Auto Review: A more compact compact
By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Feature Article - posted Thu., Apr. 28, 2011
I’m starting out this week’s auto review with a very unpleasant subject that is not much fun to talk about: gas prices. I know, yikes. We’re already dealing with $4-plus-per-gallon fuel once again, and it can be a shocker, especially if you drive a vehicle that a) gets poor gas mileage and b) has an enormous fuel tank. The combination of these two things especially can really slap you in the face when you fill up, and create genuine cash flow problems.
So to offer one solution, we have the smart car (the name is kept deliberately lower case by the manufacturer), which has both a modest appetite for fuel and a very small tank (yet still has a range of about 300 miles). It is not only the smallest automobile I’ve every driven; it’s also (and I’m including some seriously exotic cars here) the most amazing vehicle I’ve ever tested in terms of getting attention. It really does stand out, that’s for sure.
The rear-drive smart passion cabriolet we tested is the ultimate smart, in that it’s a convertible with a very slick retracting canvas roof and even sported a navigation system in its optional upgraded audio package.
It’s powered by a 999cc Inline Triple, which develops 70 horsepower. The gearbox is what smart likes to call their smartshift transmission, which is a five-speed automatic that perhaps has the laziest shifting action in recent memory. It’s sort of like having a very, very old elf doing the shifting, because there are huge gaps between the gears, as if old legs are operating a clutch. Sixty mph arrived in 13.5 seconds, and the engine actually does a good job of moving the tiny car along – it’s just the transmission that slows things down. The smart’s tiny 73.5-inch wheelbase and tight 28.7-foot turning circle make it a joy to hustle around town and absurdly easy to park, as it takes up such little room. On the highway it feels much like an ordinary car, although it can get blown around a bit.
The tridion safety cell passenger compartment is engineered to not only provide good room for two people, but to protect occupants, and it has fared well in crash tests. Standard safety features include an electronic stability program, ABS brakes, a full compliment of airbags, and specially constructed safety seats.
Access for the driver and passenger is easy, as the doors are large, considering the overall size of the vehicle. The steering wheel doesn’t tilt or telescope to adjust to different drivers, but the overall driving position was okay for my 5’8” frame. The cargo area is a space above the rear-mounted engine, and if you fill it up to the roof, you have about 12 cubic feet of space for groceries, tools, saber-tooth tiger cubs, whatever.
I’ll wager the big question you’re asking is this: how frugal is it? Our passion cabriolet was EPA-rated 33 MPG city/41 highway and we saw 35 MPG in a week of mixed driving. With options, the sticker came to $21,590.www.smartusa.com.