15th Mar 2011, 18:48

I had a 2008 Smart ForTwo. It was purchased brand new, driven for commuting, had $140,000 kms on it in the 3 years I owned it.

Having the highest mileage I've personally ever seen in a 2008, or any year of any Smart car model, I feel like I should give a brief, but telling, honest review of this vehicle, as I feel I have been answering questions about, explaining, defending this vehicle since I bought it 3 years ago.

It was purchased, because I thought it would be better on gas than other cars. Compared to other compact cars out these days, no it wasn't better. The fact that you have to put premium gas in it, is probably what keeps it from being any better. I'd say it's comparable in gas mileage to other compacts.

The other reason it was purchased was for ease of driving in very busy traffic. It was amazing for commuting, and even worked sufficiently for road trips. Of course not lots of room, but for a weekend getaway, not a problem at all.

Things I liked about the car:

- It handled very well-corners, winter (Canadian) weather, rain, high winds (even on tall bridges, which I drove over 4 times a day in all conditions). It did not get blown around; more so than any other small vehicle.

- It was very fun to drive.

- Great visibility.

- Never had a problem finding a parking spot.

- Very comfortable ride.

- Solidly built.

Things I didn't like:

- The fact that it's under the Mercedes umbrella, means you're paying Mercedes prices for dealership maintenance.

- Being new cars, which typically are used for short distances, there aren't many used parts available, which again results in increased maintenance costs.

- In general everything, and I mean EVERYTHING for this vehicle was about double the price to repair/replace than it is for a comparable standard compact car i.e., brake pads $600, windshield $650, 4 tiny tires $750. (** with that mileage I had just replaced all 4 tires and the brake pads for the 2nd time). I'm not sure if that's more than usual.

- The design of the windshield/frontend...or lack thereof results in a lot more dings. cracks, etc in the windshield, which unlike other windshields, can't simply be "fixed" by a glass repair shop with the usual sealant. I tried that, and within a few days the windshield re-cracked. He tried it again, and same thing happened. The problem was with how the windshield is attached. It doesn't have the usual rubber rim around it, so it vibrates too much (or so I was told).

- Despite being told that the resale value for Smart Cars was very high, in fact it is not. All things told, including financing charges, I paid around $20,000. After 3 years, the black book value was around $4300, with mileage considered it was $3050. That is exceptionally poor resale value. This is probably partially due to the fact that there are so many other compacts coming out that are fuel efficient, that I think the Smart has lost its purpose other than being a fun car to drive. There really is no other benefit.

Lastly, but most importantly. The car IS extremely safe. It has all the safety features of a Mercedes, and then some. The car is plastic on the outside, but read up on the safety features if you're interested, as I don't have time to list them all here. The plastic exterior breaks away in an accident. Now here's the rub... the car is amazing at absorbing the impact and protecting the driver as it should. However, that plastic is brutally expensive. We hit a raccoon a few years ago. We felt the impact of course, as the car is fairly low to the ground. The damage was on the very bottom of the front bumper area, which visually was a crack about 3 inches long. It also broke a couple other plastic pieces inside, which led to other thin plastic being a little loose in its place and rubbing on the left front tire. I took it to the dealership, and they wanted $1700! Yes, one thousand, seven hundred dollars to fix the thin plastic that was about 3 mm thick, and bendable to the touch. Not being an idiot, I opted to just fix it myself with 3 zipties. I am a woman who knows nothing about cars, I just saw where the plastic had broken inside, and used the zip ties to secure it. It held up the remaining almost 100,000 kms. And the tiny crack at the bottom front of the car was not visible, unless you got down and looked at it. In other words, definitely not worth $1700 by any means.

THIS is where the problem lies with the Smart car beyond all else. It is extremely fragile. The guy who sold us our car also hit a small snow bank trying to get through it, and the plastic on the front of his car also "broke." It doesn't take much at all to damage this car, and although replacing plastic should be cheap, it's extremely expensive. Also, on a windy day, I opened my door, the wind caught it and blew it all the way open quite strongly, and again a piece of plastic in the door broke, causing at least $700 damage, and making the door a bit off track. I didn't pay to fix that either, as I could get it closed, but really, what kind of car door breaks from a gust of wind? It didn't even hit anything.

Also, one day, and never having been "abused", the turn signal just snapped off and was dangling (it was also plastic-big surprised. They glued that back on free of charge as how ridiculous a thing to happen, let alone be charged for. This plastic was relatively new, of course, I worried what time/temperature would do to its stability, not to mention just usual wear and tear, as it substitutes a lot of plastic where other cars only use metal.

Last, but not least, about 2 weeks ago, I was driving down the highway at about 120 km, and a deer about 200 lbs, literally ran into the road and jumped at/on my car. The car beside me swerved to miss it, but unfortunately, I had no chance to brake or swerve at all. Deers are never seen near, let alone hit, on this hwy, so it is never anything I thought I'd have to deal with, and certainly not in a Smart car.

Well, let me tell you that I barely felt the impact. Honestly. It was about what I felt when we hit the raccoon. The wrecker said that it hit the bottom of the windshield, but from what I can remember in that split second, I believe it jumped (as they do), and it's feet first hit the top of my windshield, and it kind of slid down and impacted on the base of the windshield, front of the car. I think I must have been rehitting it as I slowed down and pulled over. The car did exactly what it was supposed to... the plastic exterior and front end broke apart and flew all over the hwy. It absorbed all of the impact, it didn't even set off the airbag sensors, which is another safety feature (counter intuitive as it may seem). The 4 ways came on automatically, and I didn't even slightly lose control of my vehicle.

I never had any doubt about the safety of that little bugger, but I am certain I was alone in that. Anyone who doubts the safety of a Smart car needs to do research, and actually listen. People have their minds made up that its size means it's not safe, and that's that. I gave up trying to convince people of that long ago, and now that I have the pics to prove it, I have no need to.

But, again, here is the problem with Smart cars. The cost of parts to repair it. Basically if you get into an accident, it's going to severely damage the car, and with the low resale value of the car, it will likely been written off for much less than you owe on it. Now, my accident of course, was more severe than a little fender bender, but trust me, a small fender bender would do extensive damage to the vehicle, cost thousands of dollars to repair, and depending on the year and mileage, likely get written off. It didn't matter than the car was in excellent condition, with brand new brakes, tires... the engine is in the back of the car, so it was fine. It's basically the cost of the plastic in the front that renders the entire vehicle a financial write off.

That's my experience with the smart car. It's fun to commute, not better on gas mileage, maintenance is twice the price, safe, but if you get into any type of accident no matter how minor, you'll be looking at extensive, and expensive damage. Not really worth it if you ask me. They're great, tough little cars on the inside, but I just don't think a car that can take a little beating on the outside without crumbling is financially practical. I mean people bump into cars in parking lots all the time and drive away. Something that small could leave you with thousands of dollars of damage. That's too much of a risk, if you ask me. I simply don't think the Smart car has a rational place in the market when there are larger, cheaper, vehicles with similar gas mileage that won't break apart at the slightest touch. While being so small is what made it fun, it is a pain being unable to fit anything even midsize in the car, let alone a 3rd person, you really can't do certain things on the fly if you drive one of those.

Oh, and also the dual transmission manual/automatic options made the car chug and jerk around like crazy at low speeds, and it did the same while changing gears or starting up after a red light, and merging on the hwy was difficult to get it up to speed as well. None of these issues were specific to my car, they are normal of smart cars in general.