By on May 11, 2008

smart.jpgYou'd think The New York Times would love the smart fortwo. It's trendy, chic and politically correct in an entirely metrosexual kinda way. True to form, Eric Taub's review starts with a love-in: "the Smart Fortwo may be the cutest and most unusual-looking production vehicle to arrive in this country since BMW’s front-loading Isetta 300 of the 1950s." Yeah, those wacky old Bimmers! Who needs a life can forget them! And then Taub gets waylaid by the smart's herky-jerky, unacceptably quirky automatic transmission– the only autobox in the world capable of competing with the M5's SMeGma cog swapper for the title "worst gearbox in the history of the world ever." "It may be enough to make you reach for the Dramamine: the engine temporarily slows as the car is about to upshift, jerking the driver forward and then back with each shift. Several times, my wife threatened to walk home. This may bring back fond memories of your first pathetic attempt to drive a manual transmission car. The solution — if you can time it right — is to lift your foot off the accelerator when you think the transmission is about to shift, something I was able to pull off about 50 percent of the time." Throw in mediocre mpg's and even Taub can't resist the conclusion that the smart is stupid. "With its limited carrying capacity, seemingly mediocre fuel economy, erratic handling and fitful acceleration, one question that potential buyers in this part of the world should be asking is, what’s the point?"

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34 Comments on “NYT Weenie Roasts Smart ForTwo...”


  • avatar
    johnny ro

    I read that this morning. He does not seem to get it.

    He is a mainstream driver/writer writing for mainstream. Yes, most Americans will want auto, sad. Maybe the auto is weak, I haven’t been reading up, waiting for Mazda2.

    There is a one year waiting list mentioned by smart dealer up here by Boston.

    So why does he not point ask “Why buy smart when Chevy Tahoe just came down in price?”?

    There are few cars on road, State Route 153, NH. One every 5 minutes. I like it this way, I can afford gas.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Interesting. An excellent New York Times article–yeah, I read it too and agree entirely–followed by an imcomprehensible comment. What is wrong with this picture?

    And why is the finest print newspaper in the world, including the Times of London, so knee-jerk hated by ttac? It’s getting old, to say nothing of predictable.

  • avatar
    gzuckier

    most people seem disappointed with the smart. consumer reports, for instance. folks look on it as a rare misstep for Daimler.

  • avatar
    troonbop

    Just curious, when is the next round of newsroom lay offs taking place at the “finest print newspaper in the world”?

  • avatar

    It’s very unusual and unique, sometimes that alone is enough to earn a car an audience in the US. Nothing wrong with that IMO, and it beats yet another SUV clogging our roads like plaque in an artery.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    troonbop, newsroom layoffs are going on all over the print world, they are obviously deeply affected by the Internet. All I’m saying is that it’s a little too facile to make such easy fun of an organization that for a century and a half has been the newspaper of record for a lot of the country. Same goes for calling Eric Taub, an excellent technology writer, a “New York Times Weenie.” Sort of like glibly calling Rober Farago “a car blog dickhead” for the sake of making a dick–or head–pun.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Frankly, there really isn’t one (what’s the point?) The smart’s compromises work in Rome, but not in LA. It’s a fashion accessory with limited utility (as if that ever counted for all that much).

  • avatar

    Stephan Wilkinson: And why is the finest print newspaper in the world, including the Times of London, so knee-jerk hated by ttac? It’s getting old, to say nothing of predictable. If there is an Old Gray Lady “hatred” thing going on– and I’m not saying that I’m not saying that there is or isn’t– it’s down to me, personally. Please remember that TTAC is a catholic (small “c”) church. We NEVER refuse a writer or commentator’s work because of their views. Never. In fact, I’ve actively solicited (and edited) work antithetical to previously expressed not to say majority opinions. That said, point taken. That said, no one is safe from our BS detector.

  • avatar
    eh_political

    The Smart is almost exclusively about parking. I drove the lastgen diesel and found that transmission to be a little better, plus of course mileage and acceleration were acceptable.

    When I lived in Vancouver I really appreciated having a CRX, it was a much better all round solution–more space and a manual, and could be wedged into impossibly small parking spots, alleys and so forth.

    Of course, the CRX was almost exclusively about driving…

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    As for Smart parking advantages, those are irrelevant in most of the U. S. Motorcycles get ticketed for parking anywhere other than parallel in a full automobile parking space, unless there is a designated special bike parking area, in most U. S. cities. Park a Smart perpendicular to the curve in any U. S. city and it’ll be ticketed, if not towed (a point that the Times article made at least in terms of New York City).

    In Rome, you can park on sidewalks and freelance your way into unused parts of bus stops or whatever. In the U. S., you’re simply additional revenue.

  • avatar
    ZCline

    I seem to recall reading a Euro review of the Smart, and even then they said the transmission sucked. Why keep it? Maybe its tough to get one that small? Would it be so awful to get some kind of 5 speed manual in the thing?

    Its also becoming the offical car of downtown Portland, replacing Priuses and old Volvo wagons as the new hipster car of choice.

  • avatar
    Wunsch

    Based on my test drive in a (diesel) Smart when they first appeared up here in Canada, the trick is to use Tiptronic-like mode, and shift yourself. The reason it’s so rough seems to be that it chooses the absolute worst moments to shift, almost every time.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I gotta side with Stephan on this one.

    I thought the NYT review was quite good. The bottom line for me was that Taub averaged 32 mpg. I average 30 in my Accord, and I have room for 5 plus luggage. Not to mention it being more comfortable, safer, better performing, and about the same money. The same could be said about dozens of cars.

    Taub’s wife had the best comment: “This is a car for people who don’t have a life.”

  • avatar
    eh_political

    The New York Times is a superb newspaper. While it frequently takes a position, the position tends to be thoroughly documented, reasonable, and well intentioned.

    It’s detractors in the TTAC comment section are not likely regular readers of the paper, and offer reflexive criticism rather than substantive, coherent or persuasive refutation.

    From refutation to reputation:

    “That said, no one is safe from our BS detector– especially a newspaper that likes to bend facts to suit a pervasive, predetermined political agenda.”

    Robert, the New York Times is entitled to an editorial position, and a political point of view. That said, it has several. By American standards, the paper is moderate and responsible. The “bend facts” comment set of my BS detector. It’s a huge paper, influential and it makes mistakes, but it is accountable in a way so many US media outlets are not.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    The thing that floored me was that it didn’t better mpg. If it got 50/60 mpg, I could make a case for it. But in the low 30s, buy a Civic.

  • avatar

    In a North American car world lacking in B clas cars, the smart is a unique and smart choice, but in an a market that now has the Fit, the Yaris, the upcoming Cube and Fiesta, the Smart makes no sense.

  • avatar
    oldowl

    I guess we can’t have a new Fiat 500 instead? Or maybe two Vespas lashed together?

  • avatar
    thetopdog

    The smart is absolute garbage. There is no reason to settle for all the compromises the smart demands of its owners, unless it can get 50+mpg. The mpg is totally unacceptable for a car that small and with that limited utility. Last time I checked, it’s not that hard to park in a parking lot in the vast majority of cities. Especially when you figure that the extra thousands of dollars you pay for a smart over a much more practical car (used Yaris, Fit, Accent, Civic, Corolla, etc.) could be used to pay for parking for the entire life of the car

  • avatar

    It would be getting 50+ (perhaps even 60+) MPG had they brought the Diesel (FourTwo CDI) over.

    As it is, why bother?

    A VW Jetta TDI will carry 5 adults in the cabin and three dead bodies in the trunk, while getting 50 MPG. And the transmission doesn’t suck. You’d be lucky to stuff two adults and one dead cat in the FourTwo.

    Most Toyondas also beat the Smart in MPG with gasoline.

    Indeed, why bother.

    –chuck
    http://chuck.goolsbee.org

  • avatar
    rtz

    The EV version of this car will make a lot more sense.

    Right now, it’s nothing more than a:

    http://www.buysellcommunity.com/uploads/120307/ww1/ekaomamxzllp.jpg

  • avatar
    50merc

    “By American standards, the paper is moderate”

    CRASH! Groan…

    Sorry, that was my jaw dropping to the floor. But I do have to agree the NYT “frequently takes a position.” And thanks to Pinch Sulzberger, that can be found on every page.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    I do like the phrase “SMeGma cog-swapper”…:-D..

    When I turned wrenches on BMWs for money, we called it the Stupid Monkey Gearbox and *none* of us who had to test-drive the cars could stand the thing.

    We usually put it in the most aggressive manual mode and shifted it ourselves.

    It was also a PITA to service because the SMG bits were shoehorned in between the tranny case and the body tunnel.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I saw my first smart for two a couple days ago. I thought it was the most unusual looking production vehicle since the Isetta.

  • avatar

    There are several of these “Cars” around here, first
    generation ones and diesel too, one thing about the “Smart” is that you have to go back to the “Dealer” for everything, also they have no Oil dipstick etc. etc so a Oil change costs a lot more than any other vehicle, funny I never saw any of them around this past Heavy winter in this area, must have been rested. They are only good for One adult really with no other persons, they are a real deal I guess?

  • avatar
    DearS

    I see people do a lot worse things than buy a Smart. I know some persons can appreciate being surrounded by less metal. Gas is not much of any issue either way. Tranny is though and ride quality and price. Still I see people stomach Camrys and older American boats with pleasure, So the Smart’s success is not too unusual to me. Price……I’m a little surprised any new car sells. I mean it will turn more heads than similarly priced Wheels. I think I can endure the ride sometimes to drive around in a munchkin. I’ll be feeling the dumbness of the situation I got my self into but not caring enough cancel my errand run. No one said life would be perfect. I’m not saying I’d buy one either, or that Porn videos are something I support, but I with them.

  • avatar
    barberoux

    I saw a video of a Smart crashed into a concrete barrier at 70 MPH. Very impressive. The safety cage protected the interior and the doors still opened. It does sound like it needs an upgrade to the engine though. With a 1 liter engine I would expect 50+ mpg in the city, and the city is the only place I would drive this car. As for parking, lots of pictures show the car parked perpendicular to the other cars around it. As anyone who has lived and parked in a big eastern city knows many people park by feel. They back up until they touch the other car. Parked perpendicularly the Smart doors would be affected by the touch-and-go parkers. I predict many dented doors on parked Smarts.

  • avatar
    Skooter

    “And why is the finest print newspaper in the world…”

    I think not.

  • avatar

    That said, no one is safe from our BS detector.

    The NYT lost its “gray lady” status when it became apparent in the Judith Miller episode that they had been used as a propaganda tool and had not bothered to check FACTS, which is the purpose of a free press. I don’t care which way they lean, but would appreciate reading the truth.

    As to whether or not this newspaper, or any newspaper that does not employ Dan Neil, has any claim to truth in the auto reviews, they generally speak for themselves. My own BS detector usually lights up brighter for a newspaper review than for one from that august source of auto BS, Motor Trend.

  • avatar
    carguy

    The NYT review speaks truth. While I really like the idea of the Smart and the potential of this market segment, the actual product is mediocre at best. It drives badly, get very average fuel economy and is priced like a Gucci fashion accessory and not practical transportation.
    As they demonstrated with the original A class, Daimler has no clue when it comes to making small cars.

  • avatar
    Tredshift

    The first time I saw these “cars” in Rome a few years back, I was astounded at how small they were.

    In the last 2 weeks I’ve seen 3 of them around here and all I can say is….They are the MOST RIDICULOUS looking vehicles EVER. Nothing else even comes close. They look like a normal car that’s been squeezed by a giant vise, or perhaps something you’d see in a Fun House Mirror.

    For the price they are asking, you can buy a number of actual cars, ones that seat 4 people and carry luggage. The MPG of these Smart Cars is no better that what other real cars will give you as well. So What Is The Purpose Of These Things?

    Maybe it’s a Communist Plot to make Americans look like fools? You sure look like a fool driving one.

    By the way, the NY Times is a pathetic excuse for a newspaper. May it quickly die.

  • avatar
    whatdoiknow1

    I guess a Smart will appeal to the same type of person that believes a Segway is a “smart” idea.

  • avatar

    While I think RF is being too hard on the NYT, I think Stephan Wilkinson is giving it too much credit (But thanks, Stephan, for the info on Le Louche’s (sp?) great ride thru Paris!).

    To wit:

    * The Jayson Blair scandal–PC run amok
    * Judith Miller’s absolutely craven coverage of the build-up to Iraq. Real reporting conceivably might have averted that fiasco, such is the power of the NYT
    * very biased coverage of mass immigration issues, basically a shill for the immigration advocate groups who are a shill for the US Chamber of Commerce–this happening AFTER the Miller and Blair scandals.

  • avatar

    And why DOES that dinky little thingamagigger get such lousy mileage? That’s the travesty.

    I like whatdoIknow’s comment two above

  • avatar

    what David Holzman said… both about the NYT and the query on why the Smart gets such mediocre fuel mileage. The NYT, as a formerly great voice of journalism, owes the American public a sincere apology for aiding and abetting the run-up to the war in Iraq, which never did have anything whatsoever to do with WMD’s or democracy.

    The Honda Fit will carry four people and isn’t saddled with a silly transmission (although it cannot park 90 degrees to the curb) and gets similar gas mileage.


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