Thursday, August 13, 2009


A collateral benefit of the broken windscreen was that the repairers hand out free Smart half-cars while they replace your screen.

I had read enough reports on Smarts to know that it was going to be slow, noisy, bouncy, unstable & cursed with a slow & jerky automated manual gearbox.
Judged by the average new car, it was all of that, but not as much as I expected.

Note that this is not the current model.
For its intended urban/suburban usage, the performance is perfectly adequate & would never be an embarrassment.
It sounds too much like an old lawn mower when starting up or idling, but once on the move it is not particularly noisy & when pressed the engine noise is reminiscent of a Porsche 911.
This one had a few creaks & rattles, probably due to it not having one careful owner.
With such a short wheelbase, it unavoidably pitches sharply over speed humps taken slowly, but otherwise the ride is better than you would reasonably expect from its size & shape.
I would need to drive much further, faster & in different conditions before commenting on stability.
In normal circumstances it doesn't feel at all odd, but I would have serious doubts about coping with emergency avoidance manoeuvres or patches of ice & snow or standing water.
Certainly this is one vehicle which needs all the ESP it can get.

Then the gearbox.
I expected it to shift automatically, but this one only downshifted automatically to first gear after a stop or near stop and also shifted from 5th to 4th below about 40km/h.
Other shifts were manually triggered by the push-pull gear lever, against rather heavy spring loading.
The clutch is automated & the throttle is regulated during gearshifts.
The shifts on this example were not too rough but rather slow.
Clutch operation on starting was reasonable, but manoeuvring on slopes requires left-foot braking or use of the handbrake, to avoid sudden roll-back or sudden lurch forward.
This gearbox would be an irritation in long-term use, as it isn't automatic & doesn't do as good a job as the average user can manage with a manual gearbox.
Newer models are apparently better, and have an automatic mode.

Would I buy one?
No, I don't think so.
I think they have pursued shortness beyond the point of diminishing returns.
I like very small, light, efficient, economical cars, such as the Japanese Kei cars, but for me there is a best compromise somewhere around 3.5m length and I would not get any benefit from the extra compactness of a Smart.
Maybe if we lived in a city?
Which is not going to happen.
Being strictly a 2-seater would often be a nuisance & I would always have doubts about stability in an emergency.

If the question is "How to make the best car in 2.5m?" then they have done a very good job.
But I don't think that is the question for many people.

Parting thot: "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction." - Albert Einstein

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