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Quick Guide to Smart Car MPG, Safety, Speed, and More

Focusing on finding energy alternatives and saving the environment, Jim likes to consider ways in which the cars we drive have an impact.

Side view of a convertible Smart car at the dealer.

Side view of a convertible Smart car at the dealer.

Smart Car Gas Mileage

Although Smart officially exited the U.S. market after the 2019 model year, you may still see used Smart cars at some of your local car dealerships or posted online. Here's everything you want to know about this tiny vehicle.

Smart Car MPG

Smart cars get excellent gas mileage at around 40 MPG, and they weigh 700 pounds less than almost any other American car. They're also relatively cheap! At $12,000, many can afford a new one.

How Far Can You Drive a Smart Car Before Stopping for Gas?

Since the Smart car ForTwo has a fuel tank capacity of 8.7 gallons (including a 1.3-gallon reserve) and gets around 40 miles per gallon (MPG), you can typically squeeze out about 350 miles before stopping for gas.

Smart Car Gas Usage

Fuel-injected, of course, but don't put regular 87 octane in this baby. You'll need to pay extra to use the manufacturer's recommended (mandated?) minimum of 91 octane.

Does that wipe out the savings you get from the fuel efficiency? Don't forget to take that into consideration when forking your precious money over to the dealer. It may cost more in the long run to buy and operate a ForTwo than keeping your current vehicle.

Smart Car Interior - Driver's Side

Smart Car Interior - Driver's Side

Smart Car ForTwo: Details

How Fast Does a Smart Car Go?

The Smart car ForTwo's speed is regulated and capped at about 90 miles per hour (MPH). If you're looking to race your neighbor, acceleration is gauged at 0–60mph in about 12.8 seconds. That makes the Smart car faster than my Hyundai was back in high school, but probably slower than my hand-me-down 1976 Ford Granada Ghia 302 4-door sedan (am I dating myself?).

The Smart Car Engine

Its engine displacement is one liter, and it has three cylinders. If you're not impressed, it does have four valves per cylinder! The Smart car ForTwo is rated at about 70 HP, and has 68 lb-ft of torque.

Oil and Transmission

It takes about 3.5 quarts of oil, including the filter. It has five "fun automated manual" gear transmission, however! You can put the Smart car ForTwo's transmission in fully automatic, or you can use the plus/minus gate on the gearshift.

The "fully automatic" mode gives the passenger (there can be only one passenger) and driver quite the experience. It's a bit jerky. As one site says, “What that means is that you drive the ForTwo like you would a regular automatic, but the transmission lurches through gear changes with the awkwardness of a 15-year-old learning stick on his brother's Corolla.” Awesome description!

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The Interior

The interior of a Smart car is cozy and comfortable. A lot of thought went into the design for spacious seating and leg, head, and cargo room. There is soft padding on the pillars and ceiling. The cargo area is around 12 cubic feet if you stack it all the way to the top; a little more than half that if you stack to the belt line.

Smart Car Trunk Space

Smart Car Trunk Space

But Is a Smart Car Safe?

Actually, they're among the safest cars on the road in the compact category.

How Safe Is a Smart Car Compared to a Midsize or Large Car?

How safe is the compact category of car? Well, it's always better to be bigger in an accident. If one of these Smart cars goes headlong into a Hummer, the Hummer's going to win. You pay a price for all that protection, however: gas, insurance, the cost of the vehicle itself, maintenance, the cost to fix it if it were in an accident, etc.

So, are you better off buying a Smart Car over keeping your 1998 V8? Well, it depends on your goals. If you want to help save the environment, then choose the Smart car.

Is Buying a Smart Car Good for the Environment?

Yes, it's true: a Smart car has less negative impact on the environment than a regular gas car. Still, don't forget that making a Smart car still costs the environment quite a bit in energy and raw materials, resources that keeping your old vehicle wouldn't consume.

It costs the environment more in resources for you to buy a brand new Smart car than the amount of gas you'll save by switching. If you're thinking that you'll just buy a used one (since it was already made, you're not impacting the environment), ask yourself if you would really want a used Smart car.

Dealer's Yellow Smart Car

Dealer's Yellow Smart Car

11 Ways to Improve Any Car's MPG

What are some ways to avoid dropping twelve grand on a car you might not want to be caught dead in? (No pun intended.) Well, start by improving your own gas mileage! Try the following steps to improve your gas mileage, in your old car or your new one:

  1. The number one, easiest, cheapest way to increase any car's gas mileage is to check your air pressure. On the door frame of most vehicles, there's a sticker that tells you the recommended air pressure. Choose the higher number unless you're driving from a cold environment to a much hotter one. A higher-pressure tire makes your engine work less. If you're trying to navigate sand or mud, reduce your tire pressure, but if you're trying to navigate a road, higher tire pressures are the way to go.
  2. Make sure your tires are aligned. An improper alignment makes your engine work harder and ruins your tires!
  3. Check your tire tread. Brand new tires have a lot of tread, and this is a good thing for safety. However, unless you're going muddin', don't purposefully get heavily treaded tires. The bigger the tire, the worse your gas mileage.
  4. If you need new tires, pay the extra money for the metal valve stems. I opted for this extra feature and my tires seem to hold the same pressure from month to month, whereas before they would slowly deflate over time.
  5. Change your air filter. If your air filter is clogged, the engine needs to use more gas to compensate. Giving your engine lots of air is a big plus.
  6. Use a high-performance air filter. A lot of them are washable and last for tens of thousands of miles before they need cleaning. The fabric and/or foam performance air filters allow more air to pass through them than the ones made of paper and, as previously mentioned, more air is better for your engine.
  7. A new vehicle is probably about as air-flow-efficient as it will ever be. A Smart car's wind resistance is designed for maximum MPG. Manufacturers spend money putting your car in wind tunnels to see how it'll perform. However, if you've added accessories to your vehicle or own a truck with a bed, you may consider trying to mitigate the air resistance these items generate. There are bed covers that snap onto the bed of your truck that help the air flow. Don't try to just drop the tailgate, as this actually makes your gas mileage worse and it's less safe and more likely to incur tailgate damage. Believe it or not, the bed of your truck creates its own circular pattern of air that actually makes the truck bed less wind-resistant (a good thing). However, a truck bed cover eliminates this problem altogether.
  8. Reduce the weight in your vehicle. If you're carrying tools, water jugs, or anything else that weighs 50 pounds or more and that you don't need every day, you might want to keep those things in your garage or shed. Don't forget, a Smart Cart can really only accommodate around 500 pounds, so extra weight will not only eat up your gas, but it will make the engine work harder and keep it from accelerating as quickly.
  9. Drive less aggressively. A heavy foot is often the cause of accidents, wear and tear on your vehicle and engine, and heavier gas use. Just ask anyone who has owned a high performance vehicle or truck/SUV owner. If they punch the gas pedal and try to burn rubber, they can see the gas gauge drop before their very eyes!
  10. Slow down! If you drive over 60, you may be using more gas than you need to. The faster a car goes, the more wind resistance it creates. It's actually exponentially more air resistance. You may think that you go more miles in a shorter period of time and thus use less gas, but it doesn't work like that because of the air resistance.
  11. Change your oil. You should be doing this anyway for many different reasons, but, again, the harder your engine has to work to get you wherever you want to go, the more gas it will consume. Also dirty, gunked-up oil doesn't help your engine's efficiency (or its longevity). Use the manufacturer's recommended weighted oil. Using a thicker oil than you need also makes your engine work harder, translating into more gas consumption.


This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2008 jimcrowthers

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