The Smart Car reminded me of a woman I dated briefly in university - great concept, bad execution. The Smart looked perfect - a tiny, tootling urban runabout that would schlep me hither and yon with minimal impact on the environment. I like small cars, and the Smart was the ultimate small car - so short it can be parked nose-first on a downtown street.
And the Smart looked cool, with a sawed-off shape that made it even cuter than my beloved Fiat 600. So my expectations were high.
Then I drove it. Like that woman in second year, the Smart fizzled out with exceptional speed. I thought the car would be fun. It wasn't. The steering was vague, the interior felt cheap, and the automatic transmission was the single worst piece of mechanical design I've encountered in a modern car - it lurched between gears like a 1980s Lada taxi.
Driving the Smart on the freeway was an exercise in terror. One hundred kilometres an hour hadn't felt this fast since the time I lost the brakes on a bicycle going down a steep hill. The weight distribution was bad - the engine was jammed in back, an engineering afterthought that left the front end with a light, eerie feel.
Strangely enough, the Smart didn't feel small from inside. The cabin was no different than the one in a full-sized car - unless I turned around to contemplate the Smart's chopped-off tail section, it was easy to imagine that I was driving a Toyota Corolla.
The Smart was a social litmus test. Men in Corvettes gave me pitying looks. A woman in her late fifties hit on me at Starbucks - she had clothes that looked liked they'd been woven from hemp. The Smart was a statement vehicle, but its message wasn't one that I wanted to convey.
As a transportation device, the Smart was brutally limited. The trunk was a miniature grotto, barely large enough for my wife's purse and a couple of bags of groceries. Taking my son to hockey was out - his equipment bag wouldn't fit. The Smart's fuel economy was good, but not spectacular - this was a little car that punched below its weight.
Peter Cheney's memorable cars - the good and the bad