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Perhaps the decision between CVT and the automated manual transmission was due to small engine size and wanting the most torque to the wheels. A fully manual tranny with a clutch peddle would be harder to drive in the urban environment the smart is designed for.

I have a CVT in my Prius and can really tell how much torque is lost, especially at lower speeds.

Good article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semi-automatic_transmission
 

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I wonder how complicated it may be to convert to a true manual, the mechanical side may be fairly stight FWD but all the electronics tied to this system may be a challenge.
True manual with a clutch pedal? If you want to shift it yourself, use the paddles or the floor shifter. Check clubsmart.ca and read some of the driving reports of their 451 (just arrived in October, but some deliveries are being held up due to Canadian emissions paperwork).
 
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