24 Hours with a Smart Car in Puerto Vallarta
Fortwo Cabrio in Mexico, 24 hours – let’s go.
This article was originally posted on Rallyhaus, a website dedicated to those who want to enjoy the drive.
As part of any vacation, there are adventures, tours, and recreational activities, all of which are more expensive than a 24 hour rental of a Smart Car from Avis. Let’s put it this way, we’re getting the car for about the same amount as roundtrip cab fare from the airport.
We’re not planning on getting in any Smart Car high-speed chases. Instead, we’re heading out to explore the city, starting from our hotel, Dreams Villamanga in Nuevo Vallarta.
After a quick walk around, I’m already thinking about what’s missing from the Brabus Edition, but this will still be fun.
Like a condo is a smaller house, the Smart Car has all of the things you need in order for it to be a car. We’ve seen these on the road, and yes, they are smaller than most standard golf carts, but they certainly have more features. The simple dashboard layout has heads-up gauges in the middle. Ours was outfitted in racing red with a basic radio and a lockable glovebox.
As you look down, the sight becomes more raw, seeing the floor extend between the seats showcasing the hand brake and the simplistic gear shift. The “trunk” operates much like the bed of a pickup truck – bare with a fold-down gate. There’s space for a backpack and possibly some groceries, but that’s about it.
Calling this a highway might be an overstatement, but in Puerto Vallarta it is their main street making it relatively easy to get around. Like many coastal cities, the main road follows the coastline and at times offers some spectacular views. Following 200 St will take you right downtown, or all the way North (from what we were told).
Getting up to speed was easy, and although the posted 60km/h was observed for a few moments, the safer bet is going with the flow of traffic around 90km/h. The excessive speed back home could warrant a hefty ticket, but here, if bothered to be pulled over, the fine would be about $10 USD. In case you’re wondering, we didn’t ask how much higher the fines would go for much higher speeds. Although intriguing, we had a Smart Car so we probably weren’t going to set any high-speed records.
Welcomed by narrower streets, and interesting boulevards that are for turning and accessing the shops, we put the top down and continued to cruise. The rag-top goes down quickly and without effort, but when folded, the rearview mirror suddenly only showed the folded top. A bit of a hassle to adjust each time the top goes up or down, but not the end of the world.
The best part of downtown was the cobblestone streets lined with shops. Everything from big brands to little, family-owned stores. We decided to stop before hitting the boardwalk and beach. With a parking spot in sight, I realized the size of the Smart by conveniently leaving enough space for another two Smart Cars to fit in. This was not intentional. On the roads, it’s easy to adjust to the size, yet while parking, I didn’t do very well. In my mind, it just couldn’t actually be that small.
Sparing you the details of shopping and lunch, I’ll skip ahead to our journey out of downtown. Doing so could be accomplished by weaving back through the cobblestone streets, basically reversing our steps, or taking a road through the mountains, a tunnel and intersecting back with 200 St. Easy decision – the mountain road.
Heading up through this road was fun for us, and apparently the Smart Car, too. The lightweight body doesn’t take much to get it going. With ample power for the twists and turns uphill, we enjoyed the drive, but honestly, it’s shocking to see how close to the “tourist” zones many locals live. Less than five minutes into our drive and we had an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean, with tents and shacks buried off to the side of the road, people’s run-down cars still working away and filled to the brim with passengers. We’d later find out that “click-it or ticket” doesn’t exist or translate well in Mexico. Counting at least 12 people in a Ford Windstar, or 10 in the back of a pickup is common.
As promised, we reached the tunnel. Half under construction, the joys of high revs in a convertible were dashed, but that might have saved the disappointment of the Smart’s mild exhaust note. Spotting a shopping mall on the way in, we stopped off. Again, the dimensions of the Smart Car completely eluded me. Seeing what looked to be the smallest parking spot ever, I pulled in conservatively. Then, getting out, I realized practically left an entire “smart-car-length” in front.
To be honest, getting back on to the highway and heading back to the hotel was welcome as the stop, go, and Manhattan-like lane-changes were starting to feel a bit too much like home.
Driving in Mexico
A few takeaways if you’re planning to do the same:
- The road conditions can be terrible in places. Hitting potholes can be detrimental.
- Speeds are posted in KM/H and are rough guidelines. Follow the pace of traffic.
- Speed bumps replace stop signs in slower zones. They really can stop a car.
- Like all foreign driving, know where you’re going or at least how to find your way home.
Highly recommended if you have the time and want to explore outside the city. Personally, this was the best part of our trip. We had time to freely explore without being dictated by a landmark, time constraints, or tour guides. With the 24 hour rental, we also had the opportunity the next day to finish off any places we missed.
The Smart Car isn’t for us to live with. But, it turned out to be one hell of a great one-day runabout. I can see the appeal of having one in the city for car-sharing or for a short commute. Any convertible is great in sunny weather while on vacation and trying to get a tan. This was a fantastic option for us and it provided a great story to tell.