terra, not terror

sharing ideas about a simpler way to live

Test Drives May 27, 2008

Filed under: cars — terra @ 7:00 am

I’d prefer to talk about what other people are doing to reduce their impact on the planet, but I think lots of people are interested in the fuel efficient cars. So, here’s my review of a few cars.
After careful consideration of our Car Math, my husband and I decided that it’s time to replace the Suzuki. It’s been a great car, and I recommend it to someone who needs to haul stuff. However, it’s unnecessarily big for us, and frankly it uses too much gas. Saturday afternoon, we headed up to the Bedford Automile to drive the Smart ForTwo, and the Toyota Yaris. (The Honda Fit is just outside our price range, but another great alternative.) Committed to not driving an automatic, we set out. First stop… Smart.

smartThe Smart ForTwo was fun to drive. It has a “manual automatic” transmission, which means you can drive the same car as an automatic, or as a clutchless manual. The manual option consists of pushing the gear shifter up for higher gears and down to lower the gear. (not instinctive for a traditional manual driver, for whom 2nd is down) Two models also have paddles on the steering wheel for “shifting.” As I mentioned, you can also drive it as an automatic. The compactness is very practical for city driving. Most cars only have 1 passenger, so again, the Smart makes a lot of sense. It’s also very roomy. Some test drives show a 6 ft man fitting comfortably in the car – even moving the seat forward. The bad thing is that you feel every bump, which I’m used to on the scooter, so no big deal. My husband really liked it. But, I like the traditional clutch-manual transmission. Plus, for the same amount of money, the Yaris is only 4 mpg less efficient, and still seats 5. So… on to the Yaris.

The Toyota Yaris was great. It handles nicely, and the engine is quiet. The best thing is that it’s really big and roomy inside. I doubt I’ll ever put someone in the back seat, but if I did, there’s plenty of space. It has compartments and cup holders to spare! You could fit everything in there. The weird thing is the instrument panel is in the middle of the dash “in line with the rearview mirror,” as the sales person reminded me. Still, it’s not intuitive. I would say that it makes you really pay attention to how the car feels to determine when you should shift. So far, the Yaris is the winner. Just for fun, we drove the Scion xD.

The Scion xD was so awesome! The clutch was smooth and so fun to drive. Unfortunately, it was also just out of our price range, and too big for me. It can also have a lot of customizations. If you’re looking for a fun stick shift with good gas mileage, drive the xD.

My vote is for the Yaris. It’s a fun little car! It’s actually not that little. Why doesn’t anyone make a little car anymore? It’s short – nose to bumper – but it’s taller than the Civic. Check out FuelEconomy.gov to see gas mileage and EPA ratings.


6 Responses to “Test Drives”

  1. Very useful reviews, Terra! I plan to test drive the Smart car this summer. As a single person, I’m looking for a vehicle that doesn’t make me feel guilty by driving it, that gets great mileage, has sustainable features and is safe to drive. I’m actually hoping that by the time my number comes up in the order line for the Smart Car, they will be importing the micro-hybrid version.

  2. Adrianne Says:

    Thanks for the review Terra, it’s interesting to hear an honest take.

  3. terra Says:

    Thanks Adrianne.

    I would be up for the Smart car if it had some alternative fuel, even diesel. It takes premium gas, which doesn’t cost that much more by the tank. Overall, it was fun, and it’s designed for efficiency, which is great.

    I am really disappointed that the only cars available still run on gas. VW is releasing several diesel cars (Jetta, Rabbit, and another I think), the Mini Cooper is available as a diesel in Canada, and I think there’s a diesel Smart in Europe. Diesel engines are more efficient and cleaner. If there was an affordable diesel car available, I would take the time to learn to convert vegetable oil and be gas-free!

  4. ada Says:

    hey terra,
    good notes from your car hunting. when we consider getting another car 2 or 3 years, one of the considerations is the fit. hadn’t thought much about the yaris, but i suppose that is a good consideration, too.
    her’s the thing with the smart car. it’s good gas mileage, but it is a tiny 3 cylinder and smaller than the 4 cyl civic we bought in 93, and it gets worse mpg. i don’t understand it.
    we’ve had similar discussions like this before.

    i’ve been meaning to post this update. after reading the bit about hyper miling a while back, i decided to give it a go even though we don’t have a hybrid (we have a mini).
    for the one tank of gas, i was really conscience. turned off the engine at long lights. accelerated more slowly when practical. etc.

    anyway, thanks for the reviews. : )

    i got 2 or 3 mpg more. hard to be exact since flucuation is normal.
    it doesn’t sound like alot, but for the tank of gas that is 25 – 35 more miles for the tank.

    i am not really keen on always turning off the engine at long lights…as far as i can tell it is not an electronic starter and i don’t like the additional mechanical wear and tear.

  5. terra Says:

    ada, that’s awesome! I’m so glad to hear that it actually works for a non-hybrid. :)
    I find that I don’t actually have a lot of long lights on my daily commute, so that’s good. But, I can coast in neutral almost 1/2 way to work, so that’s good.

    I’m still waiting for alternatives to gasoline.

  6. Dano Says:

    Actually, the Smart-Car is 5mpg more efficient than the Yaris as far as highway driving. It may not seem significant but it is, specially if you have a long commute to work like I do. I’ve been reading that the Smart-Car has been taking some criticism for not being more fuel efficient but according to the government it is the most current fuel efficient gas engine in production at the moment with only the Toyota and Honda hybrids beating it.

    I actually looked up the 93 Honda Civic too. It doesn’t get better mileage than the Smart. Here is the link to the 93 Civic specs, http://www.cars.com/go/crp/research.jsp?logtype=6&section=summary&aff=national&call=crp&makeid=18&year=1993&modelid=214
    I don’t know if it will work but the smallest engine on the 93 Civic gets the best mpg of all the Civic’s manufactured that year, which is 34/40. The Smart-Car gets 33/41. So, technically, it is a draw. They both are 70hp engines. Just because the Smart has one less cylinder doesn’t mean it automatically is going to dominate over every car in history regarding mpg. They are the same horsepower, after all. Motorcycles are a perfect example, those two cylinder Harley’s you hear racing around all night eat more gas than a nice little efficient four cylinder Japanese bike. Personally, I feel 33/41 is pretty good. I mean the Honda Civic-Hybrid gets 40/45mpg. If some of you feel 4 or 5mpg isn’t that big of a difference, the Civic-Hybrid isn’t getting much better mileage than the Smart and it is a hybrid!

    A better question than why isn’t the Smart more fuel efficient is, why aren’t the hybrids more efficient? The Prius gets 48/45 and the Civic gets 40/45. The 1997 Geo Metro gets 44/49. How is a standard gas engine car manufactured in 1997 getting roughly the same or better efficiency as the current hybrids?

    Diesel may be cleaner but the bottom line is beggars can’t be choosers. With a bum economy hybrids and diesel are out for most consumers hurting for money. The auto manufacturers have a responsibility to us, they need to step up affordable, cleaner, alternative fuel vehicles.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the article. How much more were the Honda Fit and the xD than the Yaris and Smart-car? I should look it up. I actually was looking at the Fit or the xD as possibilities for a replacement to my current car that always seems to be in need of repairs.

    Thanks for the article!

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