I remember when people thought Mini Coopers were small. They were a death-trap, etc. etc. BMW (the Mini’s maker) tested one offset against a Ford F-150 pickup…and guess which one ‘won.’ I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fatal accident news story that involved a Mini…
Then we got the Smart fortwo Coupe and most people didn’t flinch. They just said, “that is a tiiiny car.” I remember first getting into one that was doing novelty duty at a wedding and thinking that the glass of the roof felt very thin but that the doors closed solidly.
Today, I drive a Mini Cooper, along with thousands of other people who appreciate superior driving dynamics in a small, fuel-efficient package. My problem is that it still feels like a novelty car – with interior ergonomics’ form over function, and go-kart suspension that hurts over rough pavement. I can certainly appreciate the merits of bigger, less environmentally friendly vehicles that are simply more refined.
My friend Kevin has one such plush vehicle, but trades it part of the time for a Smart fortwo convertible, which in practice is a wonderful solution in the city. For longer distances he can hop in the LR3 and cruise. For short hops around the city, which make up 75% of his trips, he can utilize the +50 mpg Smart.
When I was out in San Francisco I drove it for two days and I had some insights for those curious about a 3 cylinder, 70-hp rolling box with no roof on 25% grade hills. For being seemingly underpowered, and relying on an automatic transmission, the car accelerates and keeps up with traffic well – and can even do well on the freeway with an experienced driver at the wheel.
Hills are a bit of a challenge…it’s best to keep momentum or else the car will roll backwards and has a hard time restarting its upward trudge. Once you’re back on your way, though, it is a very pleasant vehicle. iPhones and iPods plug right into the AUX outlet, so tunes are a breeze. Heated leather seats make chilly San Francisco days more bearable. Automatic headlights and windshield wipers complete the convenience factor that makes youÂ feel like you’re piloting a more luxurious vehicle.Â The most noteworthy feature in the convertible is the power-retracting roof, which slides back and down for full-cabin sun absorption.
Like with most small cars, the let-down is the ride quality. Small diameter and width tires and rims mean a flimsier feel, and that is exacerbated by the potholed California roads. Most states can’t claim much better. When the road is smooth, the car is smooth, and those are the sweet moments. Top down, music blaring, and the knowledge that you won’t need to fill up for at least another two weeks makes it worth it in the city!