After work tonight Stephanie and I went to a special smart car testdrive event at the Mercedes dealership in SOMA, under interstate 80.
It was open to folks who’d paid $99 to reserve a smart fortwo when they arrive in the US this fall (or next spring). I was pretty excited. Granted I paid the reservation fee on a whim before we’d even started thinking about getting Vespas, which changes the equation a little, but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s look at the smart fortwo!
This is apparently what a smart car looks like underneath the pretty colors. I’m sure this was here specifically to dispel the “but what if I get hit by an SUV?” FUD that scares everyone into buying SUVs.
After filling out liability forms, we waited in line for our chance to testdrive one around the block. Having come from work by Vespa, I had to put my jacket and backpack in the “trunk.” Yeah, it’s small.
The money shot:
Here are some views of the interior. I think the hatch trunk would fit about 3 paper grocery bags. Right under the trunk is the rear mounted engine.
Verdict: great design, handling not so great. The brakes felt really soft and then abrupt, and the acceleration felt a little weak. Granted I only drove it around a single city block, so I’d really need to take it on a longer drive to get an accurate feel. Stephanie and I both commented on the fact that putting the Toyota Yaris through its paces last weekend gave us an appreciation for how we expect a car to handle. The feel of the smart fortwo kind of reminded me of the Toyota Prius. Like accelerating from a standstill was meeting resistance against the engine itself.
One neat feature is that the transmission can be shifted manually with two paddles behind either side of the steering wheel. Speaking of which, the steering felt a little stiff, I wonder if maybe it’s not electric assisted. Being in the car with the both of us didn’t feel tight at all, but of course there’s not much room for more than just the two of us.
So in the end, I’m not sure. I really like small. I really like efficient. I also really like my (55-60mpg) Vespa. Purchasing a car again would necessitate living somewhere with a garage, which would require moving some place that might not be the city, which is something that’s not entirely out of the question. I really like Zipcar, but there’s something about the act of making a reservation with an explicit end time and dollars attached that really kills the spirit of spontaneity, even if it is, overall, less expensive than owning a car.