IT’S A LAWNMOWER MINUS ROTATING BLADE—BUT GETS A BIG “AWWW” FROM ONE AND ALL.
I bring my own bag to the grocery store, I cheered my lungs out at the Live Earth! concert in Jersey two years ago, and I paid Staples 10 bucks to recycle my old Dell recently. It stands to reason I should celebrate and adore the dinky-winky SmartForTwo and its reported 40 miles per highway gallon.
But go ahead and hit me with a carrot stick, folks. This thing should come with its own clown nose. It is not an automobile as much as an overpriced electric wheelchair with 4 wheels and a roof.
The problems begin with the 3-cylinder, 70-horsepower engine’s automatic transmission, which can’t make up its mind what gear it wants to stay in and announces each gear change with a noticeable jolt. Though shifting to clutchless manual mode and using the paddle shifts on the steering wheel helps you show the tranny who’s boss, I tended to leave it in second gear any time I was in the 5 boroughs if I wanted any smidgen of power. Of course, this meant the engine complained, loudly. The other major issue is the ride; any bump or divot in the street, let alone a pothole, produces an explosive jolt in the cockpit. I took to slaloming over some of the more egregious sections of New York, like Houston Street west of Broadway heading to the West Side Highway, but sometimes there simply were too many potholes and it was all bam bam bam, ow ow ow.
To be sure, the Smart does a few things quite well. Street parking, as you might expect, is a cinch, and when jockeying for a lane while approaching the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan, I squeaked into the slightest of slots before anyone even knew I was there. Also, the good will extended to this vehicle by both pedestrians and motorists is phenominal; dozens smiled and offered to let me proceed in front of them time and time again even when I didn’t want to. Like a giggling baby, the Smart generates cheer wherever it goes. It is also impossible to display any kind of aggression while driving—people take you about as sincerely as a barking Chihuahua.
There’s plenty of room inside, too, and it’s possible to forget how tiny you are. A folding electric top, which turns the Smart into a faux-convertible, is a master touch.
Helping ease urban congestion and achieving high miles per gallon, as the Smart does, is a noble thing, and if this car was 10 or even $12,000, I’d cut it more slack. But for less money, you can buy the better-made and (almost) equally shrimpy Toyota Yaris or Honda Fit.