Smart Cars Come to America...To Be Trashed

It’s possible that there is a car in history that has gotten a worse review than the Smart Fortwo the New York Times drove for a week, but if so, we haven’t read it. The bottom line? Mediocre gas mileage, no storage, loud, dangerous, cute, and crappy:

[U]nlike the mostly fabulous Mini, the Smart Fortwo, with room for just two urban warriors and a few loincloths of cargo, turns out to be a Trojan pony, primitive in its performance and no more fuel-efficient than some far more practical cars.

Sizing up the Smart against a subcompact you’d expect it to get at least 50 miles to the gallon… [but] its E.P.A. rating is just 33 miles per gallon in town and 41 on the highway.

How can this be? While the Smart has enough power to keep pace with traffic, its engine works so hard that it can’t conserve fuel. By my stopwatch, the car takes more than 14 seconds to reach 60 miles an hour, and it tops out at 90. The engine’s clattering idle was loud enough to make me suspect a diesel under the hood…

If the engine is mediocre, the five-speed automated manual transmission is an engineering embarrassment. You could practically squeeze a half-inning of baseball into the maddening delay between the release of one gear and the engagement of the next. The Smart loses momentum in the pause, lurching passengers forward, and then Barcalounges backward when it oozes into a higher gear.

The Smart has been described as fun to drive by some reviewers, but other than showing taillights to the neighbourhood riding mowers, I don’t see it. The Smart steers decently but feels clumsy when pushed hard. Tire grip is meager, the body wallows, and big city bumps come crashing through the suspension.

Things are no better on the highway. Wind noise was so intrusive at 70 m.p.h. that I kept thinking the windows were cracked open; the engine buzz added to the din. Ultimately, it feels more a contraption than a car, and it’s a chore to drive.

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