Small Cars

9/14/2008 The $15,000 Smart for Two by Daimler Benz looks like no other car on Consumer Reports' test track. And it can park where no other car can find a spot.

David Champion, who heads Consumer Reports' auto testing, says the inside seems bigger than you might expect. "The cabin is very airy. There's a lot of light coming in from the sunroof and the windows are nice and big, and it actually feels quite roomy inside."

This tiny two-seater gets great mileage. Consumer Reports has been averaging 38 miles per gallon. But a big negative, it only takes premium gas!

In crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the smart car did quite well. It received the highest rating in the 40 mile an hour front-crash test, as well as in the side-impact crash test. But out on the road, the smart car is abysmal to drive.

"The ride quality is very stiff and jiggly. The bumps really come through. And you're never really comfortable in it."

Acceleration isn't very quick either, and the transmission isn't smooth.

This may look like any other Honda Civic, but it isn't. The $25,000 Civic NGV is a natural-gas-powered car, currently sold in New York and California. Consumer Reports says there are environmental advantages to natural gas. "With a four-cylinder engine running on natural gas, it's 75 percent cleaner than a normal gasoline-powered car. It almost classifies as a zero-emissions vehicle.

One drawback, the four-cylinder engine is a little weak, making passing and merging on the highway a bit sluggish. And packing for trips can be a problem - the tank takes up a lot of room in the trunk. As for fuel economy, there are pluses and minuses.

"The natural-gas Civic gets 30 miles per gallon on its compressed natural gas. Unfortunately the tank in the trunk only holds about eight gallons."

And getting to a gas station could be a problem. There are only about 800 of them nationwide. Nevertheless, at an average of two dollars for the equivalent of a gallon of gas, it's a cheap and clean form of energy.


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