August 03, 2009
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.
Philip Reed, Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 18,758 miles
July 22, 2009
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.
Paul Seredynski, Executive Editor @ 18,543 miles.
July 20, 2009
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.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 18,488 miles
July 14, 2009
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.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 18,680 miles
June 29, 2009
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.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 17,895 miles
June 26, 2009
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.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 17,831 miles
June 24, 2009
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.
Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 17,772 miles
May 21, 2009
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.
Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 16,754 miles
May 19, 2009
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.
Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 16,717 miles
April 23, 2009
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.
Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor @ 16,061 miles
April 08, 2009
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.
Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor, Edmunds.com @ 15,781 miles
April 06, 2009
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."
March 24, 2009
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!
Erin Riches, Senior Editor
March 23, 2009
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."
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 14,908 miles
March 19, 2009
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.
March 05, 2009
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.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 14,350 miles
February 02, 2009
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
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.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 13,471 miles
January 28, 2009
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.
January 22, 2009
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.
Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 13,060 miles
January 13, 2009
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.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor
December 01, 2008
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.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 11,495 miles
November 13, 2008
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.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 10,844 miles
October 24, 2008
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.
Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor, Edmunds.com @ 10,327 miles
October 01, 2008
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.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 9,793 miles
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.
September 03, 2008
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
August 29, 2008
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.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor@ 8,526 miles
August 28, 2008
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.
Brian Moody, Road Test Editor @ 8,400 miles
August 20, 2008
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.
Erin Riches, Edmunds Senior Editor @ 8,317 miles
August 07, 2008
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.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 8,407 miles
August 04, 2008
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.
John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ about 7,400 miles.
June 20, 2008
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*
Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant
June 12, 2008
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
Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com @ 5,625 miles
May 12, 2008
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.
Doug Lloyd, Senior Copy Editor @ 4,852 miles
May 09, 2008
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.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 4,315 miles
(By the way, prudent XM channel change by Jacobs)