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trinacriabob

The Smart car got somewhat smarter - 2 rental reviews in 1

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So, the Smart came ... and stayed.  It's not something that came and went.  I will say something right off the bat - with their small size and automatics, they are a dream to park or squeeze through narrow spaces if in Europe.

The Smart car has seen its sheet metal change in a few areas, and for the better.  I remember how the front and rear styling in the original versions was underwhelming .  Current versions feature grilles that look like grilles, and improvements in character lines and rear tail lamps as well.  However, the biggest change is the slight elongation of the front of the car over the engine compartment.  With there actually being a small amount of horizontal hood, it looks more like a real car and not like a golf course vehicle.

In terms of mechanics, the biggest improvement has been in its much criticized automatic transmission.  It is not seamless or only slightly perceptible, as is the case with a lot of mid-market and upmarket American cars.  However, these gearboxes more recently seem to work much better.  The shift point feel is acceptable for an econobox under light throttle or during rapid acceleration to merge or pass.  In versions from over 5 years ago, their automatics were downright unsettling and critics jumped on this.  The weirdest sensation came from pulling away from a stop in a town or a city ... and immediately facing a hill.  What were probably the 1-2 and 2-3 shifts at low speeds felt as if the car paused and was going to stall.  After a few times, you knew it wouldn't stall, but it was definitely weird.

As to how they drive and handle, not much has changed.  They might be a tad bit quieter.  The shift lever for the automatic now resembles one seen in an economy car stateside.  The dashboard is a little bit more fleshed out.  For being so small, gas mileage is not stellar.  Checking it on 85% highway treks brought in mileage of 38 mpg to 45 mpg, converted to measures we Americans use.

I had 2 of them - a Smart for Two in Portugal and a Smart for Four in northern Italy.  The 2-seater is just great for putting around.  As with any prior reviews I might have done on this car, it's amazing that it feels like a bigger car when you take it out on the road.  This is especially the case since the cabin is sort of sheared off right behind where you sit!  The main hassle with this car is the abysmal trunk room and that, even behind the front seats, there isn't much room for anything.  The 4-seater is a little longer and the ride is steadier, almost decent.  In this one, items you might need during the day and won't have exposed should you park the car can be thrown in the floor of the rear seat area.  Neither of these cars would be good for long trips.  They do bring on some driver fatigue, even compared to something like a Ford Focus.

Just as a sidebar, on another occasion, they had run out of automatic econobox rentals and I was put into a larger Opel wagon with an automatic.  For one, it was harder to drive around where streets are smaller, roads are marginal, and parking is tighter.  However, it was both strange and comforting to drive something that shares so many components with the current Buick Regal on our turf.  The steering feel, ride, and serene shifting automatic were great.  And, there was a leather steering wheel as well!  I am beginning to think that Europeans are becoming more receptive to automatic transmissions.

So, if you plan on renting in the EU and want an entry level car with an automatic, it might very well be a Smart.  Others that come with automatics could be Fiat 500s and even some Citroens, among others.  Larger cars with an automatic cost an arm and a leg over there to rent.  As for the Smart, who wouldn't be happy to have one in the EU?  Instead of focusing on changing gears in an unfamiliar place, you can focus on what's outside your windshield, different traffic signs, and doing some quick math your head to convert kmh to mph should you want to know how fast you'd be going in America.

One photo of Smart for Two (partial view at rental check-out) and two photos of Smart for Four in northern Italy, fairly close to Austria.

 

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