May 18, 2013

Review: is smart a smart choice?

Small is beautiful, but pehaps small is not always smart: Smart is certainly small, but is Smart actually also smart?

In case all this makes your brain itch: we're talking about the Smart citycar, or, as their website would have it, the "smart uncar" (note the uncapitalised name). At 106.1 inches (2695mm) length it's shorter by a third than the diminuitive Ford Ka. The Smart ForTwo is basically a sedan cut in half - giving a whole different slant on the word "coupé". (The Smart ForFour was longer, but is no longer in production).

It's hard to get a handle on the Smart: it's half a car, but with all four wheels. But it's still significantly larger than half a car: its 8ft 10in length would fit sideways (just) in an oversized parking spot at a mega-mall, but in most cities you still need a full parking space for it. The only places where it would have an advantage are very cramped cities like ancient Asian and European towns that were built for pedestrians.

Another baffling feature is its "Automated Manual" transmission, which lacks the fun and satisfaction of manual transmission, without offering the ease of auto transmission. One of those oxymorons, sort of like a constitutional monarchy, which has a king or queen as well as a fully functional democratically elected parliament.

The price is also quite a bit more than half the price of a sedan that can carry five people. But what I find most disappointing in this "uncar" is the fuel efficiency: the 36 mpg delivered by the 70 HP gasoline engine (see table below) earns only a "C" on Europe's fuel efficiency label.

To put this in perspective: a Honda Fit will carry five people (plus a cello) for just about the same fuel economy (35 mpg), and the 2013 Fit starts at $15,425, or only $1,095 more than the Smart. So, is it smart to buy a Smart?


Smart Coupé, gasoline and electric

Smart Smart
Type Pure Coupe Electric Drive Coupe
Year 2013 2013
Emissions rating BIN5 / ULEV  
MSRP $ 14,330 $ 25,000
CelloMom Rating
Fuel Economy:
City/Hwy quoted 34 / 38 mpg 122 / 93 MPGe
Avg. quoted 36 mpg
107 MPGe
Range 70 mi
Avg. actual 44 mpg  
Carbon emissions, quoted    
Engine 1.0L, 3-cyl, 12-vlv  
Power 70 HP @ 5800 rpm 74 HP (55kW)
Torque 68 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm 96 lb-ft
Transmission Smartshift 5-spd
"Automated Manual"
(rear wheel)
Fuel Premium Unleaded 120V / 240V
Length, mm(in) 106.1 in  
Width, mm(in) 61.4 in  
Height, mm(in) 60.7 in  
Weight, kg(lbs) 1080 lbs 1984 lbs
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) 12 cuft (to roof)  
Turning radius, m(ft) 28.7 c-c  
Top speed, kph(mph)   78 mph


Certainly, its looks are very smart. It's highly customizable inside and out, even for the "pure" and "passion" trims available in the US (again, note the lower-case designations). On the "BRABUS Xclusive" trim (see the German website) you can probably specify everything down to the colour of the stitching on the leather upholstery, and you get a surfeit of capital letters in the trim name. Of course, the price is also nearly twice that of the basic "pure" trim.

Recently introduced to the US is the Smart the way it was originally intended to be: the coupe with Electric Drive, whose price tag exceeds that of the basic coupe by $10,670. Perhaps it is appropriate that the Electric Drive version has been called an "eco-trinket": small and expensive, its electrical efficiency is comparable to that of a Nissan Leaf.

But it will still only carry two. Even though the two can be as tall as Kobe Bryant, who features in a series of Asian commercials for Smart, e.g. the "Big, in the city" Chinese ad. And much has been made of the luggage capacity of the Smart coupé, with people demonstrating the packing of a Smart for a camping trip, or the transport of fairly large objects (resting on the open rear flap). It's not how I would move a cello.

Photo Hans Linnet

So what do you do with a vehicle that can carry two and not much else, and that you would hesitate to take out on the interstate where a truck driver might mistake it for a brightly coloured pebble skipping over the asphalt? Why, you can take it out of its comfort zone and pump it up so it can pretend to be a monster truck. This is not an eco-trinket.

(Thanks to the "These DAMN Gas Prices Are Killing Me" page for the image and the link).

Personally, I would call that unsmart.

But now the folks at Daimler-Benz have come up with a really smart idea: They started messing with the pedals. That's right, the pedals: while the gasoline ForTwo has a boring gas pedal, the electric ForTwo, which doesn't have gas to pedal, is said to have a "fun pedal". Since more is better, they have now introduced a version of the smart that has two pedals. Electric, of course. Now that's what I call an "uncar". And it's smart.

(Click on the image to go to the German smart splash page).



You may also like:
1. How the Dutch got their Bicycle Paths
2. Review: BMW 1 Series
3. How to buy a gas sipper for less
4. 2012 Turkey Award: MonsterMini



  1. So would a cello fit in the passenger seat at least?

    1. Are you sure you want to put a cello in the passenger space? It wouldn't fit _on_ the seat; and I don't know about you, but I wouldn't put a cello in the footwell to lean against the seat, either: too dicey.


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