The Truth About Cars » smart http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » smart http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/smart/ Review: car2go Smart http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-car2go-smart/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-car2go-smart/#comments Wed, 08 Jan 2014 13:03:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=695041 2

There’s a new car sharing program in Columbus, Ohio called car2go (not capitalized). For $0.38/minute, smart cars are available for rent – fuel and insurance are included. They can be driven anywhere, but they have to be returned to a public parking space within the designated “home area”. The Columbus home area is essentially downtown, the immediately adjacent suburbs, and the Ohio State University campus. I am fortunate enough to live in the home area and for the past several weeks I have been tempted by a car-nu-co-pia of car2gos (cars2go?) smart cars parked everywhere.

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Admittedly, I am not the target market for car2go, mostly because I have a functional car that I like and drive on a daily basis. This does not mean I was not curious about the service. Also, I really wanted to drive a smart car, if only to see if my opinions about them were right. I have a sort of personal issue with the little beasts. Anytime I see one, I yell, “Dumb car!”

Even when I’m by myself. But I always think it’s funny so it’s fine. My issues with them are pretty standard and commonly known: they’re too slow, too expensive, and they are not fuel efficient enough for their tiny size. They’re good for urban areas where parking is an issue, but parking is plentiful in Columbus. I rarely have problems finding some where to park even though my car spends a good amount of time at meters.
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The car2go service isn’t set up for impulsive smart car driving; I had to sign-up on the website, they ran my driver’s license, and sent me a member card in the mail. It took about a week. The card is linked to my debit card and when minutes are used, I get charged. Because the service is new in Columbus, the $35.00 sign-up fee was waived and I got thirty free fun-filled minutes to explore all my smart fantasies.
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The car2go phone app allowed me to find a car within walking distance. I had seen one parked in the same spot on the street for two days, so finding one wasn’t a problem. The smart car was locked with the key inside. There was a box on the windshield where I scanned my card and it unlocked the doors. Once inside the car, I had to verify that the inside and outside were acceptable and free of damage via a waiver on the screen for the navigation system. After that, I was free to drive a smart car to my heart’s content (which turned out to be about forty-five minutes).

The smart car that I drove was a 2013 with 297 miles on it. There wasn’t a lot whole going on in the inside. There were two seats, a steering wheel, heating/air conditioning knobs, a gear shift, and the navigation screen (with a radio!). No CD player or auxiliary jack. The cargo area behind the seats will hold things. Providing the things are small and of limited quantity. The only spot of any sort of personality was that the ignition was under the gear shift on the center console. For a split second I was able to pretend that I was in a Saab. Fancy.
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I expected to feel unsafe in the smart car – a stupid moving target for big trucks and SUVs. However, it had a high enough seating position that I didn’t feel like I was in a small ridiculously tiny car until I looked back and realized that I could touch the hatchback glass. The gas and the brake were either a zero or a 100% proposition, with nothing in between. If I wanted to change velocity, I had to really want it. The brakes were sponge, sponge and STOP, like the car ran in to an imaginary brick wall. Flooring the gas created angry noise and marginal results (It was at this time when I had the sudden realization that slow and loud = bad and that loud and fast = good). The automatic transmission was the worst part. Shift times could be counted in Mississippis. There was a ‘sport’ shift on it and it was, like many sport shifts on non-sporty cars, completely pointless.

A smart car weighs 1600 pounds and has a three cylinder engine that cranks out 70 horsepower. It isn’t enough. Nominally, the smart has a listed top speed of 90 MPH. I tried taking it on the freeway to see if I could get it up to the top speed but I got bored by the time that it got up in to the mid-70s, so I gave up. I will assume that the top speed is possible if given a straightaway of similar length to that of the airstrip at the end of Fast and Furious 6. When I stopped and got out after the land speed record breaking non-attempt there was a distinctive burning plastic smell.
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I’ve spent some time thinking about car2go and if it will be successful in my area. There are 250 smart cars in the Columbus car2go fleet and I can see them being popular with Ohio State students who are stuck on campus and need to leave the area to run errands. However, a quick drive through campus shows a shortage of car2go vehicles in that impulse-pickup zone. The quiet area of downtown, where I live, however, has car2go smart cars parked everywhere. From casual observation, I’ve noticed that smart cars seem to sit about 2-3 days between adventures. I’ve only seen one in motion. I’m tempted to say that I don’t think it’ll work in Columbus, but I’m usually wrong about stuff like this, so it will likely be a rousing success for that reason alone. In fact, I rather like the idea of car2go. I just hate the idea that they’re doing it with smart cars.

I’ve also spent time thinking about the smart car. It’s designed to be basic transportation. Which it is, so it succeeds. To try and compare it anything other than basic transportation isn’t fair. It wasn’t designed to be great; it’s function over form. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that anyone would want a car so devoid of personality simply because it’s easy to park. — even for thirty-eight cents a minute.

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Smart ForTwo Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/11/smart-fortwo-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/11/smart-fortwo-review/#comments Fri, 02 Nov 2007 20:23:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=6144 city.jpgThe Smart ForTwo isn't so much a small car as a short one. At just eight feet from stem to stern, it’s by far the shortest car on the market. What's the difference between small and short? A small car can stay low to the ground to achieve excellent handling and fuel economy. A short car only excels at one thing: unmetered parallel parking. The first-generation Smart proved the point. As reviewed on TTAC, it was a noisy, slow, poor-handling, stiff-legged, bouncy and crashy car with meh mileage. So, Daimler says it’s rectified the first-gen's faults. Is Version 2.0-- headed stateside in 2008-- ready for prime time?

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city.jpgThe Smart ForTwo isn't so much a small car as a short one. At just eight feet from stem to stern, it’s by far the shortest car on the market. What's the difference between small and short? A small car can stay low to the ground to achieve excellent handling and fuel economy. A short car only excels at one thing: unmetered parallel parking. The first-generation Smart proved the point. As reviewed on TTAC, it was a noisy, slow, poor-handling, stiff-legged, bouncy and crashy car with meh mileage. So, Daimler says it’s rectified the first-gen's faults. Is Version 2.0– headed stateside in 2008– ready for prime time?

The new ForTwo maintains its Tonka-toy proportions and look at me I’m wearing designer glasses (without a prescription) unconventionality. There’s now a painted parenthesis around the driver’s compartment: a clever if unsuccessful attempt to reassure drivers that Smart’s got their back (as there’s nothing much behind them). From certain angles, the slash-marked Four Two looks like a Pokemon with weird sideburns. Anyway, there’s no denying that observers (especially women) fight the urge to muss the ForTwo’s metaphorical hair and pinch its figurative cheeks.

cabin.jpgThe ForTwo’s new cabin uses shapes, textures and fonts with a bit less originality than before. The dash is now monolithic in the mighty Mercedes manner. And it's a shame the signature twin periscopes (rpms and clock) aren’t standard issue. On the positive side, the interior is still remarkably airy and spacious: a haven for a brace of art loving urbanites. The materials quality and fit and finish surpass Ye Olde SMART’s by a wide margin. Better yet, the ForTwo’s trunk can now swallow a full 58 gallons of luggage. One more Tumi for the road? 

The stateside Smarts are motivated by a one-liter, three cylinder engine. The erstwhile powerplant is a revvy little beast, even at idle. Annoying stationary vibration aside, the mini-mill certainly gives its all– 70 horses– to the cause of forward momentum. Guide the tachometer needle to the 6500rpm redline and you just might accelerate (if that’s the right word) from rest to 60mph in 12 seconds. The ForTwo will also cruise relatively comfortably at 70mph. That’s provided you can wait that long and surmount the recalcitrance of the FourTwo's passion killing gearbox.

bus.jpgThe original SMART was rightly and roundly criticized for its hesitant transmission. The new box still changes gears sequentially (when you request) or automatically (when it feels like it). Gear change times are reduced. But sadly, the new ForTwo still shifts the way Frank Costanza talks. Driving softly, the box swaps cogs smoothly. But hard acceleration will make you and your passenger look like diehard (one hopes) headbangers. Even worse, if you need a burst of oomph for emergency overtaking, the Smart ForTwo will pause for a moment or two before summoning more shove– while you contemplate a messy and untimely death.

The ForTwo’s suspension is also improved– but not by enough. For a city car that’s shorter than an NBA player carrying a midget on his shoulders, the ForTwo v2 rides pretty well. For any other type of car, the suspension sucks. You'd have to be a fan of sadomasochism lite to enjoy the Smart's hard not to say buckboard-quality ride. If potholes mar your local landscape, well, a smart Smart owner will have his chiropractor on speed dial.

The other downside of a hard-sprung car: you can be fooled into believing it handles well. Yes, the ForTwo corners flat. And it's true: my tester’s unassisted steering was as meaty as a cauldron of Texas chili. But the ForTwo's limits are lower than snake hips, and the ESP handling nanny is always on duty. Not to put too fine a point on it, an aggressive driver can put the ForTwo into any handling attitude they like– as long as it's an understeer slide. 

back-end.jpgSo the Smart is an unpleasant-to-drive, one-trick pony. And yet there are plenty of people– some 30k American early adopters at last count– who couldn’t care less about its dreadful driving dynamics. To wit: on a three-hundred mile mosey along the Moselle River, my girlfriend fell in love with the ForTwo. She was charmed by the friendly questions posed by rural Belgians, and amused when the driver of a twenty-ton truck honked and gave us a thumbs up as we passed on a twisty mountain road (I was frozen with fear).

I reckon the Smart ForTwo is the automotive equivalent of Maxwell Smart's Cone of Silence: a great idea in theory, a laughable device in practice. Then again, the ForTwo is a statement. And it does bear a striking resemblance to the Porsche 911: a patently ridiculous concept made drivable by obsessive-compulsive German engineers. But while the Porsche has almost always made money, the Smart never has. Judging from v2, it probably never will.

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smart fortwo revisited http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/08/smart-fortwo-revisited/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/08/smart-fortwo-revisited/#comments Thu, 17 Aug 2006 19:23:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=2026 1039971smart_nyc109.jpg Since the late 90’s, hundreds of thousands of smart cars found homes in European towns, villages and apartments. I first encountered the smart fortwo at my tribe’s annual Testfest. Canada’s finest motoring hacks caned the diminutive machine on highways, byways, roads and racetrack, where one burly journalist declared the smart as much fun as a fart in a wetsuit. And now the butt of a thousand headline puns is headed your way America, thanks to the otherwise sane metal movers at The United Auto Group.  

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1039971smart_nyc109.jpg Since the late 90’s, hundreds of thousands of smart cars found homes in European towns, villages and apartments. I first encountered the smart fortwo at my tribe’s annual Testfest. Canada’s finest motoring hacks caned the diminutive machine on highways, byways, roads and racetrack, where one burly journalist declared the smart as much fun as a fart in a wetsuit. And now the butt of a thousand headline puns is headed your way America, thanks to the otherwise sane metal movers at The United Auto Group.  

Admittedly, my automotive tastes run towards aggressive-looking beasts with luxurious curves that bring shivers to places best not mentioned here. By that standard, the smart fortwo could easily be the named “the vehicle least likely to raise wood.” I just can’t get my head around the fact that the fourtwo is a car, and not a four-wheeled projectile fired out of battleship’s main guns. (Up close, it looks like a baby’s pram crossed with a Pokemon.) While I could fully deconstruct the utter strangeness of the fourtwo’s design, this paragraph is already longer than the car itself. Suffice it to say, the fourtwo is a four-wheeled two-by-four.

104242306a2830.jpgOf course, it would be easy to just let rip and have a good ole slagfest at the smart's expense. Sure, the cargo capacity sucks; there’s hardly enough extra space to pack a couple of Slim Jims. Yes, from a safety point-of-view, it’s SUV toe jam. And sure, the Canada-spec diesel engine only puts out 40hp, making the fourtwo only marginally faster than walking. [NB: a British lunatic dropped a Hayabusa bike engine, beefed up the suspension and created a 180hp track monster known as the "smartuki."] Well, guess what?  It cain't tow nothin’ neither.

On the positive side, the fourtwo is an environmentalist’s wet dream. You can drive the snot out of it all day for under $13 in diesel, stick it in parking spots meant for two-wheelers, leave the atmosphere almost completely chemically unmolested and receive two thumbs up from academics and hairy socialist types who assume you give a shit about the environment. That’s not exactly my thing, but it’s still a refreshing change from the middle digit communication afforded the Hummer H3. Anyway, the fortwo is a very clever piece of engineering.

104188606a2831.jpg Forone thing, it’s amazing how much room there is inside the motorized fishbowl. The sloped windshield is panoramic, the side windows are bigger than my widescreen TV and there's plenty of head and legroom for life-sized human beings. The initial impression– that there’s nothing between you and oncoming traffic– is eventually dispelled by the enormous expanse of foam-padded dash twixt wheel and glass. While I've seen tougher-looking accessories on a Tonka toy, the fortwo’s instrumentation is hilarious; think iMac meets the Jetsons. The clock and tachometer are housed in globes atop swiveling stalks.

Despite the Mercedes Benz connection, the fourtwo’s switchgear errs on the side of cheap and cheerful, operating with all the precision and tactility of a cereal box top. By the same token, the optional clutch-free semi-manual transmission is entirely without grace. Generally I try these tip shift gizmos out once, just to say I did, and then ignore them. However, the fourtwo’s slapstick is infinitely preferable to the lag and lurch of automatic mode – which causes the back of your head to repeatedly meet the headrest, and not in that muscle car kinda way.

103984906a28331.jpg The smart fourtwo’s handling is the fourth Ace in the deck (after fuel economy, size and planet hugging street cred). It feels as if the smart has been bolted to a go-kart frame. Stiff and square, with a wheel at each corner, there's almost zero body roll and lots of road feel beneath your butt. Although it requires more forward planning than a Middle Eastern invasion, blowing by startled Mustangs and Hondas like a giant mutant high-top on steroids is a priceless experience. However, due to the fourtwo’s height and slab-sided-ness, understeer is out there… somewhere… and strong winds at highway speed require both hands on the wheel.  In fact, the ride’s so squirrelly, it might as well have a farking sail.

Once I got over my initial reluctance to be seen in the fourtwo, I got a perverse pleasure from driving the wee beastie everywhere. It was hugely satisfying bringing it to car meets, provoking extended bouts of contemptous sniggering from stalwart hairy-chested muscle car guys. Almost without exception, the car’s sardonic detractors were eventually won over by the fourtwo’s practicality and spacious interior– even if they only admitted their enchantment begrudgingly. It’s true. Whether a grassroots grease monkey or an over-moneyed connoisseur of silken engineering, any true car nut is sure to find the smart Fortwo a compelling automobile-– even if they would never, ever own one.

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Review: 2001 Smart http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2001/12/smart/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2001/12/smart/#comments Sun, 09 Dec 2001 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1402 Simple Darwinism could reduce the number of America's fashion-conscious tree huggers.

Speed matters. So does size. A Lamborghini Murcielago can crest 200mph on an autobahn, but it's slower than a pair of roller skates down a busy city street. Enter Mercedes' chic new SMART car. It's tiny-- small enough to dart through any gap wider than an NFL lineman. It's quick-- well, "nippy". It uses less fuel than a John Deere lawn mower. In fact, the SMART should be an urban driver's dream come true. It isn't.]]>
Simple Darwinism could reduce the number of America's fashion-conscious tree huggers.

Speed matters. So does size. A Lamborghini Murcielago can crest 200mph on an autobahn, but it’s slower than a pair of roller skates down a busy city street. Enter Mercedes’ chic new SMART car. It’s tiny– small enough to dart through any gap wider than an NFL lineman. It’s quick– well, “nippy”. It uses less fuel than a John Deere lawn mower. In fact, the SMART should be an urban driver’s dream come true. It isn’t.

Oh, but don’t you wish it was? It’s so cute! The SMART has all the charm of a baby animal: tiny body, big head and huge, doleful eyes. Awwww. Look! The radiator is smiling at you! Unlike the much-hyped MINI, the SMART’s Pokemon-morphed-with-a-golf-cart design both startles and captivates. You don’t want to buy the SMART so much as take it home and cook it a hot meal.

Zero to sixty in over 16 seconds!  (I was jogging next to the car when I took the picture.)Inside, the SMART is even more endearing. The car offers a range of “big car” toys: central locking, air conditioning, sunroof, sat nav, CD player and more. All the details—from the pizza slice door handles to the cup holder/ashtray— are fresh without being pretentious. Like a “real” Merc, all the controls work, and work well. The wipers wipe. The ventilation ventilates. The more time you spend in the car, the more you understand why SMART means both stylish and intelligent.

Funky touches like the twin periscopes surfacing from the dash (clock and rev counter) will get all the press, but the ergonomics deserve the real attention. The cabin is mounted above the engine (where else could they put it?), placing you virtually level with SUV drivers. This lofty driving position combined with an epic windscreen and large side windows delivers a panoramic view. Sitting behind the wheel, nestling into the heated seats, you’d swear you were driving an MPV.

If you value style, comfort and political correctness above all, stop here. Note that Daimler-Chrysler plans to import the SMART into the US sometime in the next year or so, and head for the brand’s suitably trendy website. Now, for those of you who value driving pleasure more than PC bragging rights, hold on. It’s gonna get rough.

To thrive in its natural environment, a city car needs quick and accurate steering, to boldly go where no SUV has gone before. Unfortunately, the SMART’s helm is severely under-assisted at lower speeds; changing direction from a standstill requires a manly “heave-ho”. Even worse, you have no idea how far you’ve turned the wheels until you set off– at which point you can easily find yourself heading towards the bumper of something large and unyielding. Once you get going, the steering is crisp and perfectly weighted. Which is just as well. Past 40mph, the slab-sided city car is more likely to be blown off course than a 17th century sailing ship.

   A great drive-- until you have to change gears, turn or face a cross windThe only thing more challenging than holding the SMART on a steady bearing is changing speed. Mercedes can rightly claim to build some of the world’s best automatic transmissions. Now they can claim to build the world’s worst. The SMART’s autobox doesn’t “slur” its changes. It stops, thinks about it, thinks about it some more, then gives you the next gear. It’s the perfect car for the Japanese; the sudden loss of momentum forces you to bow between gears.

Floor it– the usual method for rousing a Mercedes engine– and it’s not so much “kick down” as “cut out”. At the exact moment you ask for/need a little extra oomph, the handbag-sized engine goes into a second-long sulk. Switching off the auto leaves you with a sequential-style shift. The faux manual transmission option shortens the changing times, but only slightly. Personally engaging the gears accentuates the “light the fuse and wait” gear changes. A sporting driver will find the suspense… unbearable.

The SMART’s handling is also a lot less than excellent. While the SMART is not a sports car, even a bumper car is fast enough to challenge the gods of handling. In this case, the gods win. Mercedes modified the SMART’s suspension after the A-Class “elk test” debacle, eliminating any possibility of tipping over in a corner. At the same time, the SMART’s TRUST-PLUS stability system denies drivers the slightest chance of what we enthusiasts call “fun”. AND it’s hard riding.

The SMART could have had it all: style, comfort and speed. MB’s ‘ultimate city car’ is let down by lousy steering, an uncooperative gearbox, a dim-witted suspension and a zero-to-sixty time north of 15 seconds. Of course, this focus on the car’s dynamic abilities is beside the point. There’s an entire rainforest of eco warriors ready to remind me that the SMART is not about performance or driving pleasure. It’s about conserving our dwindling resources, 40+ miles per gallon and 85% recyclability. Ain’t THAT the truth.

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