Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 11, 2006
The smart car makes for fun and safe driving
Mercedes-Benz crafted a vehicle that saves cash, generates smiles
By SUZANNE ELSTON
There are some amazing things about the Mercedes-Benz smart car that makes it so smart. It isn't just its remarkable fuel-efficiency, even though its combined fuel rating of 4.2 litres/100 km (or 67 miles to the gallon) makes it one of the most environmentally responsible cars currently available. Nor it is just smart's innovative tridon safety cell design and crash management system that make it one of the safest small vehicles to drive.
Cute but costly
While the Smart car is just about the tiniest car on the road today, it isn't the cheapest. The base sticker price of $16,700 doesn't include such fundamental options as air-conditioning or even a coffee-holder. The fully-loaded, top-end cabriolet Pulse model (which includes a convertible roof and Brabus enhancements) comes in at a cool $27,300, before taxes, freight and PDI.
The most amazing thing about the smart car is that it has the power to change the way we drive and how we interact with other cars on the road.
I recently had the opportunity to witness the magic of the smart car first hand after test-driving one for a couple of days. I picked the car up at Mercedes headquarters in Toronto, and after a brief driving lesson was on my way.
Although I've driven most everything from VW bugs to mid-sized trucks, getting behind the wheel of the smart car was a unique driving experience.
Once I finally got a handle on the transmission (an odd, rough hybrid that provides three, clutchless driving options), I spent a few hours driving around Toronto.
Summer means road construction. Being unfamiliar with which roads were currently being worked on meant that I spent a fair bit of time sitting in traffic. Rather than being a frustrating experience, this was where I first began to witness the smart car's magic. Spaces miraculous opened up for me in long-traffic lines and people even stopped to let me in when they had the right-to-way.
My next experience with the smart's magic was when I parked at a municipal parking lot to do a few errands. I didn't have change to feed the meter and, given that I was only counting on being a couple of minutes, I decided to take a chance.
Like everything else in Toronto, it took longer than I had anticipated and by the time I returned to the car, there was a ticket on the windshield. I was surprised to discover that I had been given something called a Courtesy Charge - a friendly warning that "repeated issue of courtesy charges could result in the issue of a parking infraction notice." Wow. The cute little car even earned the respect of the meter maids!
During my entire afternoon in Toronto, I only saw one other smart car, which appeared in my rear view mirror during afternoon rush hour. I was busy waving to its driver when I noticed a large black shadow approaching on our right. A full-sized black Hummer, complete with smoked-out windows, pulled alongside us, stretching more than twice the combined length of our vehicles.
I gulped and looked over at the driver. A young man, almost as big and scary looking as his Hummer, leaned out his window, flashed a giant smile and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up as he sped off. Like I said, magic.
Highway driving was my next experience. The smart car's tiny three-cylinder, turbo diesel engine seemed surprisingly well suited for the task. The car accelerated easily to 130 km/hour (I was just testing) and handled beautifully in traffic.
I couldn't help but notice that my smart car was taking about one-third the space of just about every other vehicle on the road. I tried to imagine what would happen to rush hour congestion if everyone drove a smart car.
Safely home, I spent the next two days taking just about everyone I know for a test drive. They loved it. And everywhere I drove, other drivers waved, pedestrians pointed and smiled. The overwhelming consensus: the smart car is intelligent fun.
I even managed to convince a friend who works for one of the major North American automakers to come for a drive. Initially he was rather reluctant, but after cruising around with the roof open for a few minutes, the smart car started working its magic on him, too. At the end of our test drive, while he was still beaming, I asked him was why his company wasn't making a smart vehicle.
His thoughtful answer, "Yeah, indeed why not?"There's hope for us yet.
For more on the smart car, visit www.smartcar.ca.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.