HappyBeagle.com Road Test: The Smart fortwo Coupe

(Click on any of the pictures to get a larger version of that image.)

Welcome to the HappyBeagle.com automotive department -- where we review the exotic, high-performance automobiles that you just can't get in the United States. For this episode, we'll be reviewing the Smart fortwo Coupe. We rented the diesel-engined (packing a whopping 41 HP) "passion" model; you can get one from your local Smart dealer for 12,095 Euro, without accessories.

The Smart coupe has two main selling points: terrific gas mileage, and (most important in a city environment) the fact that it's small enough that you can park it anywhere -- stuff it in the space between two normal-sized cars! Park it in the gap between the last parked car and a driveway! Park it up on the sidewalk!

Front and rear views of the car. With sixti's tasteful, understated advertising, only the observant can tell that it's a rental car!
The spacious interior (which has a far better driving position for tall people than Shelby's Miata, the only two-seater I'm familiar with).

The rear window pops open to give you access to a vast amount of behind-the-seat storage space -- the only storage space there is!

A closer look at the dashboard. You can just manage to peg the Smart's speedometer at its topmost speed of 140 km/h (84 mph); with the slightest bit of strong wind, anything above about 120 km/h (72 mph) feels pretty sketchy. After only a short while on the Autobahn, my wrists began to feel sore from constantly having to provide sudden sharp course corrections as the car was pushed about.
A clock and tachometer sprout out of the top of the center console like eyestalks from an alien dashboard-being. You can spin them around to face any direction you'd like.
The tachometer remains important with the Smart's hybrid part-manual, part-automatic transmission. In manual mode, you push the stick forward to shift up a gear, and pull the stick back to shift down. The transmission has a certain amount of intelligence, to make driving a manual less tedious and to save you from yourself; it automatically downshifts at stoplights, and if you keep the accelerator pressed down without shifting, it'll eventually shift into the next highest gear.

In the middle of the speedometer is a gear indicator that occasionally changes into an up-arrow or a down-arrow when it thinks you should shift up or down; follow its recommendations, and you'll be redlining a lot (it was insistently blinking down, down, down while I was travelling at 80 mph in sixth gear).

Press the button on the side of the stick to turn the car into the world's clunkiest automatic.

Quick review of sixti.de (our automotive source for this review):

As you can see if you visit their website (or from the giant stickers plastered across our rental car), Sixti likes to lead you on with their "from 5 Euro/day" tagline. The key word here is from -- here are some of the things preventing you from getting the magic 5 Euro rate:

  • The price of the rental depends on how far in advance you book the car. The later you book, the more expensive the price -- you may have to book up to two months in advance to get the five Euro rate!
  • The rental only includes 100 km (60 miles) mileage per day. Go farther, pay more. In my case, I burned a significant amount of kilometers just getting from the Sixti office to the Autobahn across town. (Only those high-cost, all-the-frills rental car agencies have more than one office per city.)
  • Due to their low-staff, low-service, low-price model, you have to return the car clean inside and out, or you're charged an extra 15 Euro. Scout's Hundehotel is at the end of a dirt road -- so today, even though it was raining, I had to take my Smart through a gas-station car wash before the Sixti office would accept it penalty-free.
Small dog in small car.

This page last modified on Tuesday, April 06, 2004
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