It’s safe to say that Americans love driving big, powerful cars. But when it comes to fuel economy, bigger is not necessarily better. That 8 cylinder 4.6 liter engine may be enough hit 60 mph in 4 seconds but it still only gets around 15 miles per gallon (mpg) in city driving. In order to get higher gas mileage, you have to sacrifice engine size and, consequently, power. Both of which tend to invite sneers from interstate expressway drivers.
Even so, with gas spiking into the $4 dollar range more often, many drivers are looking at the Smart Car by Mercedes-Benz. The Smart was invented by Nicholas Hayek, the inventor of the stylish 1980’s Swatch watch. His goal was to build an “ultra-urban” car; a little two-seater that could zip about old European cities, park anywhere, used little gas and produced few emissions. Introduced in 1998, 36 other countries tried it out before the car was introduced to the US in 2008 —just as gas prices were forcing Americans to abandon their SUV’s for something more frugal at the pump.
The Smart Car is an odd fit in the American market. Some love its style, some can’t get around its European-ish-ness. Several reviewers complain the car on the interstate is noisy, barely able to manage 80 mph, and risks being blown off the road like a piece of paper when passed by a tractor trailer. Well, DUH! The car isn’t designed for interstate driving. Sure, it’s irresistibly cute and great for cramped urban driving. But beyond narrow city streets or suburban parkways, it is out of its element.
I own a 2009 Smart Passion. Admittedly, some of the reviews are on target but some of the broad assumptions go wide because the car challenges our traditional driving habits. So, it’s not for everyone. But, provided you’re not intimidated by pulling up to a stop light and seeing chrome pickup truck grill fill your rear view mirror, it is fun to drive.
If you are thinking about getting a Smart Car for an extra vehicle, you need to seriously consider how you are going to use it and your driving habits. If you plan to commute in this car on the interstate or expressway, do not expect lightning fast acceleration. If your commute regularly takes you at sustained speeds faster than 60 mph, you won’t like the 1 liter engine. If you plan on bobbing and weaving at 75 mph between tractor trailers to make it to the exit ramp first, don’t because…well, that would be really dumb. As I said, the Smart is at home navigating downtown streets, suburban parkways, and residential streets. If you plan on using one to make short trips to the grocery, run errands, or get the kids to appointments, then this car will do all that and save you money at the pump. There is also a surprising amount of storage space. In other words, if you use the smart car intelligently for what it was designed for, it can be a smart buy.
Some Smart Car Specs:
- engine block: aluminum
- 3 in-line cylinders; each with 4 valves
- five-speed automated manual transmission
- weight: 1,808 lbs
- payload: 507 lbs
- wheelbase 73.5 inches
- turning circle: 28.7 feet
- length: 8.8 feet
- width: 5.1 feet
- height: 5.1 feet
- fuel: 8.7 gal (reserve 1.3 gal)
Fueleconomy.gov ratings: 34 mpg City, 38 mpg highway.
Smart Car owners can rely on a vibrant on-line community for tips and information.