Sunday, February 10, 2008

the test drive

Many years ago, when we were in Italy on vacation, Hubby and I saw lots and lots of Smart cars. Totally adorable, and the perfect size for on-sidewalk parking in Rome. Because really, why park on the street, when there's a whole sidewalk right there? (I did not really care for Rome all that much; historically it intriguied me, but the people - not so much. I would very very happily spend all my remaining days in Florence or Venice, however.)

But anyway, while in Rome we actually went to a Smart dealership, and in our very terrible Italian found out that there was a plan to bring the Smart to the U.S. in a few years. We bought little models of the Smart, waited patiently, and signed up on the waiting list.

It's now 2008, and the Smarts have landed. And they are so very adorable. We got the call for our test drive, and got to take them for a spin. Aren't they the cutest thing ever?

The driving was fine; the cars are designed so you are sitting up pretty high - about 8" higher than in our current Saturn. And for being less than 9' long and no backseat, it feels quite spacious inside. (Drat, should have taken a shot from the drivers' seat.) There's a kooky manual/automatic transmission that would take some getting used to. I don't really understand why it isn't one or the other, and the sales rep lost me in his explanation of it all. The ride isn't the smoothest thing out there. Hubby and I both hit the same pothole* and you certainly felt it. But for me, with less than stellar depth perception, it's pretty great, because there are NO hidden parts of the car. There's no hood, no trunk, and you can almost stretch out your arms to touch all sides of the vehicle. I was demonstrating this fact while at a red light. I think Eddie the sales rep wished I was holding onto the steering wheel.

*Because there's only two seats in the car, we couldn't test drive together, and our sales guy started laughing after he bumped over it again. Pretty funny. We were practically at the dealership before Hubby realized that we wouldn't be in the car together. He's so excited about this car that logic isn't always primary in his mind.

We found a YouTube video of Jay Leno checking one out, and he seems to be a super-car-guy. He was very positive about it, so that seems good. He went in-depth about the safety issues, too. It's a Mercedes vehicle, so it's not some Yugo (or Tata perhaps?). The car has a steel structure that is pretty impenatrable. But he also pointed out that the car is light, so swerving and stopping are much easier than in a standard vehicle, and certainly easier than in an SUV. And he also said that you shouldn't ever expect to be in a head-on, 70 mph collision.

After our test drives, I deemed it irresponsible to not go and see what other little cars are out there on the market. Very helpfully, the Mini dealership is about 100m down the road from Smart. At Mini, and the other SIX dealerships we visited (EIGHT in one day and I collapsed after coming home), there was nothing to compare. The Mini felt cramped compared to the Smart. All of the other small cars felt like there was no design thought put into them at all. They felt cheap, basically. And had only very standard gas mileage (around 30 mpg).

The Smart is really lovely, very cleverly designed (the engine is in the trunk and you can pop off the side panels and change the color of your car very simply and the roof is all transparent which helps it feel bigger), and gets roughly 45 mpg on a standard gasoline engine - the same as the Prius.

We'll be getting a second car soon. And it's gonna be a cutie.


Brenda said...

Sounds like the perfect city car! I can't understand why most cars now top out at about 30 mpg. For years I drove a 1988 Mazda 323 wagon that 38-40 on the highway (27-29 city) and really had great handling and acceleration. M and I saw a Smart in the parking garage the other day, and we had no idea what it was. Thanks for the info.

guiltypleasures said...

Very cool! What an excellent commuter car or something for light errands. Way more practical than my motorcycle.

Your review was so perfect. If I'm in the market for a small car, I'll only consider the Smart car.

Mintyfresh said...

I've wanted a Smart car since my own trip to Italy years ago!! Nice to hear that they feel roomy on the inside--I've never been in a Mini, so it's interesting to know how it compares.