Smart solution for city drivers
"It always seems I'm riding in an unbreakable egg - a feeling backed up by a "good" crash test rating from the IIHS."
While the 2012 Smart Fortwo from Mercedes-Benz is not completely out of its element on a superhighway, it’s much happier in an urban setting.
As a matter of fact, the more crowded the urban setting the better - with its size, agility and the ability to squeeze into tight parking spots, Smart is an ideal city car.
I, however, do not live in an urban area. So any test vehicle I get from Smart has to deal not only with country roads but two- and three-lane expressways.
The highways I travel between home and the city are well used by loaded 18-wheelers, and the Smart wants to follow every dip and groove they’ve pounded into the pavement. With its short wheelbase, the ride is choppy over any kind of uneven surface and with its tall profile and light weight (just 795 kg) it’s susceptible to crosswinds.
Oddly enough, I’ve never felt particularly vulnerable in a Smart, even with transports to the left of me and transports to the right. It always seems I’m riding in an unbreakable egg - a feeling backed up by a “good” crash test rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). And Smart does not seem all that small once you’re inside; I feel more vulnerable in a Fiat 500.
Our tester is a Smart Fortwo coupe in Passion trim, which adds upgraded seat fabric, a panoramic roof, power steering, heated mirrors, clock and tachometer, as well as $3,100, to Smart Pure’s base price of $14,400.
The transmission is what used to be called a slush box, back in the bad old days. Left in automatic mode, shifts are long and lumpy. Thankfully, the transmission also can be operated manually, via paddle shifters on the steering wheel. This is the better way because gear changes are much crisper, especially if you ignore the shift arrow on the instrument panel (it wants you to upshift way too soon, maximizing fuel economy for the sake of performance).
Ah, yes, performance. Now there’s an interesting word to use in a story about Smart, especially if it’s not preceded by the words “lack of.”
Power (another interesting word) comes from a 1.0-litre three-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 70 hp at 5,800 rpm. Tellingly, Smart makes no mention of torque on its website. For the record, it’s 68 lb.-ft. at 4,500 rpm.
Nimble as it is in low-speed city traffic, Smart takes forever to get up to highway speeds and passing slower vehicles can get downright scary.
Acceleration from 0-100 km/h takes a leisurely 13.6 seconds.
Instrumentation is sparse and there is no cruise control. But the seats are excellent and visibility is good all around.
Smart coupes have a handy two-stage hatch for loading/unloading the tiny cargo compartment. For smaller items, access is through the flip-up rear window. Larger items will need the glass to be raised and the rear gate lowered.
Some not-so-Smart observations:
1) I couldn’t depress the centre vent enough so it would blow any lower than on my face.
2) The owner’s manual is too big to fit in the glove box and is stored in a plastic case that is Velcroed to the carpet behind the driver’s seat.
3) The panoramic glass roof, which adds to the cost of this model, doesn’t open. So what’s the point? And unless the manually operated sun screen is closed, the interior gets unbearably hot and the poor little A/C unit already works hard enough to cool the cabin in hot, humid weather.
If I lived in a crowded city like Nice in the South of France, where parking is all but impossible, this is the car I’d drive. But where I do live, 45 minutes by highway from the closest large urban centre, there are many small cars that make much more sense.
Out here, driving a Smart is kinda dumb.
2012 Smart Fortwo
Trim level: Passion
As tested before taxes: $18,400
Options on test car: Innovation Pkg. ($900) inc.: heated seats and multimedia touchscreen
Engine/transmission: 1.0L 3-cyl./ 5-spd auto. with sequential shift
Power/torque: 70 hp/ 68 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): Premium (33L)
Fuel economy ratings: 5.8 L/100km city; 4.7 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 5.9 L/100km over 523 km
Warranties: 4 years/ 80,000 km (comprehensive)
Competitors: Chevrolet Spark; Mitsubishi i-MiEV
Strengths: small footprint; fuel economy; fits anywhere
Weaknesses: slushy automatic; imprecise gauges; likes premium fuel