Two years ago I made an automotive decision that most people would call me insane for doing. True, I may be insane, but I knew what I was getting into. I extensively researched the car, the brand, and all of its history before getting one of my own.
So what kind of car could possibly command scientific levels of research before making a purchase? How crazy am I? Well, I got a smart fortwo.
It all started in 2008 when I was just a wee little fifteen year old lad. My mum made a mention about looking at these things called "smart cars". I was thinking about some sort of sportscars decked out in touchscreens that also drove themselves. I was definitely in for an interesting surprise.
Instead of a regular car dealer, these cars were displayed and sold in a building that more closely resembled an art gallery. The cars were like a nerd's wet dream. Normal car parts packed into a tiny, yet ergonomical, spacious, vibrant, and even slightly luxurious space. Then icing on top of the cake in the form of being able to be nearly 100% recycled at the end of its life. And of course, being a city car, they're designed to take bumps and scratches without damage...and if you did damage the plastic panels, they were cheap to replace (this also offered the opportunity for cheap colour changes too).
The cars are actually a very smart concept if you think about it.
What took place in that dealership is what helped to cement my decision to get one of them four years later. And on March 6th, 2012...the next chapter of my smart romance novel began...
Driving a smart is unlike driving any other car. You feel like you're driving a Fisher Price Cozy Coupe for adults. The steering wheel doesn't adjust, but gives you direct road feel and inputs are precise. The thing even has a rear mounted engine and floor mounted pedals, it just screams go kart.
The first thing you notice in a smart is how big it actually is. The car will easily swallow some very hefty people with ease (something the iQ hasn't mastered) and relative comfort. The second thing you'll notice (and the thing everyone notices) is the transmission. I'll get right to the point...It's slow.
It's an automated-manual. The transmission is polarizing, either you'll hate it or you'll love it. Personally, I dislike its Automatic Mode (it's slightly infuriating), but Manual Mode is a delight and helps bring the car alive.
The suspension is also harsh, but no worse than my childhood school buses or rides in Jeep Wranglers.
Honestly though, while a smart can make a practical city car, what really makes this car is the experience of having one.
Every time you stop for petrol, people demand interviews about every aspect of the car. Once, I even had a guy say he'd pay me $20 for a test drive.
You may even get perks just for driving it. I can't count how many times I've gotten half price this and free that just because the business owner liked the car.
If you take it to car shows, you will gather a crowd as large as any classic Ferrari or Lamborghini. You might even win awards at small town car shows. And if you're a person that pays attention to their surroundings, you'll also notice that a lot of people like to stare, wave, even take pictures of the car.
But the real experiences are the owner rallies and conventions. Owners of smarts range from your typical college nerd, to master tradesmen and even executive business people. It's a diverse group of people that don't discriminate for anything really. I can't describe it, but it's like no other.
And the really awesome thing is, no two smarts are really ever the same...
The rallies make it worth it on their own...And ironically, in fair weather, these city cars don't do too bad on the Interstate...
These things are even fun to modify and maintain. You can install complete exhaust systems, cold air intakes, even turbochargers for much cheaper than many cars as there's not a whole lot of car to play with. I mean, who else can change their oil simply by reaching their hand under their rear bumper?
And did I mention that wide tyres almost completely eliminate understeer? The car becomes extremely grippy on good rubber.
This is one of those cars that you could feel excited to drive. It's a quirky little thing with tons of character. And it was awesome driving it all 41,000 miles over the past two years.
Of course, not everything about the car is all Lego Movie awesome. It has its faults and it's a VERY polarizing car - $400 Mercedes oil changes, the transmission (hate or love it), lousy dealer network, and even lousier customer service...to name a few... - but if you can get past them, it's actually a neat little city car. But like I said, it's really not the right car for a lot of people.
If I had to do it all again, I'd get myself the convertible model...
On a side note: Mercedes has taken note about the lack of seats and the transmission. The new cars will be available in either standard manual or dual clutch automated-manual and there'll even be a four door configuration.
Oh, just make sure you don't get shot...