This past weekend the Sunday New York Times reviewed and generally panned the U.S. introduction of the Smart car’s Smart Fortwo. Lawrence Ulrich, the reporter, asserted that you would be better off buying a Honda Fit or a Nissan Versa, (he forgot to mention the Toyota Yaris). He also extolled the virtues of the Mini Cooper (one of which I have owned for over three years) relative to the Smart Fortwo.
Why? In short, for $15,000 all-in, you can get the same basic mileage, more passenger and storage room, and not be driving a 70 horsepower 3 cylinder stylized excuse for a riding lawnmower which takes 14 seconds to go 0-60 on the highway and is plagued by wind noise at high speeds.
Let me make the use case for the SmartCar.
First, do not take it on the highway. Second, do not attempt to go 60 miles per hour in it, even though you could. Third, none of the cars mentioned above can park in challenging, space constrained urban environments the way the Smart Fortwo can. Fourth, the other cars are not stylish or visually appealing—in fact they are visually disappointing. Fifth, I am selling my Mini Cooper because it gets 14.9 miles per gallon in the city, and I never drive it on the highway. Sixth, I am not getting a Prius because I live in a city where parking is difficult and the Prius, in addition to also being stylistically unappealing to my taste, has no parking advantage. [Remember, the Mini Cooper has the parking mojo and the looks but drinks gas like a BMW M5 in the city....]
Most important for my use case—I live in San Francisco, which makes all of the above very important.
I completely agree with the New York Times that the Smart car is contra-indicated if you are switching between the city and the highway, and most people are not able to switch cars depending on where they are going.
The Smart Fortwo gets 33 miles per gallon in the city, more than twice the mileage of my soon-to-be-history Mini Cooper. I will commute to my office and do all of my city driving in the Smart Fortwo. When I go to Marin or San Jose, I will drive a different vehicle built for the highway.
Result: I will reduce my gas consumption by 50%. My use case isn’t everyone’s, but if we all find ways to do our part, we could collectively be amazed at what happens. When it comes to energy conservation, every little bit does count!
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