Associating with it may not make one smarter, but it will make one use a lot less gasoline.
The entire city of Birmingham, Alabama, was plumb out of rental cars for reasons I still don't understand. (Spring Break, everyone said: though what that has to do with rental cars I'm still not sure.)
But Enterprise, the nice people who will drop you off and pick you up, came through for me. Still, they were apologetic: it is the last rental car in Birmingham, they told me and pointed, with some dismay, to the white, 2009 Smart Car in the adjacent lot. It was not the electric version. It took real gasoline. Just like a car.
At the rental place, I met my first Smart Car.
I was delighted. I've wanted to test drive one of them since I saw all the cool Smart Car colors and designs being advertised in the SF Bay Area.
I had seen these cars in Europe in the 1990s. They were then called "Swatchmobiles" and had been developed at the instigation of the Swatch Watch founder. He was aiming at the car market that included the same, young, hip, energy conscious young people who were nuts for his watches. After a partnership with Volkswagen failed, he joined up with Daimler Benz.
If you want to attract attention: this is your car. Lots of people stopped me when I was getting into or out of the Smart Car and asked me about it. How much mileage does it get? Is it fun to drive? Why did I have it? A big truck driver stopped his truck and came over to the car and had my cousin roll down the window so he could ask about it.
The Smart Car visits the central park near the library in downtown Birmingham.
Mine had an option called "smartshift® transmission," which is similar to the tiptronic transmission I once saw in a Porsche. Under the left hand side of the steering wheel, you click a deal to shift down, and on the right hand side, you click to shift up.
Since lots of the other controls are also on the steering wheel and its environs, I got the windshield wipers going quite frequently when I meant to shift up into third. But otherwise, learning to drive the thing was a snap. (Uh oh, there goes the back windshield wiper, again.)
You could park one on a sidewalk, if the police would let you--they're that small.
Going up and down hills, I won't say the Smart Car exactly zipped along. Chugged might be more like it. But on the freeway, flat out, I had no trouble dashing in and out of traffic in fifth gear.
Its one liter, three cylinder, 71-horsepower engine doesn't have much heft to move around, thank goodness. The car only weighs about 1800 pounds: one of the lightest cars on the road. Mine had a good radio and air conditioning that would blast you out of the car--though using it probably didn't help me on those hills.
The dome-like roof gave me a little more sun than I like, but it does give the car great visibility. Which is good because the car is small enough that one wouldn't want to miss seeing another, larger, vehicle, and having to test the efficacy of the plethora of airbags the Smart Car contains.
I thought the car was a bit noisy inside. But that is probably being a little picky.
We did hit a pothole, at one point, and I was afraid I might lose the car in it. But that was the City of Birmingham's fault, not the fault of the Smart Car.
Though the brand is Daimler, Mitsubishi builds the engine. The car reportedly will get about 40 miles to the gallon, though I cannot swear by that figure, because I wasn't able to drive mine enough.
Even though it sounds a bit more like an Italian motor scooter than an automobile, I liked the little car. It isn't like every other boring car on the road today. And getting 50 miles to the gallon right now is an attractive prospect. Its maximum speed is 90-mph, and I haven't gone faster than that in at least, oh, a month or two.
Don't know if I'll buy one, but I wouldn't turn one down. And it was lots of fun to test drive this unique take on the car of the future.
Not that Porsche I always wanted ... but much more efficient, and German too.
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