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Clever Changes Not all that much has changed in five years, but all changes do seem to be for the better. Now, Smart cars have an actual glove compartment! Yes, that’s a small thing, but what do you expect? My model has a box under the driver’s seat that holds documents and the space normally occupied by the glove compartment in my car contains only an air bag. Now, they’ve figured out how to have both at a small cost in passenger space. If you have not actually sat in a Smart car, it may be hard to appreciate that there is passenger room to spare! I suppose there are people who measure such things, and I’d be willing to bet that the ratio of total volume to useable passenger volume is higher in a Smart than in other vehicles. They are incredibly well designed. I would go so far as to say they are very Smartly designed. The shocks in the new Smart are better than in my five year old model, and I think that is probably a result of an improvement in the new model rather than five years of wear on my car. Mine is our family’s second car and has quite low mileage. The new model also shifts more smoothly, but this is a relative term because there is nothing smooth about the Smart’s automatic gear change: to the uninitiated, every gear changes feels as if the car has run out of gas for a fraction of a second, and then springs back to life. The new model still feels that way, but less so. It also has a much better sound system, GPS navigation, excellent Bluetooth phone synchronization, cup holders and can play music and even video from a memory chip. I didn’t try to play video. The Need for Speed And it’s gutsier; some would say “less gutless.” There is no trouble in getting to 120 km/hr on a freeway. Reviews of $100,000 cars like to say that 120/km/hr feels like 40 km/hr.

In a Smart, 120 feels like 120 – but not 240. The new model has paddle shifters on the steering wheel – just like racing cars! They are a nice novelty, I suppose, but not really sufficient to cause Ferrari any concern. On the other hand, you could buy a Smart for each of your friends for the price of one Ferrari. Last summer they organized a Smart rally to the Yukon just to prove it could be done, but long distance driving will never be the main purpose of this little vehicle. Soon an electric model is coming out which I see as acknowledgement that the core use of Smarts is for city driving. I’m fine with that, but it’s nice to be reminded that my Smart’s performance is more than acceptable on the open road. One day I may decide to forget the shopping and drive to Whitehorse. The Big Three Highway driving, interior space and safety are the three reservations that people who don’t know Smarts have about them. The designers anticipated those things, I checked them all out five years ago. To me they are old news and I like their solutions. For two people, the space is equal to and more convenient than something like a Mercedes SL65 which costs about 12 times as much as the Smart I test drove (and has four times as many cylinders). In a Smart you sit quite high and you have a great view of the road. For safety, the big deal is the one piece frame that all those German and Swiss engineers obsessed about for years. If you get a kick out of this sort of thing, there are plenty of crash test videos on-line. The dummies usually survive. Most important to the interior space, and frankly to everything about a Smart, is not the statistics, but the feeling. It just feels quite big enough. My car has a retractable roof. The new one we test drove has a roof that is mostly glass, so even in February, it gives a nice bright, non-claustrophobic feeling. Keeping Them Both I admit that emotions played a large part in my decision to buy a Smart. As with all emotional decisions, what’s right for one person, is never right for everyone. I probably would not want everyone on the road to have a Smart anyway. I have no regrets at all about my purchase five years ago, but I’m not inclined to upgrade. My five year old Smart still gives me a combination of good feelings and practicality that works for me. I’m also not trading in my husband. Yes, I think he will read this. The base price for a 2012 Smart car is $13,990. The model we tested has a MSRP of $20,315.

Janet Heisey is not an automotive journalist. The largest of her three children is 6’4” and shows no signs of becoming too big for her Smart car.

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