We Try It: The Smart Car

Are you a single lady? Or a partnered lady with a paralyzing fear of pregnancy? Do you like dogs but feel like you’re really more of a cat person? Are you just, like, trying to save the planet, man, and keep your life simple by getting rid of all that consumer culture baggage? Are you really, really good at Tetris? I’ve got a car for you.

The aptly named Smart ForTwo is not unlike a clown car, seating two with room for groceries. Its little engine tops out at around 90 mph (if you’re going downhill) and gets anywhere from 35-41 miles per gallon. It is uniquely talented at hauling small quantities of small things, or small quantities of large things provided you know how to pack. It comes with bells and whistles should you want them. Mine has butt-warmers (a must-have for those grueling California winters), two clocks, a six CD changer and a plastic roof; it is the stuff of dreams.

Smarts became available in the United States in 2008, but they’ve been in production in Europe since the late 1990s. Categorized as “micro cars”, the Smart ForTwo will fit into any parking space. You might be in the car with me and you might say, “But Kate, only a scooter can fit in that parking space.” To you, skeptic, I would say, “Nay.” Parking in the Smart requires only Grade A Parallel Parking Skills (earned at San Francisco school of I Will Sue You If You Tap My Bumper) and a hearty dose of courage. And you better not be susceptible to stage fright, because it’s not uncommon for people to gather on the sidewalk and stare as you slip your car ever so daintily into a spot the size of a refrigerator.

You might look at a Smart car and think, “But Kate, isn’t that thing hella dangerous?” The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Smart ForTwo a “good” rating for front and side impact crashes, a rating I got to personally test with a 1990 Dodge Dakota. I was traveling on a two lane, windy mountain road and my passenger was very ill. I went to make a U-turn so he could barf in a turn-out instead of my car when suddenly we were struck! By a guy who had not been paying attention. We were T-ed by a pickup at 45 mph and not only were we totally fine, we were actually able to drive the car home where it was declared “totaled”. When I received the insurance settlement there was no question of what I would do with it; I had to buy another Smart.

Parking and safety aside, the Smart has its drawbacks. It is not appropriate for a family and is not safe for children in car seats.  It will not be very helpful if you need to move or take your partner and your giant dog to visit your family. It is an automatic car that rides like a manual, so it is not for those easily made carsick. It is not dissimilar to driving a go cart, which means you feel every pothole.

But you haven’t really known the feeling of accomplishment until you’ve fit something improbably large or ungainly into its small space or driven 2,000 miles from San Francisco, CA to Vancouver, Canada and back for less than $200.

Things I have fit in my Smart car:

–          Six teenagers

–          Two tracks bikes, enough clothes for a week of traveling and a passenger

–          Christmas gifts for three families, 10 days of clothing for two people, two very angry cats in carriers and a passenger

–          All of the Ikea furniture

–          6 cases of Widmer hefeweizen, two 5 gallon carboys, two 5 gallon buckets, and all the supplies needed to make beer in my kitchen

If you live in a city and would like to spend $25/month on gas, consider the Smart car.

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