The transmission!! The transmission!! When it upshifts, the whole car dips so much, the high-beam headlights' light beam visibly dips by several yards in front of you. That's how much the lurching of the transmission causes the vehicle to bob up and down. It could be such a good city car if the transmission worked properly and you felt like you could zip around, but there's no feeling of zippiness, just a feeling of fighting the powertrain. That's what I don't like. What I do like is the packaging, which makes the Smart a brilliant little city car. I love the feeling of being so close to the street and the absolutely superb front and side visibility, which makes it easy to spot pedestrians, children, bicycles, taxis, and other elements of the urban street scene. I also appreciate the upper visibility through the huge glass roof.
The Smart is the epitome of a niche vehicle. I'm imagining it as a second car for a couple or family who live in New York City, Chicago, Miami, or San Francisco. It's the car you hop into to run out on Sunday morning and get bagels and the New York Times. The car you and your spouse take to dinner on Saturday night in that hip but crowded neighborhood with the latest hot restaurants. Places where parking is an absolute bear, and where you'll be thrilled to have the Smart to wedge into a tiny spot that no one else can fit in. It's also a car that can be used to drop one kid at school as one parent drives to work. Admittedly, these are all occasional scenarios, and most people would probably take their chances with parking and have a small car with more seating capacity and more versatility.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
As mentioned by others, the Smart's worst weakness is its transmission. On Evan's advice, I treated it like a paddle-shifted manual and found that the car was much more enjoyable. As for leaving it in full automatic -- I'm sure those who enjoy teaching teenagers to drive a stick will love it; others will not.
Although the car looks like fun, the harsh ride is an unpleasant surprise. Still, I feel that with the right transmission the car could be a winner. It's the perfect size for dense, urban areas, and its tidy dimensions mean that you can dart around potholes without leaving your lane; don't take the Smart outside of the city, though, as highway stability is anything but confidence-inspiring and the itty-bitty engine makes quite the racket at high speeds.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor