Friday, March 18, 2011

Having Fun With Smart Car

              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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peretzklein said...

Nice pic Robin!

Robin Chapman said...

Thanks kindly. I'm glad you like the car.

Don Meuler said...

So cute! You belong together. :o)

Robin Chapman said...

You know, being irresistible is such a heavy burden, its a wonder that little car could carry me around.

Don Meuler said...

Your mileage may vary...

peretzklein said...

Well, if you're stopping traffic every where you go, it must be difficult for the other drivers.

Robin Chapman said...

A woman who can stop traffic. I'll take that as a compliment: and as to mileage ... I think I had better leave that one alone because I'm the one whose warranty has expired!

peretzklein said...

Expired warranty? Here's another compliment for you. There is no reason that a journalist of your caliber, past and present, with your connections, cannot land an evening nightly news anchor position if she wanted to. Deborah Roberts did it, and she had much less than you. It was a personal choice to leave that role,and you do appear to be quite content where you are for now. But your warranty is in no way expired; not intellectually, and certainly not in your physical presence, judging by your recent snapshot. There, I said it.

Robin Chapman said...

Enough already! Thank you all. Anybody have comments about the Smart Car? Seen them around? Driven one? Know anyone who has one? A guy in my town drives one with the personalized plate:
BNZ LITE Naturally I stopped him and asked him about it and he said he loved it for driving around on errands. Trouble is, I have my bicycle to do that, and that's the biggest gas saver of all. I think you would have to be a two-car family to get the best out of a Smart Car.

Lena said...

Thanks for the review. I kind of want a Smart Car and now I'm even more interested.

Robin Chapman said...

I think they start at something like $17k, so they are reasonable in price. If you get one, see if you can have it all decal-ed like the one in the ad on my sidebar.

Lena said...

Ha ha! Ya with puppy and kitty decals.

Robin Chapman said...

I don't know about cats and dogs but they have plaid ones. How about a tartan car?

Cory Ellis said...

Hey Robin! It was great meeting you. I am the rental agent who helped you at Enterprise! Thanks for the kind words. I will share with the other branches.

And remember: "Pick Enterprise, We will Pick you up!"

Robin Chapman said...

Hi Cory, I had a really good time with the car, as I guess you could tell. I accidentally ended up with the Smart Car manual, which I used for the blog post and forgot to return to the glove box. Where should I send the thing? I know the car didn't come from your branch, but somebody may want it one of these days!