VIN number to bring in their car. My car is due for an oil change soon, so I'll get the upgrade then and then let you know how it works out."
So I've been looking for a used car this week in the $7,500 range — you know, what the Smart should cost brand new. Appropriately enough, the Smart has been my steed, lurching me around the greater L.A. area in hot pursuit of low-mileage rides. Here's what I've looked at thus far, and how each one stacks up against our beloved creamsicle and its $15,305 MSRP.
1999 Lexus LS400, 74k miles, $10,500. A bit steep for a car I'll be driving about 500 miles a year, but what a beautiful V8 (290 hp), even 10 years later. One-owner car (old lady). Makes the Smart feel like something out of Oregon Trail, for 2/3 the price. A hilariously awesome value in relative terms.
1996 Lexus SC400, 82k miles, $7,800. Another one-owner old lady car. Fantastic interior design and craftsmanship. Super-smooth V8 (down 30 hp on the '99 LS400). Nakamichi stereo sounds so good it must have spent its whole life tuned in to talk radio. Usable backseat. Double-articulating industrial-grade door hinges. Yours for half a Smart.
2001 Honda Prelude (base), 68k miles, $7,900. Black, manual transmission, intake/exhaust only, clean title. If there's anyone out there who would take a new Smart over this car, I'd be genuinely interested to know why.
1953 M35 Deuce and a Half Military Monster Truck, $8,995. Hell, I could get the Deuce and a Half plus the 'Lude or Lexus SC for less than two grand over the Smart's MSRP. Now that's what I call value.
This picture makes the Smart look like a potted plant. Or Sideshow Bob, or for the kiddies, Corbin Bleu. Just thought I'd point that out.
Any way, I had the chance to drive our beloved ForTwo home last night. But along the way, I had to pick up a deathly ill Magrath from the doctors (we think it's ebola). Of course, when you're going to be sitting with Typhoid Gary for 25 minutes, being in the smallest enclosed space on wheels is just a fantastic idea. Had we been in the Flex, I would've made him sit in the caboose seats. In the Smart, he's basically on my lap.
So there you have it: the Smart ForTwo is not the ideal vehicle for picking up sick people. Oh, and get better buddy — these cars don't care for themselves, you know.
Don't be fooled by the unassuming 2008 Smart Fortwo. It actually gave me a fat lip this weekend. No, not because I was mouthing off.
Since the seatback lever is located on the inside of the seat and not by the door I had to reach across the seat to get at the lever. Unfortunately I had unwittingly put my mouth at level with the hard plastic seatbelt holder. Pulled the lever and...you know the rest. Right in the kisser. For new Smart owners out there, I did it so you wouldn't have to.
I count myself among the staffers who think the Smart is stupid. Pulling into my parking spot last night next to a Lotus Elise however, got me thinking about how much these two cars have in common. And no, this isn't the first time we posted a picture of these two cars together.
Back when our local Smart dealer was still in business, you could've picked-up a well-used Elise for about the same price as a new Smart (if you were completely ignorant). Both squeak and creak like a wooden sailboat. Both cars appeal to a very small, niche market. Both have ridiculously small gas tanks, but get decent mileage. The Elise's suspension can generate neck-snapping G-forces — the Smart can do that with its transmission. You can't wait to get out of the Smart, while larger drivers simply can't get out of an Elise. One is supremely fun to drive, while the other is...red.
Seriously, though, the Smart is pretty awful. In fact, I think it might be getting worse with time. The upshifts are so jerky that my girlfriend thought I was having a seizure. The doors and rear hatch need to be slammed shut with the effort equivalent to prop-starting a biplane. When you turn the key to start it, it sounds like there's an air raid siren in the trunk. If you park it too close to a state fair someone might mistake it for a porta-potty. At this point, I'd rather be run over by a Smart than own one.
When I first saw our Smart Fortwo, I thought, "Boy, that fabric on the door and the dash is a really bad idea." Didn't seem like it would be very durable. I could see the cloth getting soiled and perhaps even torn as the car shuttled from one manhandling editor to the next. Epic fail in the making.
The Smart's been in our possession for almost a year now, with over 16,000 miles under its belt. And guess what? I was wrong. The fabric looks as good as new. In fact, it seems to be almost magically impervious to dust and scuff marks. I grazed the door panel with my grimy sneaker as I was getting into the car this morning. No problem — the cloth remained pristine. This incredibly resilient fabric is probably the most interesting and efficient thing about the little coupe.
Today we're peeking into the wheelwells of our Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe. This ought to be good.
Because this is an unconventional machine, we're changing things up by starting with the rear suspension, where all of the magic fails to happen.
Not much to see in this view. It's got drum brakes (black) and a coil spring (white). But what's this? There's only one lateral link (yellow) and this big curved beam (green).
That thing hanging down in the middle of the frame is the oil filter. Straddle road debris at your own risk. You've been warned.
What we have here is what's called a De Dion axle, a design invented by Count De Dion in the late 1800's, shortly after the birth of the automobile.
The humungous curved green beam is has a large cross-section because they don't want it to flex, quite unlike the twist beam in our Honda Fit. A De Dion axle is a non-independent solid beam axle.
Trucks have solid beam axles that carry the differential and drive axles within them. They call that a "live axle". A De Dion rigid beam does not carry the differential (orange) or drive axles, so it's called a "dead axle". As such, there is less unsprung mass to muck things up — but not a lot less. Two lateral links (yellow) keep this one centered at the rear. More on that later.
The 1920's Miller front-drive race car turned a lot of heads and won a lot of races. Its prominent De Dion axle curves dramitically ahead of the front-drive mechanicals, drive axles and (inboard!) brakes. This one is supported by quarter-elliptical leaf springs in two places.
The Smart's De Dion axle pivots on a single point, another critical difference from our Honda Fit's twist beam, which pivots on two widely-spaced points.
Here I've approximated the roll axis, with tiny yellow circles indicating the pivot points. There are actually two rear pivots, but the two lateral links are so close together that we can treat them as one here. The forward pivot is the one we saw in the previous picture.
The wheels and De Dion axle stay fixed in relation to the ground, with the body (and engine) rolling above it in turns. Camber and toe are unchanging, which is great if you have bias tires (as they did in the old days) but less than ideal for modern radials that thrive on independent suspension.
Having a hard time visualizing this? Check this out:
OK, this motorcycle-esque machine leans the other way in turns. And it's probably not a De Dion setup because the engine just has to be located in the non-leaning part. But it does illustrate how the body leans above a DeDion axle while the tires stay bolt upright.
A non-independent suspension with an unchanging and unimaginative camber curve does not make for memorable ride comfort or handling. It's easy to see why the Smart has won few friends in this department. Smart used it the De Dion concept anyway because it allowed them to package the car very tightly, which was the whole point going into the project.
Compared to the rear, the Smart's diminutive front suspension is much more familiar. It's a basic strut set-up, with a steel lower a-shaped lower control arm (yellow). There's a stabilizer bar (blue) and a forward-mounted steering rack. The front disc brakes employ non-vented rotors (black).
The stabilizer bar is direct-mounted to the strut (white) with a slender link (salmon).
Despite an all-steel and iron suspension, our Smart weighs only 1804 lb, with less than 800 lb of that on the front axle. The sprung mass is even lower. It all boils down to only 350 lbs or so at this point, plus a portion of the weight of the occupants. That doesn't amount to much, so these skinny coils are all that's needed to keep it all off the ground.
All of this takes place mere inches behind the front bumper, so there isn't much room to work with. The white arrow indicates the radiator and radiator hose, and this sits just forward of the stabilizer bar (blue) which mounts to the control arm pivot bolt (yellow) to save space and money.
A forward-mounted steering rack (orange) is easy to pull off here because there are no front drive mechanicals in the way. Besides, a forward placement is mandatory so the driver and passenger have someplace to put their feet.
The front brake calipers (green) are tiny, too. These are Bosch single-piston sliding calipers. And you thought they only made spark plugs.
The black arrow indicates a bit of extra metal that seems to serve no purpose, which means its purpose is to be a mass damper to change the harmonic frequency of the caliper frame to avoid noise.
This tiny car has tiny wheels and tires, and the 155/60R15 tires and 4.5 x 15 rims that bolt onto this front hub weigh 24 lbs. The rear tire is a "massive" 175/55R15 on a 5.5 x 15 rim, and the assembly weighs 31 lbs.
So suppose you're looking at rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive runabouts, and you've narrowed it down to the Smart Fortwo and the Tata Nano (possibly the only two in existence, auto rickshaws aside), and you don't have to bother with troublesome details like the fact that the $3,000 Nano isn't available stateside.
If it's performance you're after...well, clearly it's not. But for what it's worth, the Nano does 0-50 mph in an unofficial 16.4 seconds, according to our first drive, while the Smart embarrasses it with a 14.1-second 0-60 sprint. Similarly, the Nano tops out at 65, whereas the Smart will do a rather harrowing 93. Smart owners now have a handy retort for whenever their rides are being ridiculed: "Dude. If you had a Nano, I would smoke you."
The Nano also doesn't come with a radio, and it lacks anything like the Tridion Safety Cell, which means the force of hitting that cow in the middle of the road won't be transferred solely to your internal organs, a la the Smart. To the Nano's credit, though, it has a proper manual transmission, it seats four rather than two, and its claimed 47 combined mpg on regular gas trounces the Smart's 36 mpg on premium.
Here's my question: How much more is the Smart worth than the Nano? Given its edge in safety and performance, and taking into account its inferior fuel economy and passenger capacity, I say about 100%. A $6,000-7,000 Smart car is something I could wholeheartedly recommend.
Although I'm not exactly keen on strapping my life's most precious cargo into the Smart's passenger seat, I have on occasion offered to take my eight-year-old daughter for a ride around the block just so she could see what the diminutive ForTwo feels like.
She vehemently refuses. Just doesn't seem safe, she says.
She's always happy to pose in the Smart Fortwo, just don't ask her to ride in it.
I was headed to a restaurant for some takeout on Sunday, and I wound up overshooting the place by about two blocks (it was my first time at that particular restaurant). In other words, I had to make a u-turn. I can't think of a better vehicle in which to execute this maneuver than the Smart, with its teeny-tiny 28.7-foot turning circle. Doesn't get much better than that.
That experience underscores the thing I like most about the Smart: its nimbleness. I know it's not much, but there's so much to hate on with the Smart that you kinda have to give praise where praise is due.
It's no surprise to anyone out there who's been following along with Edmunds' long-term Smart Fortwo Passion that we're not thrilled with the transmission. And by "we're not thrilled with" I mean "we avoid the smart at all costs because of."
Well, it seems we're not the only ones. Recently Smart has issued a transmission and engine software upgrade (Campaign C0209002) for '08 model year cars to make the car slightly less useless. 2009 MY Smarts already have it.
Along with the trans/engine reprogram, our Smart also needed a new VIN label, a new owner's manual, and it required open campaign C0209007 — shifter lubrication so we don't need to have ours towed away.
The service was performed at Beverly Hills Mercedes and took about 3 hours.
Well the transmission is still pretty terrible, but it's finally stopped fighting against the brake pedal when stopped and they've programmed some creep into the system; it's now possible to parallel park the damn thing without fear of unintended over-acceleration.
The only other discernable change is the paddles. No, they haven't done the right thing and affixed them to the column (If a wheel has more than 360-degrees of rotation they should be fixed — and the wheel shouldn't have a flat spot!) the paddles now work when pressed, regardless of the position of the shifter. Previously you'd have to move the shift lever to the left to get some control over the gears. The new software lets you tap the paddle for instant results. Good idea, I guess. (
but now after tapping the paddles while in D, you have to slide the lever over to manual and then back to D to return to normal drive. Cars that do this correctly revert to drive when you up-paddle through the top gear, this is wrong and irritating.
) EDIT: I completely forgot, until after posting of course, the OTHER way to disengage manual mode — hold the upshift paddle for 2-3 seconds and the car switches from manual mode back to straight-up D. This technique does work in the Smart. Sorry for the confusion.
Midrange shifts are pretty much the same. They're slightly better — maybe — nothing drastic. Full-throttle shifts are just as annoying, long and abrupt.
So it's free, you can park and it doesn't cause your braking leg undue stress. If you have an '08 Smart, it won't fix everything that's wrong with the Smart, but it's a solid attempt.
Not Harleys. Smarts. CAR recently let a few of its readers submit questions to former F1 driver Coulthard, and naturally, someone asked what "normal cars" he owns. His reply:
A couple of Smarts, a Mercedes M-Class and G-Class, an Infiniti FX45 - I brought that in New York with Jenson Button about four years ago and shipped them to Monaco. What else? A 1971 280SL Pagoda roof - same age as me - and that's it. I don't have anything sporty because I drive F1 racing cars for a living.
Here's a sneak peek at what the Obama Administration has planned for GM's new fleet of "Green Vehicles." I drove each one and I'm really liking Rody the bouncy horse - it's made in Italy, has excellent air suspension and a better 0-60 time than the Smart Fortwo. However, the lack of an iPod connection and ABS are deal breakers for me. On the other hand, the Smart has one touch down power windows - that's nice too. Which vehicle do you think is best?
Taking the whole fam on vacation next week, which means lots of last-minute errands. Airplane entertainment for the eight- and 15-year-olds dictates new coloring books and crayons, strawberry and chocolate Twizzlers, fresh batteries and replacment chargers all around, and a new DVD and DS game in my carry-on just to be safe.
Not enough hours left in the evening to check the items off my to-buy list, which results in daily lunchtime runs.
This week, the 2008 Smart Fortwo is my best friend. Say what you want about its herky-jerky drivetrain. When you need to hit four Santa Monica stores in one hour, three of which have only street parking, the Smart will be your BFF, too.
I've driven our 2008 Smart Fortwo Passion twice since it had its transmission reprogrammed in late May. Although the car doesn't feel radically different, I don't think I'd have this done on my own Smart. If I had a Smart.
During low-speed city travel, shifts feel smoother in "D." But I don't drive in "D." I refuse to drive a car this small and lightly powered in "D." I want as much control as possible over shift points.
And when I get on the freeway, I notice that shifts are also a litttlle smoother and less abrupt in manual mode. But I feel they are also just a touch slower. And I don't want slower in a Smart.
I'll go even further. It's pointless to try to make a transmission shift smoothly in a Smart, which, at least in LA, works best with a run-and-gun driving style (well, mostly run, since there's so little gun). I'll put up with all kinds of abruptness if I can get quicker shifts.
A couple of months ago our 2008 Smart Fortwo was compared to a 1995 BMW R1100RS but as a commenter had remarked, a comparison to a 150cc scooter would have made for a better debate.
This weekend, I really wanted to video a drag race between our 2008 Smart Fortwo and my 2009 Vespa LX150 but since the closed racetrack was booked, I didn't get to. (I highly suspect that since the Vespa has a continuously variable transmission, it could kick the Smart's ass in a 0-30.) So I'll have to content myself with comparing the two on paper.
Apart from the obvious differences of one being a car and the other a scooter, they share similar impracticalities. But when it comes to just around-town driving, I think my mini Italian ride is better.
Yes, both can park almost anywhere, with the Vespa having a slight edge over the Fortwo. I get to park for free in most garages! And even though the top speed of the LX150 is 59 mph vs. the Smart's 93 mph, in surface street traffic I can get to where I'm going faster thanks to lane-splitting.
Unfortunately, both take premium fuel but the Vespa gets a reported 70-75 mpg compared to the Smart's 33 city/40 highway mpg.
As for cargo, yes, the Smart has the obvious advantage as I can't lug a week's worth of groceries on my Vespa. But since I always eat out anyway, this point is moot.
However the Smart does ensure that my hair will look exactly the same way it did at the beginning of the ride, so there's that.
In any case, the Vespa is wayyy more fun to drive while the Smart can leave you cursing its existence.
Yes, that's the number of speakers we got with our $15,305. But not only did we get a measly two speakers, we also got a craptastic head unit to boot. Now, I'm not much of an audiophile but this stereo sucks. How much does it suck you ask? Well, think of a late 80's Nissan Hardbody. Now imagine that Nissan with one stock speaker and one speaker that you were forced to pick up from the local Kragen (making a mess of the wiring job while you hastily installed it in the parking lot) because your buddy spilled a large horchata into the other one. The Nissan's stereo sounded better.
On a side note, I caught and passed two people on a freeway on-ramp in our little Smart. Sad.
U.S. sales of Volkswagen Beetle, 1952: 390 units.
U.S. sales of Volkswagen Beetle, 1968: 400,000 units (5 percent of the total U.S. market).
Pictured above is the celebration at the Volkswagen assembly plant in Mexico as production of the Volkswagen Beetle officially ended on July 30, 2003. A total of 21,529,464 Volkswagen Beetles had been built.
This reminds me that while it's easy to make fun of transportation pods, the Smart might be the start of something important.
Then again, maybe the Smart is more like the BMW Isetta, which was not exactly something big.
So today I got the weirdest question ever with regards to the Smart. At the car wash this morning, this older gentleman saw me getting out of our 2008 Smart Fortwo and asked me how I liked it. "Meh," I replied with a shrug, not really wanting to get into it. "Is it fast?" he asked. That stopped me in my tracks. "Um, no but it would be cool if it had a more powerful engine," I said, and then I started to daydream about a faster, more powerful Smart; my dream Smart, if you will.
If I ruled the world...and had magical powers I'd make it a cross between a Mini S and an Evo MR. It would have a kick-ass engine but great fuel economy, awesome handling...and be invulnerable to crashes and being crashed into.
The Smart really does have go-kart potential. I can zip in and out of traffic with it now. Sure, a majority of L.A. drivers are slow, distracted drivers but still. Imagine if it had more power?
What would you do to make the Smart better? Besides erasing it from existence, that is.
I'll hate to see our long-term Smart ForTwo go, because if you really love to drive, truly enjoy the mechanics of wringing the last ounce of joy from a bit of rolling iron, the Smart is a hoot. When was the last time you celebrated getting a jump on a Cavalier at a light? And trust me, the slow-motion lead won't last unless you perfectly time the paddle shift up to second gear. Firing off that gearchange would be easier with a tach, but it's all by ear cupcake, and simply keeping up with the L.A. rush-hour grandprix is a satisfying experience in the ForTwo.
When was the last time you gathered momentum for a hill, or worked desperately not to bog the motor after a shift? The Smart makes you earn your automotive thrills and at a speeds that wouldn't stop a peace officer from finishing a yawn. It's also held up remarkably well (inside and out) to our best attempts to hang with traffic. The citrus-shaded fabric coating most of the interior still looks showroom fresh, adding a warm, late-day hue ("...orange mocha cappuccino!!!") cunningly engineered to cheer your ride home. Of course, nothing's cooler to an old Saab guy than an ignition between the seats.
Left in the transmission's somnolent automatic mode, the Smart is a daily commute backmarker. But if you fully commit to this wheeled hightop, take command of the shifts and go easy on the wonky brake pedal, you can make mincemeat of the rush-hour drudgery. Capitalize on the ForTwo's dimensions and you'll deftly slip through partially blocked right lanes and slot into traffic holes just behind your shirt collar. What the first Miata did for backroads, the Smart is to the urban jungle: loads of fun if not terribly fast.
Sunday morning I took a tour of Long Beach, Calif., dealerships in the 2008 Smart Fortwo to see what was up with the Cash for Clunkers program.
I circled dealerships shooting pictures, pulled U-turns and parked on the sidewalk. It was great to have a highly maneuverable car for this mission. The only thing the Smart didn't afford me was a good cover. While the Smart is old news with car guys, out on the street it's still turning heads.
In other Smart news the car has been up for sale for a week at an asking price of $10,900. I've gotten a few calls but no buyers so far.
Not that I'd ever buy a Smart, but if I did, I'd want one of these; a Smart Roadster Coupe.
These were cancelled in 2005 after a short, 2 year run in the European market. Bring it back, and driving around in a Smart will suddenly be a lot less like wearing aluminum foil on your head.
Did I mention Gordon Murray has one?
This isn't our long term 2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe but you get the idea. Here in West Los Angeles, parking is at a premium and sometimes it pays to double up.
Road Test Editor, John DiPietro, had the above pictured 2009 Smart Fortwo Brabus and was headed to a concert one night recently. Parking was tight and after he finally secured a spot, and was backing in, a second Smart appeared. The driver said, "Hey, mind if we share that spot with you?" The outcome is the photo.
Smart Fortwo in Santa Cruz after we bought it on eBay last winter - Photo by Steve Pearl
Our 2008 Smart Fortwo is driving off into the sunset.
We posted the Smart for sale on Craigslist and over the course of two weeks got many calls. One young man wanted us to float him a loan for the car and earnestly began to describe his credit history. Another caller made a lowball offer and tried to sweeten it by adding, "cash!" Another person called and asked all the right questions but never showed up for a test drive.
And so, we sold the Smart to Carmax for $9,000. This means they will turn around and put it on their lot for $11,000. If you see a red and silver Smart scooting around your area, it might have a special history.
(Photo by Dan Edmunds. Or me. Can't remember. I know he sized it and that it was for the suspension walkaround.)
You won't have the 2008 Smart Fortwo Passion to kick around anymore.
That's right. It's done. Over. Gone. Sold. And as of today, all wrapped up. But, we can't let it go without a final farewell in the form of Parting Shots. By now you all know the drill; this is everyone's (both Edmunds Editors and your) last official chance to get a word in edgewise on an outgoing Long-Term Road Test car.
Follow the jump for our official farewell — and don't forget to leave your own — to the 2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe...
"On the way through traffic to the last home game for the Dodgers a year ago, the high pitched engine and the robo-rocking chair ride proved to be too much. John and I couldn't stand to be in the car anymore so we pulled over at the nearest bar and watched the game on TV. The Dodgers won, but my night was ruined because I had to get back into the thing after the game and drive home." Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer
"Our Smart attracted more vile hate than any other long-term car I can remember. So I'm certainly in the minority when I say that I liked driving the Fortwo. It required mental effort to drive properly, and that made it fun. But that doesn't mean that it was a good car." Brent Romans, Senior Editor
"I cried when it left. Such raw performance, such tactile handling, such polished character, such beautiful noises coming from just behind my shoulder. Styling that could melt a cheese sandwich from across the room. Oh wait, you didn't say R8? The Smart??? Oh crap, I hated that thing. Good riddance." James Riswick, Automotive Editor
"With its lurching, nausea-inducing automatic transmission, this was initially quite a hateful little piece of work. But ah, what a difference paddle shifters make - I eventually discovered that manual shifts fostered a smoother ride, and a smoother ride meant I could stop whining about feeling brutally jostled and instead soak up the little car's charms.
And what exactly are those charms, you ask? I'll get back to you on that." Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor
"Give me the Hayabusa swap ( http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=05c_1222299007 ) or Monster Smart mods (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDU5BU_qSJU) and I'm sold." Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor
"Not many 21st century cars can do almost everything worse than the competition, so I guess in that regard the Smart was a very special (and ironically named) automobile." Karl Brauer
"Well, it's no Toyota Yaris. But then again, isn't that a good thing?" Michael Jordan, Executive Editor
"We should have flat-blacked it." Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor
"I liked it. Good steering, well shaped seats, plenty of room and it rode well. I even learned to live with its odd transmission. I'm a fan." Scott Oldham (yes, Scott Oldham!) Editor-in-Chief.
"It's all about throttle control and preparedness. Forget the paddles. If you've got a good foot, the smart is a pretty fun toy. If it was $8,000 new, I'd buy one." Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant and compiler of Parting Shots.
As part of our quest to find out what long-term cars we liked the most, we also voted on what our least-favorite long-term car of the last three and a half years was. The result was a landslide win (!) for the 2008 Smart Fortwo. Very few editors liked it and even those that did readily admitted its many failings.
Four blocks have passed and our eyes remain locked on the rearview mirror. Drive faster. Drive slower. Change lanes. Our attempts to shake the 1990s-vintage Explorer behind us are in vain. His erratic driving has us on edge, and for good reason. We are driving the 2008 Smart Fortwo, a car that offers only inches of separation between its rear bumper and our BVDs. NHTSA gives it a four-star driver crash test rating, but with this moron shadowing our rear bumper we're skeptical.
A closer look at the driver confirms he's different from the Smart gawkers we've come to expect. This guy is oblivious to the Smart. He's unaware of anything beyond whatever he's fumbling with in his lap. A string of green lights allows some separation between us and our mind is back at ease. Up ahead the signal turns red and we slow the Smart to a stop. This car isn't all that bad. We sit patiently for a second. Two seconds. Three. Wham! We're rear-ended by a 1990s Explorer.
Why We Got It
We laid down a $99 deposit to take delivery of a Smart as part of a Smart USA promotion program after we learned of this French-built, Mercedes-engineered arrival in the U.S. After participating in Smart USA events all across the country, hordes of commuter car trendsetters did the same. Such demand earned us a slot on the six-month waiting list for a 2008 Smart Fortwo. We couldn't wait that long, so we tried our hand at a new technology called the Internet. Soon thereafter we located a 2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe for auction on eBay. Our winning bid of $17,000 landed us $15,300 worth of Smart Fortwo novelty. (As the Smart was still considered a rarity, the seller was able to get a premium over sticker for it.)
Our interest was based largely on the car's novelty factor. Were we to take the Smart seriously as a daily driver or was it a glorified golf cart? Beyond practicality we wondered just how safe the 1,800-pound Smart could feel traveling U.S. highways while sandwiched between 5,000-pound SUVs and 80,000-pound trailer-laden big rigs.
Would its popularity in the urban European market equate to success in the suburban sprawl of North America? An extended 18-month and 18,000-mile test of the Smart sought to answer all of our questions.
Less than two weeks into our durability test of the Smart Fortwo, there we stood, exchanging insurance information with the motorist who had rear-ended us. "I just looked down for a few seconds," he said, apparently the only explanation he could muster.
As luck would have it, this was the first Smart to receive such damage in the Los Angeles area. No Smart-certified dealer in the Western United States could help us. As the dealer network was still getting its feet on the ground, no dealer yet had the tools, training or parts for the job. So we tried another route. Beverly Coachcraft handled the vast majority of body repairs for our local Mercedes of Beverly Hills, and was located a block from our office, so our logistical debacle began there. Parts could be ordered from Germany and shipped unpainted. But the correct paint codes could not be confirmed. Neither could price. After some time it was suggested we head directly to Mercedes of Beverly Hills. It was a certified Smart dealer, though at this juncture that meant squat.
Once at the Mercedes dealer we started making progress, albeit slowly. Body panels had to be ordered from Germany, as did the bent control arm. And it would take weeks for them to arrive. Also in the shipment were the necessary tools to complete the work. All told, the damage repairs cost the at-fault party $3,000. But it cost us 29 days without our most recent addition.
Once back on the road, we finally began to get a feel for how this unique coupe drove. For the drive around town a Smart presents clear benefits. "It's a city car for people who like cars," Inside Line Executive Editor Michael Jordan began. He continued, "You can tell you're in something good as soon as you take the seat. The controls feel perfectly European — direct, communicative and lively. And the Smart asks you to drive it. If you want to go fast, you must use the throttle pedal and then the triple behind you answers with a smooth, motorcycle-style growl, as if it's turbocharged. This Smart is the VW Beetle of the 21st century. It's a car with a simplicity that can be mistaken for crudeness, and it tests your attitudes about transportation as well as your driving skill."
On the freeway our Smart Fortwo proved far less appealing. Its short 73.5-inch wheelbase didn't offer the straight-line stability required to resist the water runoff grooves etched into California freeways. So when its 15-inch Continental tires grab hold, these channels shift the car to and fro accordingly. Just as the road seemed to have its way with the Smart at speed, so did the elements. Wind really tossed the Smart around, which we caught on video across one expanse of highway 15 through the Nevada desert. Automotive Editor James Riswick was pilot on this adventure and commented, "For a good chunk of the drive I had the wheel pointed 30 degrees to port just to manage the crosswind. At one point I couldn't help but laugh hysterically as the winds whacked the Smart all over the road. It's one of the few enjoyable moments I've had behind its tiny wheel."
Inside the cabin we found the comfortable, commanding seating position and excellent visibility vital assets to the Smart driving experience. They are a necessity considering the size of the vehicle, because it demands a defensive driving mentality at all times.
Aside from the traffic collision it was bulletproof. At 10,000 miles we performed its scheduled service for $200. During the visit there were warranty items to replace a poorly printed VIN label, ECU software upgrade to improve shift characteristics and a preventive shift knob replacement (shift knobs were known to stick in some Smarts. Overall we were quite pleased with the car's mechanical durability.
Total Body Repair Costs: $2,960
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 18 months): $211
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: ECU software upgrade, shift knob and VIN label replaced
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 1
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 1 for body repair due to accident
Days Out of Service: 29
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
Fuel economy is as much a strength of the Smart as performance is a crutch. We recorded fuel economy upward of 43 mpg during our 18-month test. That's among the best we've seen from a long-term test. But we also documented some of the poorest performance figures we've ever recorded.
Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot drove the Smart for instrumented testing. Jacquot noted, "Electronic limits make all handling tests pointless in this car. The limits are set arbitrarily low. It generates 0.73g of lateral force on the skid pad and pushes through the slalom at 55.4 mph. On a scale of excellent, good or poor, I would rate the Smart's handling: pointless."
In a straight line the Smart further secured its role as a city dweller. From a stop it needed 13.6 seconds to reach 60 mph, and completed the quarter-mile in 19.1 seconds at 70 mph. This is performance for urban gridlock, not the open road.
Best Fuel Economy: 43 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 24 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 34 mpg
We purchased a used Smart on eBay for $17,000 when new cars had a six-month waiting list and the dealer network was nonexistent. MSRP on our car was $15,305. We sold the Smart to Carmax for $9,000 after nearly a month of advertising privately. TMV® at the time was $11,000.
True Market Value at service end: $11,000
What it sold for: $9,000
Depreciation: $8,000 or 47% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 18,877
As a first-year car, the Smart was a rousing success in urban Europe. Its popularity overseas ultimately earned it a place in the Inside Line long-term durability fleet. But suburbia is quite a different environment from that which gave rise to the Smart. And so we entered our test skeptical that this super-sized big wheel would survive.
Our concerns were met with some validity. When a careless motorist incapacitated the Smart for a month, a soft "we told you so" filled the air. But that turned out to be the only hitch in the Smart's giddyap. From there it took everything we threw at it and remained a mechanically sound performer.
Realistically the Fortwo can be a fun, limited-range city car. And when it comes to parking it's like no other. But pull any one of us aside and we'll tell you that driving the Smart for any length of time feels more like punishment than reward. We disliked the awkward, single-clutch automated transmission and the inverted brake pedal.
In general, the driving character of the 2008 Smart Fortwo Passion is too unique for our tastes. It was brilliant for errands, but terrible if you wanted to go any place. It was really entertaining if you liked a challenge, but endlessly frustrating if you really just wanted painless automotive transportation. In the end, it proved a test of expectations, not machinery. And if our commute required extensive freeway time, we'd choose the Smart last every time.
The Smart has a place. But for the majority of us, that place isn't our driveway.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.