Smart car smart or not so smart?
September 7, 2011 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Do you now or have you ever owned a Smart car? Did you like it? Hate it? Was the premium gasoline a pain? Was the mileage underwhelming or totally satisfactory? Did it blow over in a strong crosswind? Would you recommend it or passionately warn against it? Thoughts?

I have a nice 5 mile commute and I'm looking at a used Smart fortwo Passion coupe. Seems like a great fit given that I also only have street parking at my house. However, don't want to make a giant mistake.
posted by xmutex to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Driven but not owned. I don't get the appeal in American cities. I would *strongly* suggest a Fit or Mazda2 as more practical transportation. If you only need two seats, you should just get a Miata. Mid 20's vs low 30's around town and vastly superior driving experience.
posted by pjaust at 11:40 AM on September 7, 2011

Unless you have exceptionally awful parking spots in your neighborhood, I'd definitely advise a small "normal" car instead of a SMART. Where I live - a relatively dense area of Philadelphia with very high car ownership rates - there are almost never spots where I could imagine a SMART fitting in that a Fit or Mazda2 couldn't squeeze into. Plus, those cars are a lot more flexible, can carry more, will be easier to resell, etc.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:51 AM on September 7, 2011

I had a Smart for for 4.5 years and only sold it recently when we needed to get something with more passenger seats. The mileage was pretty good. It did get blown about in the wind on the motorway - this bothered my SO on her 25 mile commute on the motorway, but I didn't really mind. EXCELLENT for parking in a city - cannot emphasize this enough. It's pretty irritating now, having a bigger car and driving past all these tiny spaces that I could have fitted the Smart into easily. Not sure what you mean about "Premium gasoline", in the UK I just used regular petrol like I would with any other car. Downsides to it are replacement parts and tires can be expensive and harder to get hold of (because they are non-standard sizes, etc, so you can't use generic parts), and some garages won't be able to service it as they don't know (or can't be bothered to learn) how to get to the engine and other components properly.

I'd say for a short commute and parking in a city it would be a decent choice, however there might be other choices that would save you money in maintenance/parts in the long run. Smarts are pretty cool IMO but if you don't have that same love of the size/shape/uniqueness then on a purely logical point of view they probably aren't the best choice.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:51 AM on September 7, 2011

Also driven but not owned.

Driving experience was pretty crappy, combined with severe lack of cargo room and relatively high price (compared to the other vehicles I was considering), the smart was not-so-smart for me. I wound up going for a Toyota Yaris hatchback, with which I have been incredibly pleased for the last few years.
posted by coryinabox at 11:51 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a Smart car for 4 years. Just traded it in last month for a Fiat 500. It is absolutely perfect for a 5 mile commute. The mileage - for around town - is not overwhelmingly great but good. I was all surface streets and a very large hill and got around 30ish. I have friends who do all highway driving and get closer to 40-45. That's not too shabby.
All of our cars take premium gas - this wasn't a factor for us.
At speed, on the freeway, in a high wind you'll really wish you were not in a Smart. If you live somewhere with a lot of hills, you'll want to get good at using the paddle shifters. In automatic - there are hills near me where it felt like we might not make it.
Speaking of automatic - know that the Smart has the jankiest gear box of any car I've ever driven. It is not properly an automatic, it is a sequential gear box with a robot clutch. It is a very sad, slow robot and gear shifts can be a little clunky.
Did I mention I bought a Fiat 500? I loved my Smart dearly until I started driving the Fiat. I don't think I fully appreciated how much of a "toy" the Smart is until I had a proper car again.
So in summary - it is a fun little toy car that gets decent mileage that you can park almost anywhere. If you can tolerate some rough edges, it's perfect.
posted by Wolfie at 11:55 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I get 33 City and almost 40 MPG Highway with my Honda Fit and it's got four seats and takes regular gas. It's a few feet longer than the SmartCar but not really any more expensive to run and handles great and is a blast to drive.
posted by octothorpe at 12:22 PM on September 7, 2011

Driven, not owned, and I wouldn't recommend it. The screwiest thing about a Smart is that there's a delay between pressing the accelerator and the car actually moving forward-- I felt like I was taking my life into my hands every time I pulled into an intersection.

Also, whenever I see a Smart, something about the way it's shaped makes me want to tip it over.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:23 PM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

I've driven one. I think it has the worst manual transmission I've ever driven, and that's really saying something. I agree with Wolfie on getting good at the paddle shifters, but I'd say you don't even need to be around hills for that to be true. I found the transmission to shift FAR too early in automatic mode even on flat ground. The only way I thought it was acceptable was shifting manually with the paddles, but even that was pretty poor because the shifts seem to take an eternity.

The seat heaters were far and away the most powerful I've ever experienced, though. On full blast, they quickly became uncomfortable. (That's a compliment -- I hate cars where the seats don't get warm enough even at the max setting).
posted by sharding at 12:30 PM on September 7, 2011

Err, I meant "worst *automatic* transmission."
posted by sharding at 12:30 PM on September 7, 2011

A co-worker rented one for a month. Apparently it was a really rough ride and did his back in. If your roads aren't as bad as ours (Toronto) this may be less of an issue.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:35 PM on September 7, 2011

I really liked the Honda Fit. Put 60k miles on mine in two years with no problems, plus it has a shocking amount of storage space for a little guy. The market is a bit inflated now because supplies are low.
posted by ejoey at 12:54 PM on September 7, 2011

You didn't ask, but I love my manual Toyota Yaris 2-door Hatchback... It has seen moderate to heavy (but GENTLE driving style) use since I bought it new off the lot in 2007 and the only thing I've done is install a K&N air filter when I bought it, change the oil (again K&N filters and decent oil), and recently I did the recommended transmission fluid change myself as well. I got 80,000 miles out of the 60,000 miles tires it came with and they still had tread left because I followed a good rotation schedule. The techs that replaced the tires said I still had well over half my original brake pads remaining and asked if I engine brake alot (I don't, I just don't rush either). The timing belt is still in decent shape but I will be replacing it soon. I get between 36 mpg in town and 45 or so on the highway due to my driving habits...

I thought the Smart would be the car I long for but the Yaris has really, really impressed me. Storage is great if you remove part of the backseat and/or the spare (AAA membership a plus here, fingers crossed no problems yet). This isn't a problem for me since I'm not often hauling 3+ people around and could use the extra space. Plus it helps with pickup a bit, which is a bit limited ESPECIALLY with the AC running, which isn't often even here in N. Florida.

(nope, I don't work for Toyota nor does anyone in my family.. the car has just made me quite happy over the last few years)
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:55 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not sure what you mean about "Premium gasoline", in the UK I just used regular petrol like I would with any other car.

FWIW, petrol in the UK is typically the same as the US "Premium" gasoline at 91 AKI or 95RON. Regular gasoline in the US has a lower octane rating, usually 87 AKI or 91 RON. The difference is usually $0.20-0.30 per gallon in the US, but most cars run on regular.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:59 PM on September 7, 2011

I've had one for four years. Most of the time I use the car to take most of one of the spots in front of my house so I can get in and out of the garage in our other car. The gearbox in the smart is truly awful but parking sucks in SF and there are plenty of spots that are just barely big enough for a smart so even a Yaris/Fiat500/whatever would be too big. If parking isn't an issue, buy something else.
posted by foodgeek at 1:00 PM on September 7, 2011

I did 60,000 miles in one I owned for 9 years. I truly loved that car. It's as fast as you could possibly want in town, fun to cruise along the motorway in, and exceptionally good for parking. The gearbox is slowish to respond, but you adjust to that easily. The back area is plenty spacious. We used it often for trips across Europe with all our luggage. My '01 Smart was good for gas, but probably no better than many small current cars. In the UK at least they also hold their value better than almost every other small car.
posted by roofus at 2:57 PM on September 7, 2011

Seems a little expensive for what you (don't) get. Check out the new Hyundai Accent or the Kia version.

I suspect the early shifts and slow to respond is a way to aggressively conserve fuel.
posted by gjc at 4:39 PM on September 7, 2011

A better alternative to a Smart is a Fiat 500. I drove one recently for an extended period of time, and I loved it: in the cities, on highways, and up and down mountains.

I see someone else in this thread is singing the praises of the Fiat, as well. Such is life! Such are Fiats!
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:51 PM on September 7, 2011

I know someone who got one because they couldn't ride a motorbike any more. It had that similar small feel. It was OK- but yeah, it is small. They also had a big car for when they had to transport more people.
posted by titanium_geek at 5:13 PM on September 7, 2011

Have you ever watched the crash test videos for the Smart? It bounces off other things. Like a ping pong ball. The back wheels at least, and sometimes the entire car, actually becomes airborne. Get a Fit or a Yaris or something.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:54 PM on September 7, 2011

I haven't owned a Smart but on the issue of cargo capacity I've put a couple hundred thousand kilometres on Fieros and I've never had a serious problem with lack of cargo capacity even when vacationing and car camping. It just required awareness and planning. Google says the Smart has 8 cu ft and the Feiro only has a smidge under 6 cu ft. Literally the only time it was a problem was when switching between summer and winter tires; I'd have to strap the second set to the trunk lid, but I'm guessing that sort of thing isn't a problem where you live. If you haven't had a butt in the rear seats of your present car in the last 6 months I wouldn't worry about the lack of rear seats either.

IndigoRain writes "The back wheels at least, and sometimes the entire car, actually becomes airborne."

Ya, so does the Yaris and the Fit because the crushing needs to stop at the foot well before it stops at the dash.
posted by Mitheral at 7:57 PM on September 7, 2011

"The back wheels at least, and sometimes the entire car, actually becomes airborne."

Yeah, so does the Lincoln Town Car. Maybe not such a good criterion for evaluating a car, then, eh?

I think the IIHS video (the first of IndigoRain's videos) provides more useful information. It shows that the smart's structural cage remains intact and protects the passengers, even though the crumple zone is so tiny and the car rebounds so energetically. Not that I want to climb into a smart car and crash it, mind you.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:01 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, it seems like the Smart is the only one in which the entire car becaomes airborne. I didn't post this one but the car tips over and spins on its "shoulder" like a top. I don't think a bigger car would have tipped over and spun around like that. Maybe I'm wrong. But I'd hate to be in a Smart and get hit by a bigger vehicle.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:28 AM on September 8, 2011

FWIW, the Lincoln Town Car gets maybe a couple inches off the ground. The Smart in the 2nd video I posted, the wheels get as high as the concrete barrier - a couple of feet?
posted by IndigoRain at 12:39 AM on September 8, 2011

I drove one in Spain and liked it. It doesn't feel like a small car and drove well at highway speeds of 70mph. I didn't notice any problems with wind or drafts from larger trucks but am used to riding a motorcycle. Compared to a motorcycle, you will survive many more crashes in a Smart but then again, the usual point is to drive smart and avoid crashes or at least drive in such a way as to minimize harm. As a regular motorcycle commuter who has plenty of near misses, this is actually pretty easy to do.

Actually I would recommend a motorcycle or trike given your climate. On a good motorcycle you can get 80mpg and parking is much, much easier than even the smallest car. If you want to stick with a car, a 3-door Yaris is great, the new Fiat is good but a little more cramped, and the Smart is more cramped than the Fiat although the cockpit is roomier in the Smart. The Fiat I test drove had a passenger seat I could not comfortably fit in. I am a 5'11" guy of slight build.
posted by JJ86 at 6:51 AM on September 8, 2011

Uncle had/has one - had a few bingles in it. One required the new bumper bar to be shipped from/via Singapore. We are in Australia, so maybe they keep more spares in your part of the world.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:56 AM on September 9, 2011

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