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Does smaller Smart actually save cash?

May 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Recently, the very small Smart car did well in crash tests. But is it the smartest choice for saving money?You may have seen one of the two-seat Smart cars on the street lately. It's pretty small compared to other cars around it, so it would seem to be a great way to save gas. Plus, you'd get to drive something many have called adorable.

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"Hopefully, adorable is important to you, because besides adorable and easy to park, I don't know really why anyone would buy the car," said Karl Brauer from Edmunds.com.

Edmunds.com is conducting a long-term test of a Smart, putting it through all kinds of driving situations. So far, the biggest complaint they have is with the car's semi-automatic transmission, which makes for rather jerky driving.

That also keeps fuel efficiency down.

"We all know the best way to save gas is minimal throttle change [and] smooth inputs. So if you're lifting the throttle and hammering the throttle between shifts to try and modulate the shift, you're wasting gas," said Brauer.

So we thought we'd take a look at how the Smart stacks up against a more traditional economy car -- the Toyota Yaris three-door. To purchase, they start out pretty close with nearly the exact same price before options and trim packages are tacked on.

Then we looked up fuel economy on the Environmental Protection Agency's Web site. The Smart averages 36 mpg in combined driving. The Yaris averages 31 mpg.

There's another thing that needs to be factored in -- the Smart requires premium fuel, and not regular. So calculating that and adjusting the tables for Southern California's driving style and gas prices, the Smart's advantage is about a $130 a year.

But as Brauer points out, there are many other advantages to conventional compacts beyond just a rear seat.

"If you're going to go on the freeway at all, if you've got plenty of parking space, and you ever want to carry more than another person besides yourself in the car, something like the Yaris is a better vehicle," said Brauer.

The Smart car isn't perfect, and like most small cars it might not be the right fit for many American drivers. But with today's gas prices, considering going smaller is one way to stretch your dollar.

 

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