New York Times Rips Smart Fortwo

If the diminutive Smart ForTwo is going to succeed in America, it will need to make a strong showing in New York City—where driving distances are minimal and parking opportunities are scarce. But according to New York Times reviews of the Smart car, the cute little two-seater from Mercedes is already dead in the water.

Auto critics Lawrence Ulrich and Eric A. Taub, who tested the Smart ForTwo on the streets of New York City and Los Angeles, clearly had a lot of fun playing the role of schoolyard bullies ganging up on the 3-cylinder 1-liter Smart, the smallest car sold in America. Don Rickles would be proud:

  • “Sure, the Smart is cute, if you enjoy cars from the Weebles school of design.”
  • “The dreadful 5-speed automated manual transmission shifts awkwardly and slowly. It may be enough to make you reach for the Dramamine.”
  • “You could practically squeeze a half-inning of baseball into the maddening delay between the release of one gear and the engagement of the next.”
  • “The Smart has been described as fun to drive by some reviewers, but other than showing taillights to the neighborhood riding mowers, I don’t see it.”
  • “The experience [of driving the Smart on the highway] was akin to crossing the upper level of the George Washington Bridge in a 1960s Volkswagen Beetle on a windy day.”
  • “The [storage] shelf is large enough to carry one standard suitcase and a carry-on bag, but not much else…My wife summed it up best: “This is a car for people without much of a life.”

Worst of all, what’s billed as the two biggest advantages of the Smart ForTwo—good fuel economy and the ability to easily park—are non-starters for the reviewers. They only managed to achieve fuel economy in the low-30s. And, Urlich points out, New York City’s parking department won’t allow the Smart to park motorcycle-style by parking perpendicular to the curb.

The consensus was that “this trendy twerpy ride” will enjoy strong sales at first, but after the word gets out about “limited carrying capacity, seemingly mediocre fuel economy, erratic handling and fitful acceleration,” the Smart ForTwo “will begin gathering tiny pieces of dust in showrooms.”


  • 38mpg

    This was expected. You can get mileage in the upper 30s in Corolla/Yaris/Civic/Fit/Aveo etc. Why bother to spend extra $$?

    In my experience cars sold in the US has lousy manual transmissions. Manual transmissions in the cars sold in India is silky smooth. They are very rough in the US. May be because there are not many customers for manual trannies in the US.

  • Myron

    these smart fortwos are not cheap either. many selling for 20-30% over MSRP:

    http://pricehub.blogspot.com/2008/05/smart-car-pricing-premiums-revisited.html

  • Tim Fostik

    Hard to disagree with the article. I think the SMART makers realized that people in the US do indeed want “smaller” cars. Yes, smaller, but with that we want even better fuel economy and the feel of a regular car.

    The Prius and HCH have achieved that. People would drive that thing .. clunky as it might be .. if it was the top MPG model on the market. If it even got 1mpg better than the Prius it would sell. If it was electric it would sell. It seems like they made a very bad strategic choice in design.

    36mpg is pathetic. It’s within range of some Chevrolets, for crying out loud.

    I’ll wait for the next-gen Prius and honda dedicated hybrid. We’re going to top 70mpg soon, but unless we see something dramatic out of detroit, it looks like Toyota and Honda will continue to dominate this market.

    What a shame – the SMART car already had brand-recognition. They just had to produce something Americans would drive. It appears they’ve failed.

  • Dom

    They brought the wrong version to the US. They should have brought the diesel version – it gets much better fuel economy (I think like 70 something). I believe they sell this version in Canada. (or course, I’m sure the CARB nazies have something to do with this.) And the fact that I see a lot of Yaris and Fits with a proper manual says there still are a few people will to make the huge effort of shift gears themselves (that’s sarcasm if you missed it), so they should have put in a proper 5speed manual with a driver operated clutch. It’s really not that hard. Even in the city. I do it all the time. And I’m not some superhuman or athlete or anything.

  • Armand

    Honestly….who gives a damn what these two dudes have to say about the Smart. This is only the beginning and a very CORRECT step in the right direction…something that Americans seem to have complete lack of understanding for them.

    What needs to change more than even the cars in this country are people’s pathetically limited attitudes. Even if the Smart doesn’t get the best fuel mileage, it’s still smaller, takes less resources to build, is easier on traffic in congested areas, makes parking easier, is cheaper to maintain, etc etc….all those things that don’t seem to register in egocentric SUV driving morons.

    I’ll take the opinion of a European reviewer anyday anyway…they’ve been dealing with congested areas and narrow streets far longer than any arrogant New Yorker has. Forget NY anyway….they still dont’ realize they are not the center of the universe…thank God.

  • steved28

    I’m sorry Noz, but paying $22,500 for this car (per Myron’s link, $1000 less than I paid for my hybrid Altima), to get less room, less HP, no tax credit, lower mileage, harsher shifting (I have a CVT). Does not sound smart to me in any way.

  • DRoss

    We want everything Instant. We have grown up in a instant world and time. Just add milk, just add water, just nuke it, just push 1 button. We also live in a disposable world, just buy, use, dispose of it.

    We don’t have the patients for something like the Smart fortwo. We are tired of the stuggle for better mpgs. We have had cars for about a 100 years now, and this is the best mpgs man can achieve?

    At lest there is a company trying to build a car that will fill the slot as an answer to the fuel problems we face, with out charging something redicules like $100k, or having to wait a 1-3 year/s before it gets here.

    I think the Smart fortwo is just a trial test vehical. I suspect they will improve it with a better transmission, and better mileage on the next one or other models. If their truly Smart. I would.

  • dross

    P.S.

    Has anyone considered the price tags on a new hybrid like the prius. Has anoyone considered the price of gas going up and up and up yet. 1 of the purposes of the smart fortwo is to provide a means to get from point A to B with out paying out the rearend for fuel. Im glad I dont drive an SUV. Like Noz said, (it is a step in the right direction). Something other companies are not even trying very hard to do TODAY.

  • Need2Change

    One step at a time. Smart will soon sell a hybrid in Europe and has showed two other hybrids in car shows — one a diesel hybrid that gets over 90 mpg. They also are developing an all electric version.

    Don’t kill them becasue of first U.S. effort.

    Unfortunately, the hybrid first going on sale must have been engineered by GM. It’s similar in design to the Malibu/Saturn (belt driven) and only improves mileage by about 6-10 percent.

    That said, I’d by a Honda Fit before I bought the Smart Car.

  • Shines

    $22500 for a Smart is about $6K over retail of the delux model. I’d say whoever paid that much got ripped off.
    Otherwise I agree with Noz.

  • Erik

    We love our new smart for two. We only paid $16K out the door and my wife gets 40+ mpg. I also have a new Honda Civic Hybrid that gets just about the same milage but cost $7,000 more! I find it odd that these “auto experts” don’t like a car that is “outside the box” & gets the third highest milage in the US. Most of us drive alone to work, so why drive a tank. We also have never had any issues with the stoage area which is larger than my wife’s old new turbo beetle. If you want a smart drive one and ask other smart owners about their cars. When we have a choice between my Honda, our Porsche 911 SC and the smart for weekend drives we almost always take the little smart. It is truely is a blast to dive and it gets more attention than my ’35 Ford Hot Rod did.

  • Old Bald Guy 2008

    If I am reading these posts right, the Smart is getting ONLY low 30 something mpg and people are paying $22,000 and up for them … and it is the size of a shopping cart. (like the original Honda 600 car from the late 60′s) Also, I am reading that the transmission seems to be a sore spot with some people, etc., etc.

    I bought a Toyota Prius recently … for about $23,000 … nicely equipped, it’s listed as a 5 passenger mid-size car, and I am getting 52 mpg with less than 1,000 miles on the odometer. The Prius DOESN’T HAVE a transmission to cause problems. It also doesn’t have some other expensive things other cars have problems with. I can cruise at 80 mph and top speed is over 100.

    Even if I could buy a Smart for half of what I paid for my Prius … I wouldn’t. My Prius has comfortable room for 4 adults and luggage, a good ride, 20 mpg BETTER GAS MILAGE than the Smart, and it’s a good freeway car.

    Perhaps the Smart will follow in the footsteps of Honda … start with a bad joke of a tiny car … and within 40 years become one of the best cars in the world. While waiting, I will drive what already is proven to work … with very good milage and a partial zero emissions rating.

  • Old Bald Guy 2008

    I just looked at the specs for the Smart on their official website. Anyone notice that the Smart requires PREMIUM gas … minimum 91 octane?

    Perhaps some of the gripes about milage maybe from someone sticking REGULAR gas in … and having the engine computer try to compensate for the low octane by adjusting the ignition timing … and losing a big chunck of horsepower.

  • VaPrius

    I was hoping for a lot better mileage. I’d sacrifice the space, and pay a little more. But it better get a lot better mileage, even for the gasoline version.

  • mdensch

    I’ve read reviews of the SMART car in three other magazines and their findings are more or less consistent with these. One reporter noted that many people who looked at it over-estimated the mileage (some thought it should be as high as 80mpg) and under-estimated the price (some guessed around $8000).

    If it had hit the market with numbers approaching those, it would make sense. As it is, a fair number of high quality cars — the Honda Fit comes to mind — cost less, offer far more room and get nearly the same mileage. This is a car engineered by Mercedes and built in France which doesn’t bode well for its reliability, either.

    Its real strength is its small footprint which solves some of the challenges of driving/parking in a dense urban environment. But should we try to meet those challenges by building smaller cars so we can jam more of them into urban centers or should we be looking at other solutions instead?

  • JCampagnola

    I just purchased a Smart Passion from Smart Center Manhattan. After 1 week of owning it is is already in for repairs. The lack of customer service is ghastly unbelievalbe!

  • Max Reid

    How much money did those reviewers get from Oil companies.

    Come on guys, gas prices are $ 3.71 / gallon with no end in sight.
    Smart does have a role for many who want to go around with a small car and the low 30′s is much better than low Teens of those Crown Vic / Grand Marq / Linc Towncar ….

    During a trip to NYC few months ago, I saw Hybrids of all types in Cabs, hope they get a hold of few Smarts as well. After all most of the time, only 1 passenger go in Cabs. Diesel Smarts will definitely get the Return on Investment.

  • Carroll

    They also debunk a few myths about the Smart, including one that the Smart has been a big success in Europe. In fact, it has been a financial failure and sells poorly.

  • rose davis

    I think that those cars are great . But the cost to make one of them is not hat expense of. People need to know that car companies understand the economy today and that it is not going to get better overnight. So they have to have a way that anyone even the people that can not afford to buy one out right, a way that they can, then you will soon find out just what that can do for the sells for their company.

  • Anonymous

    I agree…. frankly, the smart is a blast to drive….one just needs to drive it for a bit and understand it…. tranny that is….I’ve got one on order that won’t be in til december :( but city carshare here in SF has 2 of em. Ive been driving them when I can. With the tranny, i found that if i let off the gas, shift and hit it again…. sorta like a real clutch, it will really whiz…. and this in in the hills of SF, thank you! Anyhow, I DO wish they brought the diesel and real manual…. but I still cant wait to get mine!!!

  • Erik

    The smart uses far fewer resources to manufacture than the larger cars, has a smaller environmental footprint and still is the 3rd highest mileage car in the US. I guess if you need four seats for your “carpool” commute a Yaris of Fit would work better. However, on my drive to the office I see very few multi-passenger vehicles. I like to be different from the crowd and have never been accused of being a lemming. My ’08 Honda Civic Hybrid is practically invisible on the road; that can not be said for our smart fortwo. My wife loves her little car and we have had no problems with it. She commutes 70 miles a day round trip on the freeway and gets 45+ mpg, which is pretty close to what I get with my HCH II. The costs stated on this string are not MSRP; you can buy a smart pure w/ air for just over 12 large. That sure seems to be closer to half a PriusII or HCH II and thousands cheaper than a Fit or Yaris. The passion trim level smart comes with almost every option you can put on a FIT or Yaris and still costs less than $15K.

  • ADVILL

    30,000 DEPOSIT PAID SALES WAITING FOR A CAR…….IS IT A FAILURE?.

    I heard all the bla…bla…bla… about the wind, the uphills,the manual transmission ( which is mistically misterious for americans), Swiss use it with snow, wind,fog,ice etc………maybe the problem is that “average american ” (over 220 pounds) don´t fit in the car…..rest of the world can.

  • ScottJ

    I don’t know where you all are getting your price and mileage info from.
    The 2008 gets 41mpg highway and a fully outfitted cabriolet is $16-17k. The parking issue is NY’s fault. It’s a strange city anyway. You can get a converted Canadian version into the U.S. for about $25-30k.

  • stealth

    As an owner of the smart fortwo (71bhp), over in the UK, I’m in a good position to talk about them (451 pure model). I would like to pass comment about the gear change as I’ve had a eureka moment in the past week. I also used to think the gear change was awful – its not.

    Basically I have learned the correct speeds to change gear. It now has progressed from an attempt to shake ones own head off each time to an almost seamless gear-change. Being in the UK we use Miles Per Hour as our indicator of speed and I’ve not had the chance to convert to KPH but for you fortwo owners here are my ‘magic numbers’ for smooth gear changes. 11,15,21,30

    I’m not convinced they are exactly right yet but my ride has improved greatly. Theres nothing wrong with the gears, you just gotta be ‘smart’ in the way you change them.

  • Danf

    I think most of the high mileage reported in Europe is the diesel version. Also you should realize that the gallon in Europe is the Imperial gallon not the US gallon. The Imperial gallon is 1.2 times larger than the US gallon.

    There is no doubt they should of offered the diesel version in the US along with the gas version but this car is a step in the right direction for some people in the US.

  • NS Boyce

    I was a big fan of the Smart when the American versions were announced last year. However, after driving one at the hands on tour and reading the new fuel economy numbers, I’m not as impressed as I once was.

    Given the history of the Smart and the european models, I was surprised to hear that the U.S. model would be based on a naturally aspirated gasoline engine. The Euro-spec models obtain almost 60-70 MPG with the 3-cylinder turbo diesel. I think it was poor judgement to release the model with only 30-32 MPG average and have only space for two and have the limited cargo capability.

    With a car this small, by design you need to exceed the current level of fuel economy standard (Currently the Prius) if you’re going to compromise on performance and space. As soon as the turbo diesel gets to the states, we’ll be in a better position.

  • Ansel F

    I think it’s pretty clear from the article these guys were probably punching the gas trying to test acceleration. That kind of driving style is going to ruin gas mileage. All their other complaints are aesthetic. When gas is $10/gallon (soon) you’ll be glad you have one of these. We Americans are going to have to give up our wasteful car preferences.

    There are plenty of people who live in NYC, and have a life, who don’t even have a car. To say this is a car for people with not much of a life – what do you do, spend your life in your car?? That doesn’t sound like much of a life to me…

  • Humungus

    Prosternez-vous tous devant la smart et allez vous faire super super mettre !

  • SergentPtiteBite

    Roberto en forssse !

  • Smartgayz85

    Wesh !

  • dangerous

    Nice feedback from people who experienced this Smart Car, and I hope they would be effective until the gas problems stop. I’ll just write it in my Auto Journal.

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  • One SMART Driver

    Three years and still going! Love my SMART Car! I have been from NYC to New Orleans…and back in my SMART. Additionally, I have had 4 adults (Americans over 40 yrs old) in the car , at the same time and the ones in the back were happy for the ride. To each his/her own, but I wouldn’t trade mine in for the world. While everyone else is paying $70 – $100 to fill up, I come in under $27 and I only fill up every 10-14 days. Oh did I mention, I never spend more than a moment looking for parking on Manhattan streets at any time of the day. Choice is yours and whatever you choose is fine by me.

    PS To the wife who surmised that someone with a SMART Car doesn’t have much of a life, I suspect my life and disposable income not only rival yours, they likely out measures yours.

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