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While drivers try to find automobiles that offer better mpg, two new vehicles made the EPA's list for 2009. Making this list is like winning the lottery and an essential benefit to the manufacture's bottom line. In the three-cylinder Smart cars first year to be qualified for their list, the EPA reported the smart car mpg achieved 33 city and 41 mpg on the highway, allowing it to place fifth on the EPA's list. The biggest key to high mileage in the Smart Fortwo is probably understanding the transmission.

Two new vehicles made the EPA's list for 2009. They are the Smart Fortwo and Jetta TDI by Volkswagen.

A lot of people - and a lot of journalists who should know better (and even some dealer reps!) - seem to think the Smart Fortwo has an automatic transmission and it has a problem of being too slow between gears. But that's not the case at all.

The Smart Fortwo has a manual transmission with an automatic cluch that shifts according to an optimized high mileage program. It is marvelous and it works perfectly. It even allows you to defeat the high mileage overlay with manual shifting similar to a Tiptronic that you find in high end sports cars and sports sedans.

This is the first transmission I have ever seen that is designed to do this. It even took me a while to figure out what it was.

I was also under the illusion that the transmission was faulty in some way. I was even told at the dealer that I should lift my foot between shifts for proper operation. That is not the case.

One can make the Smart behave like a performance car and impress people who think its really cool to go fast and waste energy. I've been there, done that, and if that's where you want to be, there are a lot of cars that will make you very happy and do a much better job than the Smart Fortwo.

This is because the Smart Fortwo was designed to go a long way on a tank of gas. That was the primary design goal, urban or highway. That's why I bought it. I'm a hypermiler.

Most of all, the Smart Fortwo reminds me of big, big trucks. Not in size, of course, but the way it shifts. some of you have probably driven big trucks. Big two axle, three axle, maybe some eighteen wheelers with 5 axles. Possibly a few of you pulled the heaviest 5-axle jobs, bulk liquids with a gross vehicle weight of 80,000 pounds. But I'm talking about the trucks I drove in the western states. Supertrains. Tank trucks with two trailers. 9 axles. 34 wheels. 120 thousand pounds. 105 feet long. Big, big trucks. Over mountains. Big, big mountains.

Those trucks are so heavy you don't use a clutch. You'd burn it up in one trip. Instead, you dog clutch through all 15 or 20 gears. That's right. You put it in low gear and drop the clutch at idle to get going. The flywheel gives you the momentum to start moving. Not the engine. Not the clutch slipping. From there on, you never touch the clutch again. You match the gears. You match the gears perfectly for every shift, for thousands of shifts. You pull through the torque curve, let off the accelerator, slip the shift lever into neutral, drop the revs to the insertion point for the next lower ratio gear, slip into perfect engagement, give it throttle, then repeat the process. You don't rely on the synchros to make your shifts work. Pros like me use the tach to slip the transmission teeth in neatly. We know every shift point for every gear, upshift or down shift. Our lives depend on it. So do yours if you are on the highway with us.

Anyway, I don't do that anymore. But the Smart shifts like that. Try it. Put the transmission in D and give the Smart Fortwo a tiny bit of gas and lock your foot against the carpet to the right of the pedal to hold it in place. Don't move it. Moving the pedal wastes gasoline. The Smart knows what to do to give you the best economy possible. It moves you up through first gear, stops delivering fuel to the engine (even though your pedal's down), gives the engine just a little fuel to match the revs for the next gear, smoothly engages the teeth, then brings the power up to your pedal setting and repeats the process through all five gears.

To this old truck driver, that is not a fault. That is magnificent technology, perfectly applied for optimum economy and power delivery. It is hard to improve on that but you can really screw it up by not understanding it.

This great article was written by Rick Master.

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