Last night – during a late night trip to Pathmark to pick up a 4 pack of Red Bull, a jar of lupini beans, and some oranges – I met a very interesting young lady named Wendy who owns a new 2008 Smart ForTwo.
When I pulled up to the supermarket, I saw the ForTwo and parked next to it so I’d have a chance to check it out. Luckily, on my way out, I saw the owner, a girl about my age loading up the surprisingly spacious rear compartment with groceries. Being interested in both cars and girls, I decided to switch from my grocery shopping mode to my investigative journalist mode. So I approached, introduced myself, and started asking her very important journalistic questions.
She immediately opened the glove compartment and took out a mini stack of Smart ForTwo promotional handouts that came with the car. I was excited because now I had something to write her number on.
The ‘Introducing the 2008 Smart ForTwo’ promo that she gave me had all the vital statistics about the car: 33 mpg city/40 mpg highway; 3-cylinder, 1 liter, 12 valve naturally aspirated gasoline engine with 70 hp; and a 5-speed automated manual transmission. Almost the entire second page is devoted to the safety aspect. It has kneepads, front and side airbags, and crash absorbing zones. The whole car is essentially built around this “tridion safety cell”, which is a super high strength steel passenger compartment that won’t deform or crumple in an accident.
But even with the informational handout, I kept asking her questions: “Can I see the engine? Sit in the drivers seat? Honk the horn? Get your number?” Eventually she told me her name (Wendy) and that she had been on a waiting list for over 3 months before she actually got her Smart ForTwo. Apparently it’s a popular car. She decided to get it because she wanted an inexpensive and interesting car that’s not terrible for the environment. “A noble cause.” I said.
I pretended to care more about the environment than I actually do so that she’d like me more.
Then I got to see the engine. It’s in the rear of the vehicle under a panel in the storage compartment. I have to say, from a mechanics point of view, the innards are poorly placed. The opening to access the engine compartment is about a foot wide, so for any major servicing, you’d probably have to put the car on a lift and take the engine out from the bottom. From that alone I can say that servicing this car can probably get expensive.
Then Wendy let me sit in the drivers seat and told me about her highway driving experience and that the Smart ForTwo is not really at it’s best on the interstate.
The inside of the ForTwo is much bigger than I thought it’d be, actually extremely roomy. I’m an average sized guy, about 6 feet tall, 180 pounds, and there was plenty of room. The seat can even go back further than I needed. The seats were comfortable; everything inside was really nice. Without much prodding after that, she actually let me take it for a test drive. This wasn’t really a complete road test though since she limited our trip to the Pathmark parking lot. Although that’s more than I’m used to.
So I drove it around a few times, hit the ‘straightaway’ at the back end of the parking lot and did a few rally turns around the concrete islands. It’s definitely a nimble driver, the turns are firm and tight, which I like, but that stiffness is probably horrible on potholes. To decrease her nervousness, I told Wendy that I’m a car magazine professional, used to driving high performance vehicles in the most dangerous situations. Which is not entirely a lie because I’m very good at Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. She didn’t believe me anyway. Still, I wasn’t able to get the car past 30 mph, there wasn’t enough room; but I could tell that I would’ve had to really push it to get it going much faster. The 1 liter engine is sickly weak. And the transmission has this bizarre problem of shifting way too late, which was beyond annoying.
Wendy and I talked some more and I concluded that some cars are more female than others. Cars like the new Beetle or the Mazda Miata definitely have that inexplicable femininity to them. But the Smart ForTwo doesn’t have it. Wendy agrees, the ForTwo has a neutral sexuality. I actually really like the way it looks, it reminds me of some European car on the streets of Milan. Also, the name ‘Wendy‘ wasn’t used at all as a girl’s name until after Peter Pan was published in 1904. I learned that last night. Interesting, right?
Anyway, I like the Smart ForTwo. I think it’s an interesting car. It’s not a Porsche, it’s not supposed to be, it’s just supposed to be a small, park-it-anywhere city driver with great gas mileage that starts at $11.5k. And it does those things well. If I were a city dweller who didn’t really care about speed, like Wendy, this would be a serious contender for my car of choice.
Also, if I were Wendy, I’d call that guy that test drove my car in the Pathmark parking lot.
Call me, Wendy.