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I just returned from a week in Italy where my wife and I were able to rent a Smart Car for a few days to drive from Rome to Florence and Pisa and back. I wanted to post some of our experience with this car with the members here.

First of all, we were very pleasently surprised with how room the car was in trunk space. We were worried because we were on a two week trip, and we had quite a bit of luggage- one large suitcase, and 4 smaller suitcases. We were worried whether this would all fit, and it fit easily! We snapped a couple of pictures of the car loaded with the luggage and the luggage out of the car- I posted those in a public picture folder at:
http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/jsuppal/album?.dir=/cd2dscd
The large red suitcase was able to lie flat (most unexpected), and the others fit easily above that.

This was the first time I got to really drive the SmartCar under realistic conditions. The "test drive" in the U.S. was very short, and I never got beyond 2nd gear. In Italy, we were able to go up to about 120 kph (about 70 mph) without any problem. The automatic mode took a little getting used to because it does shift most unexpectedly, but once you get used to it, you can live with it easily. We had a 6 speed transmission, and working it manually was a bit smoother and easier. The car was slow in getting up to speed on the freeways, but it wasn't a problem. You just needed to leave a bit more room to accelerate before pulling into traffic. I found that I was passing other cars and trucks pretty often when I was driving at about 110 to 120 kph, and the car reacted pretty reasonably when passing. One difficulty I had was when I went up a steep hill only to realize it didn't lead anywhere, and I ended up having to back down the same hill. I put the car in reverse going downhill, and found that the car would stop unless I pressed the accelerator. I had noticed this when standing still on a flat surface, but it surprised me that even in gear, you had to press the accelerator to get going. It was awkward backing down slowly because the car would stop occasionally. I would have been better off putting the car into neutral to do something like that.

The European SmartCar is lacking cup holders, but I understand the U.S. model will have those for sure. We did miss those, and ended up putting our drinks in the map holders in the door. It worked, but cup holders will be better.

The car had a glass roof, with a opaque plastic slider inside the car that would cover up about half of the glass roof. It was nice to get some sun into the car, and on long trips there was no problem because the sun tended to be in one direction so you could easily block the sun from irradiating your head. But, in city driving where you're turning often, this didn't seem too practical to me. It wasn't much of a problem, but it's not an option I would want to have.

No other problems with the car- I have to say it was a blast driving this car in Italy, and I can't wait to get one here in the U.S.
 
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