I needed a car to do a long commute to replace a motorcycle commute for a year or two. I didn't want to sacrifice mpg. I wanted small and lightweight--the smart is 5x5x8.5 and 1800 pounds. I did not want to spend the extra money it would take to buy a hybrid which would also sacrifice lightness and smallness. The smart is perfect. It is my favorite to drive of all available to me and the favorite of those who drive with me. Exceeded expectations.
good mpg car for the price and simplicity of a lightweight car with only a gas engine. Even if you only get the EPA combined estimate of 36 it is good mpg and competes well in its class. But many smart drivers get much higher. My first 10k miles averaged 45 mpg, based on miles per gallon measured at each fill up, mix of city and freeway. Recently I had 48 mpg and 51 mpg tanks on my usual route. Check Fuelly.com for a realistic picture of mpg to expect. Low 40s mpg is most common.
Safety & braking
Good safety rating is rare in this class of subcompact vehicles, and concern about crash safety is a legit reason not to get a small car. But the smart is an exception due to its uniquely engineered tridion safety cell based on NASCAR style safety cages, and eight airbags in recent models. The results are in and the smart is one small car you can drive with the confidence you would have with a midsize car. Also has various dynamic stability control features that increase safety in motion.
short wheelbase, good seating position, visibility, and quickness provide handling that is widely agreed by smart drivers to be fun and quick. Rails around turns. Braking good. Among those happy with their smarts, fun handling is often mentioned as THE reason to own one. Some complain of excessive understeer and fix this with wider front tires.
Driving position & visibility
See above. The smart has a higher seating position and better visibility than typical for small cars. You sit higher than you would in any subcompact and higher than you would, for example in a Civci or Accord. This higher position probably costs the smart in absolute air resistance and mpg, but is a plus for those who do not want to sit as low as a typical subcompact requires.
Front seat is quite firm, like all Mercedes Benz products, and gives good support and quality. The leather upholstery on the Passion model is very good and has proven durable. Some will prefer a plusher seat but most find this to be a positive. The smart seems much nicer interior than most cheap cars and better than anything in its price range. This is the rare subcompact where you do not feel you are driving a cheap car. Did not mention exterior styling because everyone can decide if they like such a cute car or prefer something less cute. Just be prepared for everyone to smile and watch as you drive by.
Biggest drawback, and perhaps only real drawback, to the smart is lack of dealerships, and the fact that most smart center dealerships are located in a Mercedes Benz dealership. Some MB dealers do not appreciate the smart and service it with indifference. Service at MB dealerships can also be expensive and they do not always accommodate the smart with less expensive rates to acknowledge its initial price and customer expectations for a cheap car. My own dealership is thriving and has provided good routine service though there has been nothing yet to test the warrantee or more extensive service.
1. It is a 70 hp car with a sub liter engine. It does not accelerate fast. if you are not ok with this you will be annoyed with the smart. It is still faster than my Jeep wrangler 4 cyl. 2. All early reviews of the smart complained about the transmission shifting which was apparently balky and slow. This remains a dominant piece of information about the smart but it is misleading in 2012 and 2013 models which have software and probably hardware updates that remove the balkiness and make shifting quite smooth. It is still an oddball transmission--manual but controlled by computer so there is a clutch but no clutch pedal--which has the advantage of a manual (no torque converter and manual shifting options) AND the one-foot-driving advantage of an auto. A test drive will determine whether you like or not.
Short wheel base and super compact suspension result in a ride that is rough in certain ways, like a vintage sports car. Quite tolerable to me but I am used to motorcycles and Jeeps so dont go by me.
Not as quiet as a really tight and well damped sedan would be. But about par for a subcompact. Quieter than my Jeep. And way quieter than my motorcycles or my old British sports car.
It is a tiny car so you have to know what you need to carry. Not really an issue since it looks SO small from the outside that most of the time you are just surprised how much does fit inside. Easy to accommodate luggage for trips. I am told golf bags fit but check. Bike racks commonly get mounted and are fine. Many smart owners tow small light trailers or a motorcycle on a trailer or similar and say they do fine. But it is obviously not a vehicle for heavy towing.