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First, hi, I'm new to the forum. I'm not an owner or an enthusiast. I am the president of a medium sized sports car club. As a special event for the top 50 drivers in our club, we held an event in which each of us autocrossed a 2006 Pure TDI version. I thought some of you may appreciate what we observed from spending a day pushing the car to it's limit. Again, the participants in this event are highly capable drivers, but were nobody's in the world of car reviewers, etc.

I was one of 3 club members who was able to drive the car on the roads before the race event. I found the acceleration to be low, which I expected, but I was comfortable in traffic and the car had relatevely good steering response in every day driving situations. It was stable on the roads at 75 MPH with no lane wandering or similar issues. I noticed the ride to be a bit bouncy, which was to be expected from a car with such a short wheel base. All in all, I would not choose to own one, but I was not disappointed in what the car is.

The three of us took it on a couple twisty canyon roads to feel it out before the event. This is where we began to have some concerns. With the Mid engine location and rear wheel drive, the front of the car has very little weight. So, if you drive hard into a turn, the front tires can not grip and turn the car. This is referred to as understeer, and the smart has a ton of it. However, if you remember this about the car, you can compensate. Enter a corner slow enough that the tires can grip. Then roll the gas back on thru the middle of the turn and the car does better.

Based on our pre-drive, we decided the front tires wouldn't last through a day of autocross, so we ordered new tires. I begged, and the tire company put 185/55R15 Toyo T1-R tires all the way around. With the wider front tires, we felt we had a better chance of making it thru the 100 miles of competition we had planned.

Event morning, 39 of the 50 eligible drivers showed up ready for whatever we had for them to drive. They were all surprised to find this car waiting. None of them had ever driven one. Most had not even seen one outside of a magazine.

The first set of runs, the drivers had a hard time figuring out the car. The shifting is very awkward. The car leans way back under acceleration, then feels like it's going to eject you out the front when it goes to upshift. Same with downshifting. We would tap the shift knob to downshift and the car would feel like you hit the brakes while it changed gears. By the end of first runs, most every driver had figured out that you pretty much just had to stand on the gas pedal and wait for it to speed up as best it could. The wider tires helped the front grip a lot, but we still had to brake into the hard turns and then accelerated thru the apex and exit.

Once we all figured out what the car could do, our 2nd and 3rd runs were more fun. We all were able to really push the car and get every bit of what it had to give. This is where the biggest setback was found. The stability control is very sensitive. Any loss of grip to the tires made the car immediately cut power. In our sport, you're always right on the edge of loosing grip. The last thing we want is for a car to cut power as we try to carry speed thru a turn. We learned that the only way to be fast was to be Very Smooth with every input. Steering inputs must be very smooth if you are to carve a corner with this car at all. Any jerk of the wheel and the car will compensate against your efforts. However, even when we did manage to get the car out of shape, it was still very stable on it's feet. Many of us autocross cars that will lift a single tire off the ground on hard cornering and braking. I have occasionally had two tires in the air in my car. The smart never fully lifted a tire off. There were a couple instances where the unweighted rear tires was not doing anything, but rubber was still touching road, so tipping was a long way off. There is no worry there in our minds. Like we found other ways, the car will simply skid uncontrollably in the wrong direction far before it thinks of rolling over.

At the end of the day, we had managed to get the car down into the mid 57 second times for a single lap. Just to compare, we ran one of our typical race cars on the course and turned a 51. If we had more time with our cars, we would have been in the 49's. Again, no one expected this car to be competitive, we just wanted to see what it could do. The front tires wore horribly. We did just about 130 timed runs. We had to have the tires dismounted and remounted inside for outside at run #50. Then sometime around run #100, we swapped them left for right since one side was wearing worse due to course design. The front tires were completely destroyed in the day. They had nothing more to give. The rears were worn to around 50%. The inside edges of the rear tires looked almost as good as when we started the day.

Returning the car to it's owner involved driving thru a severe storm with high winds and some snow at a pass. The snow was no problem. Finally, the skinny tires worked to the cars benefit. I never even felt the snow. It was dark, however, and the vertical nature of the windshield made visibility in the snow quite limiting. The wind storm was by far the worst. 60 MPH sustained with higher gusts. It was not easy to keep the car in it's lane.

Overall, the car is not suitable for autocross, but fine as an around town car. I would hesitate to put anyone in this car that is not a highly skilled driver, though. In heavy traffic driving, small car drivers must rely on 3 things. If you need to avoid an accident, you can either accelerate away, steer away, or brake before anything that comes at you. With the smart car, you have no acceleration, the emergency steering response is non-existent, but the brakes are great. That means that your only accident avoidance technique is braking. It takes a highly skilled driver to make the car do anything else. I would not let my teenage driver commute in this car. Nor would I encourage my retirement age parents from using this car as their RV toy. There are other cars on the road that are small and easier to drive than the smart. I don't say that to dissuade anyone from owning a smart. I only suggest that you spend a considerable ammount of time behind the wheel practicing how to maneuver the car before you try to avoid an accident at highway speeds.

Thanks for the fun Experience!!!
 

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Thanks for posting. Very interesting experience and observations. Love to see some photos (or even better video) if any got recorded?
 

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Good report.

Although the CDI version is about half of the acceleration rate of the US spec gasoline version we will be getting. Acceleration is about on par with most SUV's, pickups and smaller economy cars.

Thanks for your input.
 

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Autocrosser

Excellent post and during my day of play in one of these in Germany I can not disagree with any of your observations.... thanks this is a good read!
 

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First, hi, I'm new to the forum. I'm not an owner or an enthusiast. I am the president of a medium sized sports car club. As a special event for the top 50 drivers in our club, we held an event in which each of us autocrossed a 2006 Pure TDI version. I thought some of you may appreciate what we observed from spending a day pushing the car to it's limit. Again, the participants in this event are highly capable drivers, but were nobody's in the world of car reviewers, etc.

I was one of 3 club members who was able to drive the car on the roads before the race event. I found the acceleration to be low, which I expected, but I was comfortable in traffic and the car had relatevely good steering response in every day driving situations. It was stable on the roads at 75 MPH with no lane wandering or similar issues. I noticed the ride to be a bit bouncy, which was to be expected from a car with such a short wheel base. All in all, I would not choose to own one, but I was not disappointed in what the car is.

The three of us took it on a couple twisty canyon roads to feel it out before the event. This is where we began to have some concerns. With the Mid engine location and rear wheel drive, the front of the car has very little weight. So, if you drive hard into a turn, the front tires can not grip and turn the car. This is referred to as understeer, and the smart has a ton of it. However, if you remember this about the car, you can compensate. Enter a corner slow enough that the tires can grip. Then roll the gas back on thru the middle of the turn and the car does better.

Based on our pre-drive, we decided the front tires wouldn't last through a day of autocross, so we ordered new tires. I begged, and the tire company put 185/55R15 Toyo T1-R tires all the way around. With the wider front tires, we felt we had a better chance of making it thru the 100 miles of competition we had planned.

Event morning, 39 of the 50 eligible drivers showed up ready for whatever we had for them to drive. They were all surprised to find this car waiting. None of them had ever driven one. Most had not even seen one outside of a magazine.

The first set of runs, the drivers had a hard time figuring out the car. The shifting is very awkward. The car leans way back under acceleration, then feels like it's going to eject you out the front when it goes to upshift. Same with downshifting. We would tap the shift knob to downshift and the car would feel like you hit the brakes while it changed gears. By the end of first runs, most every driver had figured out that you pretty much just had to stand on the gas pedal and wait for it to speed up as best it could. The wider tires helped the front grip a lot, but we still had to brake into the hard turns and then accelerated thru the apex and exit.

Once we all figured out what the car could do, our 2nd and 3rd runs were more fun. We all were able to really push the car and get every bit of what it had to give. This is where the biggest setback was found. The stability control is very sensitive. Any loss of grip to the tires made the car immediately cut power. In our sport, you're always right on the edge of loosing grip. The last thing we want is for a car to cut power as we try to carry speed thru a turn. We learned that the only way to be fast was to be Very Smooth with every input. Steering inputs must be very smooth if you are to carve a corner with this car at all. Any jerk of the wheel and the car will compensate against your efforts. However, even when we did manage to get the car out of shape, it was still very stable on it's feet. Many of us autocross cars that will lift a single tire off the ground on hard cornering and braking. I have occasionally had two tires in the air in my car. The smart never fully lifted a tire off. There were a couple instances where the unweighted rear tires was not doing anything, but rubber was still touching road, so tipping was a long way off. There is no worry there in our minds. Like we found other ways, the car will simply skid uncontrollably in the wrong direction far before it thinks of rolling over.

At the end of the day, we had managed to get the car down into the mid 57 second times for a single lap. Just to compare, we ran one of our typical race cars on the course and turned a 51. If we had more time with our cars, we would have been in the 49's. Again, no one expected this car to be competitive, we just wanted to see what it could do. The front tires wore horribly. We did just about 130 timed runs. We had to have the tires dismounted and remounted inside for outside at run #50. Then sometime around run #100, we swapped them left for right since one side was wearing worse due to course design. The front tires were completely destroyed in the day. They had nothing more to give. The rears were worn to around 50%. The inside edges of the rear tires looked almost as good as when we started the day.

Returning the car to it's owner involved driving thru a severe storm with high winds and some snow at a pass. The snow was no problem. Finally, the skinny tires worked to the cars benefit. I never even felt the snow. It was dark, however, and the vertical nature of the windshield made visibility in the snow quite limiting. The wind storm was by far the worst. 60 MPH sustained with higher gusts. It was not easy to keep the car in it's lane.

Overall, the car is not suitable for autocross, but fine as an around town car. I would hesitate to put anyone in this car that is not a highly skilled driver, though. In heavy traffic driving, small car drivers must rely on 3 things. If you need to avoid an accident, you can either accelerate away, steer away, or brake before anything that comes at you. With the smart car, you have no acceleration, the emergency steering response is non-existent, but the brakes are great. That means that your only accident avoidance technique is braking. It takes a highly skilled driver to make the car do anything else. I would not let my teenage driver commute in this car. Nor would I encourage my retirement age parents from using this car as their RV toy. There are other cars on the road that are small and easier to drive than the smart. I don't say that to dissuade anyone from owning a smart. I only suggest that you spend a considerable ammount of time behind the wheel practicing how to maneuver the car before you try to avoid an accident at highway speeds.

Thanks for the fun Experience!!!
Thanks for such a thoughtful and useful response. I think the '06 smarts you drove were first generation and the word is that the new generation is almost like a different car. However, your observations are still helpful and I'm actually looking forward to learning the quirks and idosyncracies of a different kind of car. Most every other car on the road today is so generic and practically drives itself. This should be interesting. Already I'm thinking about when to put new front tires on mine....which I just ordered and won't even get until sometime in '08. But I do like to push a car to the limits and your word about keeping it smooth so as to keep the stability control from kicking in was some good advice. If you ever get to drive the new generation, drive the daylights out of it and let us know again what it's like.
 

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Great input; confirms what M-B had in mind to begin with: it's an urban microcar, not a sports car. Of course, some will want to push it and be disappointed. Drive it as it's intended to be driven and it should make a fine, if uninspiring, in-town commuter car. :)
 

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I would like to see and participate in a 'Smart" rodeo". It is not hard on the cars and a driver may practice solo at home in preparation.
There is no danger, speed and power are not a factor, Stock or modified= no difference everyone has exciting, clean fun and skill triumphs all. No investment necessary to be involved. Equal challange for 450 and 451, Coupe or Cabriolet.
Fun for both participant and spectator.

Wow! I'm excited
 

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I appreciate the long, detailed post about the cars handling but I have to say that any comparisons must be taken with a grain of salt until they can be comparisons of what we will get in the US. No one really knows yet just what all has been changed with the "US-afied" Smarts.
So I'm not going to get all hot and bothered over potentially poor handling amenities until I can see for myself how it reacts in normal everyday driving on the streets in traffic and around town. Once I see where those shortfalls may exist and if they are even bad enough to fool with, then I will think thru ways of improving upon them and probably just do it. Just plain inner city type driving....not hammering.
Good post, though...please take no offense by my words...your experiences were qualitative, indeed. I just have to see for myself after becoming accustomed to the Smart where it needs help, if any.

Peace and Happy Thanksgiving! :)

John
 

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Does anyone know?

Does anyone know if the DSC on the Smart can be turned off as it can in just about all other cars. I would think the problems with an overcompensating DSC should be addressable by switching it off.

The only time I turn on the stability control in my car is when the road surface is wet or icy. Otherwise it can really mess up the dynamics when you put it into a four wheel drift through the twisties.
 

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I went cross country in a 450 from SFO to NYC last April 2006 and test drove a USA 451 around the block in Venice, CA last Saturday.

Though it was a very short drive of the 451, I can say its a whole new car, rides better than the 450, shifts easier and pick ups about the same. So lets look at the reports from the reporters from San Jose who were driving US spec cars for guidance.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks for the kind feedback. I chose my words carefully so as not to start a flaming contest among you. I hate that kind of thing.

You are all correct to assume that the new US model is likely a significant improvement over the car we drove. From what I've read, the gearbox changes alone should make the car far more enjoyable and driver friendly.

The areas I would look for improvement from (if you're expecting the car to be more handling capable), would be in the front alignment options.

We tried to find any way to get some negative camber in the front and could find nothing. If there were an adjustment there that would allow a degree or so of negative camber, it would help a lot. As it is, the tires roll over onto their sides while cornering and all potential grip is jeopardized. Camber would allow the car to roll onto the shoulder of the tire instead of the side. 1 degree is not enough to damage tire wear all that much, and would help the car a ton.

Any of the other typical sports car setup tricks are going to make the car much more of a handful to drive. A little toe out in the front would help the car commit to a turn more quickly, but with that short wheelbase, I would not recommend that for street driving. A stiffer Sway bar in the rear might be a decent idea, though. You'll never put so much spring back there to make the rear loose, but you can transfer more weight to the front where it is desperately needed.

So there's your list of mods from an autocrossers viewpoint.

Wider tires in the front
1 degree of Negative camber in the front
Stiffer sway bar in the rear. (Or stiffer springs, shocks, etc...)

I would do that to the car just to make it a better traffic car, even if it were never going to see competitive or spirited driving.
 

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I am still researching and do not plan to jump the gun until I have the car in hand and up on my lift... But I already know I want progressive rate springs, heavier sway bar, wider lighter rims and good rubber.

I am concerned to see that autocrosser managed to trash the 185/55R15 Toyo T1-R relatively fast...these are the highly recommended tires by several of the Brits... I know these guys were punishing the front end but still..... :(

I talked to a few Smart owners (US soldiers) in Germany earlier this year when one of them let play with his for the day.... his was factory stock 450 series and I adapted to the quirkiness very fast. I managed several times to experience the squirmy under-steer from too light a front end. I quickly learned to plant the front with a down shift and brake tap then accelerate through he apex just as described above...but she still pushed the front harder that I liked.

In talking about this, the owner introduced me to several other soldiers who had Smart cars, one a roadster... They all said basic suspension upgrades, wider rims and tires, and sway bar change was how the Germans were "tuning" the suspension...

They also said, to really push a modified car hard--- the stability program had to be defeated... then wink wink ---they told me it was as simple as grounding One (1) pin in the OBDII connector.... Kane...aka evilution has the details on his site Some enterprising folks sell an adapter to plug into the OBDII port but all that is needed is easy to do and should be free to all that have any electrical sense...wink wink :rolleyes:
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Don't be worried about the tire wear from normal, even spirited, driving.

I don't care what tire we run. After 130 minutes of Autocross driving on a surface as abrasive as ours is, it'll be destroyed.

If I could have found narrow enough R-compound race tires, I would have bought those. Even those would have been ready for the scrap heap after a day like that.

On my daily driver MR-S, I get about 18k miles out of a set of T1-R's. And that's with a great deal of spirited driving. My autocross race tires are generally good for about 1 season of use. That's about 100 minutes of use.
 

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Any of the other typical sports car setup tricks are going to make the car much more of a handful to drive. A little toe out in the front would help the car commit to a turn more quickly, but with that short wheelbase, I would not recommend that for street driving. A stiffer Sway bar in the rear might be a decent idea, though. You'll never put so much spring back there to make the rear loose, but you can transfer more weight to the front where it is desperately needed.
Agreed - toe out is not appropriate for the every day driving. I'm not sure that a smart has a sway bar to stiffen. It does have a De Dion rear suspension which makes things a little complicated back there as-is (and probably why the rear tires didn't wear as much). Stiffening the suspension will help reduce understeer, but I wouldn't advocate approaching oversteer for the general driver, especially in slippery weather (and with toe-out!). It may be that the best answer is stiffer springing, if not overdone.
 

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Good one, Dickey...

I went cross country in a 450 from SFO to NYC last April 2006 and test drove a USA 451 around the block in Venice, CA last Saturday.

Though it was a very short drive of the 451, I can say its a whole new car, rides better than the 450, shifts easier and pick ups about the same. So lets look at the reports from the reporters from San Jose who were driving US spec cars for guidance.
See, I told you so.....the US cars ARE DIFFERENT and hopefully some or all of those earlier model idiosyncrasies have been eliminated all together.....:p
Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Don't eat too much.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
You asked for a photo, and I finally got one. We took a ton, but we haven't posted any to our site yet. I had to beg for this one. It's even me driving...

Photo
 
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