more on my smart fortwo passion

Someone on Motortopia asked me some questions about the smart fortwo, well dang I thought I could really write something up on this, because it’s similar to the questions I was asking myself..

Though this reply is a bit long, I tend to like elaborating on all this, so hope you don’t mind reading! 🙂

On to the smart.. Some good questions. I have more experience with the whole octane issue in my last 2 modern cars, a Volvo XC70 and MINI Cooper S, so this is my reference on the MPG vs. fuel octane issue..

Since the new (higher compression) engine was designed for it, 91 octane is the preferred stuff. You can probably get away with using 89 (or alternate 89, 91) and the car’s ECU will compensate for this to some degree, but really, the lower octane gas ignites too early (right, pings) which means your mileage and engine performance will suffer, if not damage the engine over time. Thus, the same is probably true for the smart car. It’s so new that I haven’t put lower octane gas in it, so can’t really speak to that. On the other side (using higher octane than 91) you could mix it up with race gas or add octane booster, but it probably wouldn’t take advantage of it, and again since the catalytic converter and exhaust wasn’t built for it, may lead to oxygen issues later. That’s your basic engineering argument. What will we do if Ethanol takes off and we’re forced to use 85? I guess we’ll be buying a lot more additives to compensate.. not to mention drinking a lot less beer (since hops and barley crops are already suffering with all the Ethanol junk going on, but that’s another story).

Related to this is the transmission — I’ve read elsewhere that the engine was made by Mitsubishi, it’s a 3-cylinder 71HP 1.0L engine. I have driven a stick about the last 5 years so going to an automatic clutch takes some getting used to. You can let it shift by itself like any auto tranny car, or use the paddle shifters, or the +/- on the stick to shift. Oh I am off on a tangent, again! sorry bout that 😉

Mileage seems to be in the 40’s. Everyone else I talk to says they get 40-50 mpg, and the Euro import smarts (grey market, maybe?) will get either the same or better depending on what model and options are on it.

If you’re not used to getting good gas mileage it’s a bit weird, because you may think there’s something wrong with the car, actually, so you drive up to the gas station to refill just to make sure your gauges are working (and they are) it’s at the same time really satisfying and really dumb putting 2 gallons in, shrug, and drive off..

For me, as a media person, journalist, whatever, I get the opportunity to drive lots of cars and I’ve done numerous test drives with the smart. I have yet to pickup my own car and bring it home. There are more hills I need to conquer, that’s long passes up and down Highway One near where I live, and taking in some serious twisties, which I think it will do well, but will have to report on that later.

From the drives I have done so far, though, the car goes well on the open road, it’s nimble, it’s fairly quiet, the gear ratio seems well set for street and freeway driving.

I usually cruise around 70mph on Bay Area freeways. It has plenty of get up and go to pass someone, though it’s no muscle car in that department, off the line it’s a bit slow.. but then, it’s not made for spanking Corvettes on the straightaway either.. well, not without serious mods 😉 As with any new car, it takes a bit to find the car’s shifting “sweet spots”, but once you do, it’s fairly predictable and you can get faster shifting out of it.

I’ve driven all 3 models, but decided on a Passion. I like the idea of the polycarbonate roof (right, it is a roof, not a moon roof or sun roof.. strange concept, but I never opened the roof on my last 2 cars that had them anyway). When you’re on a nice drive you can slide back the cover thing and look up out the roof. When you want to block the sun, you close it. Works for me 🙂

The “Pure” truly exemplifies the word ‘base model’ and I can see rental car places snapping these up in bulk so that people can abuse them (er, rent them..) I know it’s essentially the same car, but it’s like every other car maker does with a decent run car, you can get the ‘economy’ bottom of the line base model, or you can get the ‘luxury’ model.

Sure the Pulse/Pure starts at $11,500 but by the time you add all the options, you’re better of getting the Passion anyway. Unless you REALLY want that sheet metal roof..

As far as horsepower, I think all the US models have the same engine spec, so there’s no performance advantage out of the factory, though the Passion and Passion Cabrio seem to handle better (it’s probably that the electronics and suspension is a bit tighter, which I prefer, though, you also feel bumps more of course..) That’s the differences between the models that I see. I bet you could remap the ECU to get more umph out of it. I planned to swap out the exhaust and intake, though the final US models sound beefier than the test ones we drive last year.

On the hills, the car has the same hill start assist that other Mercedes-Benz do. It has adequate climbing ability, torque is better than you would expect for that little engine.

That’s about it for my thoughts on the car. My delivery date approaches, so waiting.. waiting.. for that call to finalize the sale and pick up my smart.
Then the REAL test driving begins!

–Christopher ‘StarLord’

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