Do smart’s tiny cars measure up?

Another way to solve the traffic problems of this country is to pass a law that only paid-for cars be allowed to use the highways.
~Will Rogers

There are several of smart’s little coupes running around town. You know, the little clown-car looking things.

I’ve mentioned the smart before. I like the concept…a little car made for running around town. It looks like it should be cheap and fuel-efficient. A breath of fresh air when compared to the Prius, although it still runs into the perception problem. You cannot be a person who just so happens to drive a smart no more than you can be a person who just so happens to drive a Prius.

But are they really a viable alternative to conventional vehicles? Let’s find out.

smart “pure coupe”

Price: $12,500
MPG: 33/41
Doors: 2
Seating Capacity: 2
Passenger volume: 45.7 cu. ft.
Luggage capacity: 7.8 cu ft.

Toyota Yaris

Price: $13,000
MPG: 29/36
Doors: 2 (4-door model available)
Seating Capacity: 5
Passenger volume: 84.6 cu. ft.
Luggage capacity: 9.3 cu ft.

Nissan Versa

Price: $11,300
MPG: 25/33 (manual 26/34)
Doors: 4
Seating Capacity: 5
Passenger volume: 94.3 cu. ft.
Luggage capacity: 13.8 cu ft. (sedan model)

The smart does have greater fuel efficiency. The price is comparable, but certainly not cheaper. It’s a nice car looking at the specs. Until, at least, you realize just how tiny the car really is (and that’s hard to tell just from the specs). You lose a lot of room in a smart to get that extra boost in efficiency.

And that’s the killer for me. I can pay a comparable price and get a little better mileage and drive a clown car, or I can take a hit in fuel efficiency (not terribly much, my own Versa has gotten 36 mpg before) and be able to fit more than two bags of groceries in it.

I’m unsure if this is a decision on smart’s part, or if it’s just a case of diminishing returns. The latter seems more likely. You can only strip so much off a car to get better mileage and most of the cheaper cars are tooled for fuel efficiency…if you can’t sell it on performance, you can always sell it on the mpg. So while smart makes interesting cars that will definitely appeal to a portion of car owners, they will probably never take the car world by storm…you don’t get enough bang for your buck out of them. Sorry, smart, I’ll stick with my Versa.

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One Response to “Do smart’s tiny cars measure up?”

  1. Samantha Joy Says:

    I think it’s partly a geographic issue. While the “Smart Cars” are in theory practical in any major city, in practice they’re going to work in NYC, Boston, Chicago, maybe in LA, and other major metropolitan areas that are tighter on space than, say, Houston or Dallas or Phoenix.

    They’re being bought not because they’re fuel efficient (folks would buy a Prius for that) but because they can fit in parking spaces that other cars can’t.

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