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Dr. M. Elizabeth Snow
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Why I Bought A Smart Car

I am a thoroughly cheap frugal person. I’m sure it comes from the many, many years I spent as a starving student1. So when I got a car that required me to have a car, “how much is a car going to cost me?” was one of the first things I wanted to find out. The two3 main things I considered were: (a) how much the actual car would cost and (b) how much gas would cost me.

I knew the following things:

  • I will be using the car mainly for driving to work (35 km each way) and then driving around to various sites in the Lower Mainland for meetings. This driving will pretty much all be on my own.
  • The other thing I will use my car for is to drive to hockey, where I’d either be driving on my own or with one other passenger.
  • I don’t need any bells or whistles. Truly, the only requirements I have for the car is that it it fits me and my hockey equipment and has a cup holder for my ever present travel mug of coffee.

a. Cost of the Car

I have long had a crush on the smart. I also loved my old Honda Civic. And being a member of the Car Co-op, I’ve driven all sorts of different cars lately, so I know that I like the way the Toyota Corolla drives, but I hate the Toyota Yaris.

There seems to be a misconception that the smart car is really expensive (perhaps it’s because it’s made by Mercedes Benz?), as evidenced by the countless people who have said to me “Aren’t those EXPENSIVE?” when I say that I’ve bought one. But here’s a quick comparsion4 of the cost of each of the base model with no extra options added for each of these cars (and a few hybrids thrown in for good measure):

Car Cost After Taxes & Other Fees
Toyota Yaris Hatchback (2008) $15,144.45
smart fortwo Pure (2009) $16,227.75
Toyota Corolla (2009) $18,070.85
Honda Civic DX Coupe* $20,792.00
Toyota Prius (2008) $30,591.65
Honda Civic Hybrid* $32,385.80

*Honda doesn’t indicate on its website to what year’s model they are referring.

And not all base models are created equal. For example, the Corolla didn’t include things that the smart fortwo comes with standard, like keyless entry, power windows and a first aid kit and the Toyota website allows you to choose the older model (2008 or 2009) of their cars, which may not still be avaialable, so if you have to go with a 2009 or 2010 instead, the cost would be slightly more than what I’ve listed here.

So, you can see that the smart is a fair bit cheaper than the other cars I’ve considered and significantly cheaper than the hybrids. (The only one that is cheaper is the Yaris Hatchback, which I *hate* driving).

b. Cost of Gas

The other big thing to consider is how much gas is going to run you. So here’s a comparsion of the fuel economy of these cars. The measure of fuel economy is given in litres of gas per 100 km. So the lower the number (i.e., the fewer litres of gas you burn when you drive 100 km, the better). The measure also gives you an easy way to see how much gas is going to cost you – for example, if gas costs $1/litre, then a car that gets 5l/100 km will cost you $5 in gas for every 100 km you drive.

Here is the fuel economy given for each of these cars on their respective websites:

Car Fuel Economy (L per 100 km)
City Highway City & Highway
Toyota Yaris Hatchback (2008) 7.0 5.5 6.3
smart fortwo Pure (2009) 5.9 4.8 5.4
Toyota Corolla (2009) 7.5 5.6 6.7
Honda Civic DX Coupe
(manual transmission)
7.4 5.4 not given
Toyota Prius (2008) 4.0 4.2 4.1
Honda Civic Hybrid 4.7 4.3 not given

You can see from this table that the one cars that get better fuel economy than the smart are the hybrids, which cost almost double what a smart costs to buy. I also noticed that all the cars except the Prius get better fuel economy for highway driving than for city driving – I dont’ know what the signficance of that is, but it kinda jumped out at my when I was compiling the numbers.

And then there’s financing

There are a number of financial incentives to buy the more eco-friendly vehicles. My smart car had no Provincial Sales Tax (P.S.T.) due to a provincial incentive for buying an eco-friendly car and there was a $1250 “spring rebate.” The dealer was offering 3.9% financing, but I chose to go with the Vancity Clean Air Auto Loan, which provides lower loan rates for people who buy fuel efficient cars. Specifically:

Only the smart car, the Prius & the Civic Hybrid fall into that first category. The Civic, the Corolla and the Yaris, along with 13 other cars, get the slightly higher prime + 2% rate. Given that the prime rate is so low (2.25% on the day I got my loan), prime + 1% is a pretty sweet deal!

So there you have it. In addition to the fact that I’m totally in love with the smart – so cute, fun to drive, less impact on their environment than most other cars, parkable in the tiniest of parking spaces, high safety rating – it’s also a pretty good deal financially speaking.

Also, for the record, this blog posting is not paid for in anyway – I just love my smart and want to share my smart enthusiasm! Actually, I’m becoming something of a smart car evangelist… perhaps I should ask them for commission? 😉

.1People talk about the “ivory tower” of academia, but let me tell you – they must have spent all the money on ivory, because they certainly don’t spend it on grad student salaries2
2Assuming you are getting any salary at all.
3I assumed car insurance would be the same no matter what car I bought, since I knew I wasn’t going to be buying a Ferrari or anything.
4These prices are all taken from the car companies’ respective websites, which conveniently have a “build your own car” tool that allows you to pick whatever options you like and find out how much the car you want will cost after taxes and fees. The price for the smart fortwo is the price that I actually paid.

Dr. Beth in Dr. Car

Dr. Beth in Dr. Car,
originally uploaded by Kalev.

About the Author

Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com


  1. Jeff Morgan

    Where’s the rest of the car?


    Jun 03, 2009
  2. You don’t *need* anymore car than this! It packs all its awesome car goodness into that tiny little package!

    Beth’s last blog post..My Mid-Week Weekend Update – Part 2


    Jun 03, 2009
  3. Thanks for a great post! So far I’m managing up here in Yellowknife without a car, but if the time comes when it’s just too hard (walking even 20 minutes in minus 30 may well be too much for me) I will *definitely* seriously consider one of these.


    Jun 03, 2009
  4. I covered this sort of comparison in excessive detail in the past, and I can’t blame anyone who isn’t min-maxing mathematically inclined for not going through the whole discussion, let alone playing with the spreadsheet. A few quick comments:

    First off, I don’t know how long ago you bought your car and did this comparison (presumably last year since you have some 2008’s), but another good car to compare to is the Honda Insight ($25.2k + GST). Also, the price for the civic hybrid isn’t right, you’re nearly $2k too high for BC once you count the provincial hybrid rebates (it’s $28.6k including freight, plus taxes, which would be essentially just GST in BC, an additional $2k off if you have a “clunker” to retire). I haven’t double-checked your Prius numbers since the 2010s are coming out like, next week.

    Of course, that’s peanuts to the ~$12k cheaper the Smart is (and for the same reason you don’t really have to superficially compare the operating costs, it’s just such a huge hurdle to overcome). Part of that is of course because you get more car (i.e.: three more seats, higher crash worthiness) with the other options, but I’m all for buying a car to suit 95% of your driving, and if most of that is you and one other person then I commend you for choosing the Smart!

    The other thing I will use my car for is to drive to hockey, where I’d either be driving on my own or with one other passenger.

    I have to ask: are you watching hockey or playing? I consider myself to be one who has a good appreciation for what you can pull off with a small car, but I would be blown away if you can fit two hockey bags in the luggage area of a Smart. Are you using the roof or a small trailer?!

    “I also noticed that all the cars except the Prius get better fuel economy for highway driving than for city driving”

    Ah, thanks for asking. To try to be brief (I have such trouble with being concise!) cars have to push against wind resistance and tire drag, which get worse at higher speeds, but also have to deal with limited engine RPMs (both minimum and maximum) so it doesn’t make sense to essentially idle at a slow speed. There’s some happy medium speed where the car can go just fast enough that it uses the engine at its peak efficiency, and that’s typically around 80 km/h, and driving at a steady speed. That is of course much closer to highway driving than city driving, so most cars are more efficient on the highway. In city driving there are stops and starts (the car loses energy stopping and having to start again), and slower speeds (where the car stays in a lower gear and isn’t making full use of its engine power, but the engine has to keep turning anyway). The hybrids can overcome these shortcomings in the city because their electric motors are very efficient at a very large range of speeds, they have continuously variable transmissions (which helps a bit with the gearing issue), their engines are sized for average power demand rather than peak demand (so they get closer to the engine’s peak performance at a lower speed), and they can turn their engines off when coasting or at a stop (again, very handy for efficiency in the stop-and-go city environment). On top of that, they can also recapture some of the energy lost by the stopping through regenerative braking, though that part of it is actually a smaller improvement (~<5%) to the overall efficiency than many in the media make it out to be.

    Anyhow, the next important thing to consider is that every car is run through a standardized government test to get these fuel consumption numbers, and the “city” driving cycle is not like driving in most major Canadian cities, it’s more like a cruise through my town of London, Ontario. As a result, most drivers will never ever see those fuel efficiencies because they spend more time idling, have more frequent stops, accelerate harder when they get to go, and don’t get up to as high of a cruising speed.

    I can tell you for a fact that my car, a Honda Accord (’97) was rated at 10 L/100 km city cycle, and that’s about what I get driving conservatively around London, Ontario or in the middle of the night in Toronto. However, if I’m foolish enough to try to drive in Toronto rush-hour traffic, or get stuck in a traffic jam on the 401, or even just make short trips in the winter, my consumption goes way up, over double, to 20+ L/100 km.

    Of course, the hybrids are equipped to deal with these extra burdens of increased idling due to stop-and-go (just switch off the engine! recover the braking energy!), so they actually suffer less from these adverse driving conditions (I’ve heard that while it’s difficult to actually get the rated consumption out of a Prius, it’s also near impossible to use more than ~6.5 L/100 km even in bad traffic — though harsh winters can hurt them proportionately more because they won’t shut down a cold engine).

    Anyhow, that brings me to the importance of real-world mileage comparisons if you’re considering cars with different technologies underlying their ratings. If your 35 km each-way Vancouver commute is in stop-and-go rush hour traffic most of the time and you find your fuel consumption is actually closer to 12 L/100 km, then even with gas at the low-low price of $1/L it would take 262 Mm to make up the ~$14k price difference (assuming a 6.5 L/100 km commuter consumption for the Prius) — about the life of the car. Of course, that’s for the very cheapest comparison car there is, one with half the doors and 2/5 the seating capacity, so if you pick any mid-sized comparison car you can see why I’m such a big fan of the Prius (now, if only Toyota would shoot me some kickbacks for the plugs!). And on the flip side, if your commute is a leisurely (and efficient) cruise at 80 km/h through those scenic BC highways, then no amount of operating savings are going to make up for that huge up-front savings (unless you start to talk about $5/L gas).

    Potato’s last blog post..Peto’s Paradox


    Jun 03, 2009
  5. Thanks for that detailed post.

    And I think most cars get better mileage on the highway because you use a disproportionate amount of energy to get going and accellerate than to maintain a speed (basic Newtonian physics is coming into play here). Because you are stopping and starting and slowing and speeding up a lot in the city, that affects the fuel consumption.

    The hybrids run on electricity at lower speeds hence the reversal.

    JoVE’s last blog post..From Conference Presentation to Journal Article


    Jun 04, 2009
  6. @Potato – Thanks for all the info!

    To answer your question, I bought my car just more than two week ago. The reason I have some 2008s listed is because they are still listed on their respective websites and I wanted to use the cheapest version of each car that one might be able to buy (so that no one could accuse me of picking more expensive models of the other cars). And since I took the numbers from the company websites you are correct that I forgot to account for the provincial rebate (which was $1250 off my Smart) when I gave the value for the Civic Hybrid and the Prius (but, as you point out, this doesn’t make a big difference given how much more those are than the Smart).

    Also, I have, in fact, been tracking my fuel usage and thus far I’m getting 6.3L/100 km (although I’m only on my second tank of gas since I bought the car). My commute is pretty speedy on the way to work (I’m driving out of the city when everyone else is driving into it), a bit slower (like 90-100 km/hr instead of 100-120 km/hr most of the way) on the way home (and, of course, stop-and-go if there’s any troubles on a bridge).

    As for the hockey bags, I can assure you that I play hockey – yes, ice hockey – and I fit two hockey bags in the luggage compartment with room to spare, as well as our hockey sticks down the centre (which is what I have to do in my friend’s Cavalier, as the sticks don’t fit in her trunk either). I even took a picture: http://www.drbethsnow.com/2009/05/13/im-little-and-smart-just-like-my-new-car/ I trust that you are now officially blown away =)

    Beth’s last blog post..Look At Me, I’m Guest Blogging!


    Jun 04, 2009
  7. Wow. I’m blown away.

    That’s a pretty ideal commute in terms of fuel consumption — a hybrid would have the least advantage there.

    Potato’s last blog post..Peto’s Paradox


    Jun 04, 2009
  8. Thank you for this post!

    Just yesterday, my fiancee and I were talking about getting a Smart, after he talked with one of our neighbours, who drives one (and loves it).
    This article just reinforced some of the thoughts we had. I’ll be showing this article to him and I know he won’t be able to wait until we buy one!
    Oh yes – he’s got his heart set on a convertible. Have you seen them? Adorable.


    Jun 05, 2009
  9. You’ll really enjoy it, too! That counts for something, I think, beyond just the numbers game. ^_^ My car used to just be a device that got me from A to B, and then I bought a Smart (blue & black Pure, 2008) now it’s a source of enjoyment because I smile every time I get into it. I don’t need to drag around 5 empty seats to get myself to work.

    Have you been to http://www.clubsmartcar.com/ ?

    Caitlin’s last blog post..Inspiration is Essential


    Jun 09, 2009
  10. @Online Strategy – Glad to hear that my posting is pointing you in the direction of buying a Smart! I’ve come to be a bit of a smart evangelist – people ask me about it all the time (in parking lots, on the street and most recently when I was filling up with gas this afternoon)!

    @Caitlin – I smile every time I get into mine too! Thanks for sharing the link to Club Smart Car – I hadn’t seen that before!
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..Guest Post-y Goodness =-.


    Jun 11, 2009

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