Why I Love My Smart ForTwo– A Rebuttal of Two New York Times Reviews of the Passion Coupe


I now officially beg to differ with two mis-guided New York Times reviews of the Smart ForTwo. While I do agree with much of the actual driving experiences cited, the odd thing is that both reviewers seem to be looking for reasons to say that, despite many positive elements, ‘something is terribly wrong with this picture.’ One of the reviews, by Lawrence Ulrich, was written for the New York market;the other , by Eric Taub, was the result of a test-drive in the Los Angeles market.

For example, Taub writes:

The interior has two supportive and attractive seats and a small shelf behind them, and that’s it. A clock and a tachometer, whimsically mounted like crustacean eyes on the fabric-covered dash, were cute and easy to read. The shelf is large enough to carry one standard suitcase and a carry-on bag, but not much else. You can increase carrying capacity by folding the passenger seat forward, though that requires pulling a lever awkwardly placed between the seats. My wife summed it up best: “This is a car for people without much of a life.”

In the mileage department, the Smart also failed to live up to expectations. Even with its tiny engine, the two tankfuls of gas consumed while I had the car worked out to readings of only 30 and 34 miles a gallon. That was less than the 36 m.p.g. E.P.A. rating for combined city/highway driving, and certainly not “amazing” as Smart’s press materials proclaim.

OK. If I lived in Los Angeles I would not own a Smart ForTwo. Why not? Because Los Angeles is full of freeways and the ForTwo is definitely not a freeway vehicle. To be clear, Mr. Taub’s wife could make the same point by saying, “This is a car for people who have more than one car and don’t need the ForTwo to do any serious freeway driving.” Last time I looked, there are a lot of places in America that don’t suffer from LA’s lack of urban planning where people still need to drive to get around.

Another criticism raised in both reviews is the lurching that occurs in the automatic transmission’s shifting cycle. I concede this is an issue, but a small one. You can switch to ‘manual assisted’ mode and wind out the transmission yourself much more smoothly than the D setting. I think that’s fun, but I can see why many would not want to deal with it. My 16 year-old daughter has no trouble driving it in normal automatic mode without inducing passenger vertigo– the key is to accelerate gradually, which minimizes any lurching.

Not only did I drive my ForTwo on Interstate 280 at 65 miles per hour without incident, the “ intrusive wind noise” cited by Lawrence Ulrich’s review is a fiction. To be clear, the car is maxed out at speeds over 60 miles per hour and you can certainly feel it,. I wouldn’t want to face down an 18-wheeler coming the other way at 60 miles per hour on a two lane road in the Smart, nor would I want to do the slalom test in a Smart car (I would worry about rolling it ).

But I had no problem putting a carry-on suitcase and my briefcase in the storage area with room to spare. I had no problem doing errands like going to the dry cleaners and the grocery store. The car is incredibly easy to drive in the city. I have yet to put any gas in the car, so I am going to calculate my exact mileage and post it on the blog when I experience my first visit to the gas station.

Again, Taub of The New York Times concludes “the consensus was that a car this size should go 50 to 60 miles on each gallon. Learning that premium fuel is recommended was an added downer.” Well, with its form factor the Mini Cooper should at least do 40 to 50 miles per gallon—instead it does under 15 miles per gallon in the city and under 30 on the highway. And the Prius should look really cool…

I’ll trade my $15,000 Smart ForTwo in for the next version that does 50 miles per gallon or for the all-electric version that I’m sure is in the works. In the meantime, I’m at least doing something to change my behavior and to be more efficient in my energy consumption. What are you doing?

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