Thursday, November 13, 2014

Alas poor Smart Car, we knew you well

If I was better versed in Shakespeare, or at least feeling more witty (I've been hampered with a cold for over a week now), I might try to craft some play on the line from Hamlet or compose a ridiculous ode to our Smart, but just now I can't whip my brains up to that sort of effort. Instead, I shall tell you, dear readers, what it was like to drive a Smart car for six years.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, perhaps in hindsight, purchasing a Smart car wasn't the smartest of decisions. We could never offer rides to friends if Andrew and I were going somewhere together (although we always said in an emergency we could fit someone in the back); and cargo space is limited. However, at the time Andrew and I were DINKs (duel income, no kids), and Ks weren't even a glimmer on our horizon, so we bought the car we wanted.

The 2008 Smart had some notable improvements over its 2006 predecessor, such as a 70 horsepower engine (double the original 35 horses). Having driven the 2006 a couple of times, I can say it was a vast improvement. In the older model you literally had to put the pedal to the floor to go anywhere, not so for the 2008. The interior had an upgrade as well making it more attractive and comfortable. Additionally, by the 2008 model, the Smart was no longer available in diesel (not that this was of much concern for me).

The Pros:
So, some pluses for the Smart? Well, one of the obvious was parking. We could fit into spots that no other vehicle could even consider maneuvering into--we also rarely needed to perform a 'proper' parallel park. Its size was a definite plus after we moved to the Boston area as parking spots can be hard to come by. Not to mention, in recent years, mall parking lots have started to mark out prime spots for small cars/hybrids/electrics, which although wasn't strictly necessary (I mean, we aren't disabled in anyway, we just drove a small car), I often made use of anyway. Linked closely with the parking benefit, you always knew where the Smart ended. There was no long nose to have to worry about bumping into things with, which made it easy to maneuver.

The other great advantage of the Smart was millage. In general, we don't drive much, so we could often go a month (or at least 3 weeks) between fill-ups, but that doesn't really indicate much. I think Andrew calculated that we could get around 45 miles per gallon, or  20 kilometers per litre (the tank capacity was around 8 gallons/30 liters). We've only had the Fit for a month, but so far we're not coming close to that sort of fuel economy.
Camping--before we headed off to hike the Jasper Skyline.
Camping--this summer on our way to Mount Monadnock.
Camping--this summer on our way home from Pillsbury State Park.
The Cons:
Okay, so lets go with the glaring con first, cargo space. There isn't a lot, although as you can see from the pictures, we often managed to fit more than one might have expected into the back. Really, your biggest enemy was long items. Cross-county skies, for examples, aren't very bulky, but they're long, so we'd have to nestle the tip of them down in the passenger-side leg area, and they'd stretch the length of the car. We were able to fit a plastic folding table in the car once (sorry, no picture). We had to slide it in along it's side in between the front seats, and as I commented to Andrew as we drove it home, he could have been naked over on his side of the car, and I never would have known.
The time we fit a cube freezer in the Smart.
The car with the cube freezer from the back.
The Christmas tree was 2/3 as long as the car.
There's a clear breaking point where the car shifts gears at around the 30 kpm mark. It actually accelerates pretty well up to that point, then you get a little kick back as the car hits the gear-shift. I don't recall any noticeable hiccups after that as you accelerate up to whatever cruising speed you were aiming for.

Hands down, the biggest problem we had with the Smart was the muffler--although from my understanding this isn't necessarily a problem unique to Smart cars, but just to small cars in general that are driven in cold, snowy climates. Shortly after our last camping trip I was out running errands when I noticed that our car sounded like a crotch-rocket-type motorbike. I suspected it was our muffler, and once we got around to hoping the car up on a curb it was clear, there was a hole. The most likely cause of this hole was due to snow getting caught in the muffler (and Heaven knows Edmonton does a terrible job of clearing its streets in the winter), the snow melting when we drove the car, then freezing again once we'd stopped. As one might imagine, such a cycle would not be good for metal objects. It was quite the hassle fix, which I won't get into, unless I can convince Andrew to write a blog post about the day-long marathon he and a friend spent fixing it (he was gone one Sunday from 9:30 am to nearly 9:00 pm).

The Unexpected:
I could comment again on how we were frequently able to get more into the car than one might imagine, but how about the fact that it actually has more head and leg space than one would expect. Andrew is about 6 feet tall, which certainly doesn't qualify him as giant, but it also means he's not short and he had spare space both above his head and beyond his toes. You also sit surprisingly high up in the Smart, so we never felt like we were inside a small car when we drove. Finally, despite the havoc the winter weather wrought on the muffler, the Smart handled snow conditions well. I don't think we ever felt unsafe in the car regardless of the weather, or where we were driving (ie city streets v. highway).

The Annoying:
Almost immediately after getting the Smart I noticed that the adjectives people would use to talk about what it must be like to drive around in a Smart car were not the same as what you might use if you were driving around in a van or truck. People would say things like: 'You can tootle around town.' Tootle? (Zip around was another one.) Imagine how an owner of a F-150 would respond to being told that they could tootle around in the truck.

Similarly, you get a lot of people asking things like: 'Is it safe?', 'Can you take it out on the highway?' Um, yes, and yes. It wouldn't be available in North America (never mind that the Smart is made by Mercedes) if it wasn't safe. It isn't a Tata, which from what I've heard is pretty much a death trap on wheels. And sure, the Smart's top speed is only 160 kph, but that's still sufficient to drive it on the highway. I mean, we drove the Smart across Canada and it was perfectly fine (never mind that we only had to stop for gas once a day).
The kitten, looking out the back of the car as we drove across Canada (we were, of course, stopped when I took this picture).
Finally, people (especially children) stare and point at the Smart. Yes, even years (8 years, I think) after they first appeared on the North American market many people still seemed react as though they've never seen a Smart car before. I never really minded this and I'm actually a little sad that our new car won't attract the same attention the Smart did--but at least the Fit is bright yellow.

So those are my thoughts on driving and owning a Smart car. We did know it well, and we'll miss it, a little bit too.



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