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The Porsche said I was a rich alpha dog who liked fast cars. The Smart told the world I was secure in my manhood, and that the fate of the Andalusian River Hamster meant more to me than selfish automotive fantasy.

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2010 Porsche Panamera

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My favourite touch was a button marked Super Sport: When I pressed it, the Panamera dropped lower on its suspension, hunkering down like a rodeo bull preparing to burst out of the chute.

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In theory, I liked the Smart car. It costs about one-seventh as much as the Porsche, and consumes a fraction of the resources. The Smart is a vote for a better, more responsible world.

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Smart car: A pair of gauges popped out of the dash like the eyes of a cartoon bug.

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Smart Car isn't a car. It's small, it's cute, it's a minimal transportation device, Peter Cheney reports.

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The Smart had its strengths. I could park it anywhere, and it was brilliant at U-turns. I drove it for three days before the gas gauge budged.

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Driving the Smart on the highway was intimidating. And the trunk really sucked. It was a little grotto behind the seats, just big enough to hold my backpack, my wife's purse and a couple of bags of groceries. Taking my son to hockey was out – the bag wouldn't fit.

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After so many years in a car that no one notices, the Porsche and the Smart were showing me the power of automotive symbolism – and the price to be paid for it.

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