Sunday, March 15, 2009

 

Well, I did it, BUT got Smart

Last Friday my son, M, and I drove down to the big city of Bellevue to see and drive an electric car known as a Zap Xebra. It is a 3-wheeled vehicle, carries four passengers and under Federal definition is a motorcycle because of it's 3-wheeled configuration. It was interesting and sure gets a lot of looks as you are driving around but I was afraid of a couple of things. With its Federal motorcycle category, I could find it defined that way here, too, and if that were the case I would have add a motorcycle endorsement to my drivers license in order to drive it and other people would not be able to drive it who didn't have that endorsement. That, plus a few other considerations caused me to decide not to get one.

BUT, the same company, The Green Car Co., has a few of the European versions of the Smart Car. This car was developed by Mercedes Benz and I understand that it very popular in Europe where you can buy one with either a gasoline or diesel engine. The car is sold here in the US but those imported here have an engine produced by the Japanese company, Mitsubishi. I don't know why, but it does not get the same mileage as the original version. There were about 3000 of these cars imported from Europe that are the actual Mercedes Benz powered ones and this company had four left. M & I drove one and I fell in love, at least as far as you can with a car, with it. It drives very nice, has plenty of room for two people and will even carry some luggage or other items behind the seats. And it will go a lot farther than the 25 miles the Xebra is rated to go on a battery charge and operate at speeds much higher, so that you can drive on freeways and other highways. That Wheego Whip electric car I posted about earlier is built on a Chinese version of this car.

So, we started talking about me getting a Smart Car. I guess SMART is sort of an acronym where the S stands for Swatch, the watch people and the M for Mercedes Benz. The car is very customizable with different color panels and many accessories, kind of like a Swatch watch. I added a few of the accessories but actually like the "standard" Mercedes Benz silver/gray color best so stayed with it. I did add rubber floor mats of course (I live in an area where it has been known to rain) and couldn't get one without the double cup holders to have a place to put a mocha. Then I like having a tachometer so you know how fast the engine is turning over and that also comes with a matching analog clock, so I added that. The roof is clear so sunshine comes through and I thought the sliding sunshade would be needed on those days in the summer when our sun does shine, or if we take it into Eastern Washington where the summer sun shines a lot. The stock oil pan doesn't have a drain plug so the old oil has to be sucked out of the dip stick hole. They now have a replacement oil pan with a drain, so that will go onto the car when it gets it's first oil change.

My Smart Car 01
Here is my car, sitting in our driveway. It is just over 8 feet long and not quite 5 feet wide. As I said, the seating is very comfortable for two. You sit up fairly high rather than dropping down low like both the Miata and Saturn, so I think Pat will like it better.

My Smart Car 02
Here's a straight on front end view. Some have told me that it looks kind of like a smiley face. I have never had a car with this kind of headlights but they seem okay. I haven't driven the car yet after dark- I forgot to bring my gate & garage door openers from the Saturn so will have to wait for them to come from the dealer via mail, hopefully tomorrow. Right now with Daylight Savings Time it doesn't get dark here until well after 19:00 and our gated community closes it's gates at 18:00. After that you need the clicker.

My Smart Car 03
This three quarter rear view shows how close the rear wheels are to the back of the car. It's engine is in the rear and drives these wheels through a Tiptronic 6-speed transmission that can be manually shifted or let run in full automatic mode. There is no clutch even when manually shifting- it is just like those used in European race cars. The glass part of the rear hatch hinges up and the solid part hinges down. I think I will be able to carry my RC airplane with that upper part open so it can stick out a little. I haven't tried that yet.

My Smart Car 06
A closer view of the labels on the rear of the car.

My Smart Car 04
You are looking inside through the driver's door. The seats are cloth- leather is available but I really prefer cloth. I've still got a lot to learn about the controls, etc. This morning I got the rear windshield wiper going, making a swipe every 11 seconds or so, and had a hard time figuring out how to turn it off! It was easy once I discovered the answer and I suppose this car with it's blunt rear end will get that window pretty dirty so having the washer and wiper will be handy. Now I'll have to find out where I fill that fluid in that rear washer.

My Smart Car 05
A closer view of the dash board. The tach and clock show up well. The radio is a Sony AM/FM with a CD player and it plays MP3 files. There is also an input on the front of the radio for axillary devices and the sound is pretty good. I was out with it this morning, filled the fuel tank and since it was only about 35 degrees F I got to test the heater & defroster. I'm glad to report that they both work well. It also has air conditioning which we sometimes use here more to de-humidify the air in the car during our rainy season than we actually do to cool it in the summer. Since it doesn't get above 80 degrees here very often, we do not have a big need for AC systems.

Smart Car engine
This photo was not taken in my car but it is the same. The engine is small and located in the rear of the car under the floor of the storage area where it drives the rear wheels. It looks to me like things are pretty well crammed in there but that seems to be the way many cars are built these days. The designers don't seem to really think much about those having to work on them.

Smart Car medallion
This photo was one taken Friday and of a different car but they all come with this medallion on each side and the only difference is the different VIN number on each one. This tells a bit about the car. Like I said earlier, I don't know why these versions are not the ones imported by Mercedes Benz but I am glad that I was able to find an original. It had 8 miles on it when I bought it but is now getting close to 100.

I will miss my Saturn. It was our tow vehicle to take along behind the motorhome. Now we need to buy a car carrier trailer that we can drive the front wheels of the VW Bug up onto and will take that car when we travel. This one would have to be put fully up onto a trailer to take it along. Anyone want to buy an aluminum tow bar and a toad brake system?

Update: I have learned that there are only about 1065 of these European Smart Cars that were imported and of those, 750 are the Passion Coupe, like mine. I thought I had read somewhere that there were about 3000 but that is not true. The one officially imported now by Roger Penske is quite a bit less expensive but there is also a long waiting list to get one. And it doesn't get as good of mileage, at least partially because of its larger engine.

I haven't had the car yet quite two weeks and it has 199 miles as of tonight. I love it.

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Comments:
Wowee!! That is Cool!!
What gas mileage do you get?
I see these around here. I think there a 4 here in Coupeville.
 
Cool car Dick. I've been fascinated by these little things ever since I first saw one. I'm green with envy and hope it gives you many years of economical travel.

TTFN
L
 
okay, now you are the coolest blog guy i know! LOL

I love it!
 
It is SO CUTE! It's like the front half of a car. I'll look for you in it if i get up your way.
 
Jealous! Of course I could fit my three kids in it right? Ha. That is awesome, congrats.
 
It's mileage is supposed to be about 45 in town and 55 on the highway. This is down from the version sold in Europe where they are getting about 70mpg or 90mpg with the diesel versions. I think the difference is probably some of the pollution control devices required here.

Maggie, of course you could get all three of your kids in it, just one at a time! Wouldn't that be more peaceful anyway?
 
Love it!!
 
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