May 2, 2005

The streets of Rome are filled with the smallest cars I've ever seen.

It's especially striking coming from the U.S., where size definitely matters. Sure there are SUVs in Italy, but not many, and most aren't much bigger than a Jeep Cherokee. Actually, I saw a Jeep Cherokee near the Vatican.

For the most part, Roma's roads are filled with small cars, smaller cars, and tiny little cars about the size of go carts — all buzzing past with alarming speed, weaving back and forth with daring recklessness as a matter of course. There are millions of scooters too, but that's another story.

The most popular model seems to be the "Smart," a modern looking box that looks like a streamlined golf cart with a glassed-in cabin for two. They're whisper quiet, so you can barely hear them coming and going, and they come in all sorts of color combos. People mix and match options like fender flares to make them stand out. Some have fat tires and chrome rims, and there's a convertible model too.

I never got a chance to drive one, but I'm told you really don't feel cramped — there's plenty of elbow room, there just isn't room for much of anything else.

The Smart are so little, drivers can park them virtually anywhere, and they do. You find them on sidewalks, on the corners of intersections, and squeezed into the most unlikely spots. People often pull them front-in to the curb between two PARALLEL parked vehicles, and the back end still doesn't block traffic.

There were numerous times I had to backtrack from a corner to find an opening to cross the street, because so many cars were squeezed into every available inch of space at the curb. I've attached some photos so you can see for yourself.

It's not just Smarts on the streets. I also saw lots of Fiats, Nissans, Hondas, Opels, VW's, Citroens and Skodas. Ford has some tiny models I've never seen in the States, including one that looks like a toy spaceship, and there are loads of Mini Coopers, which are popular in the U.S. too. But you should see the OLD minis. They make the new ones look like limos. I really don't know how a grown man could fit inside. I attached a picture to illustrate this point too.

Shep and I were talking about how different New York City would be if everyone drove the little cars. There'd be room for a lot more vehicles, parking wouldn't be such a problem, it'd be a lot quieter on the streets, and we wouldn't need nearly as much fuel to get around. Those things get ridiculous gas mileage.

That'd all be great, and it may very well happen one day, but I wouldn't want to be in an accident in one, especially on the highway, especially if the other guy was in, say, a Denali. I know who'd win.

E-mail Rick!

[Ed. note: Click the video tab in the upper right to watch Leventhal's reports.]

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I just read you story about the "Smart" cars in Italy and it brought back some memories of my trip there last September! Those cars are all over the place! Although my wife and I didn't get the chance to rent a Smart car (we had luggage with us), we rented this Lancia on our way to Verona and Venice . I'm 6'5" and this thing had more leg and head room than my 1979 Cadillac Deville! Of course trunk space was lacking, but there was also a back seat. Go FOX!!!

— Chris


While in Italy last fall we rented a four-seat Smart car, which ws great, fine on the highway at 75 and not slow. I would buy one in a heartbeat if they sold them here.

— Keith


Rick,

Wife and I are heading to Italy in Sept. and she didn't believe me about how small the cars are...how it looks like a drag race...when every light goes green everyone races to the next light! I also saw the cars wedged in between parallel parked ones! Nothing much seems to have changed. I saw many forms of Fords and VWs that were never seen in America- or that you never even knew existed.

Thanks for a memory that you just have to see to believe! I'll show her this article. I'm not sure I want to drive there though when we get there. Not going to have much of a choice.

— Wayne (Lancaster, PA)


Hey Rick!

The old classic Mini Cooper is only about 10% smaller then the new MINI Cooper! If you have ever sat in one, you'd be amazed how big they feel on the inside.

BTW, did you know that the new MINI has more headroom then a Hummer H2?

Keep up the great reporting, FOX News rules!

— Rob (Citrus Heights, CA)
Proud owner of "Union Jack", a 2004 MINI COOPER S


Dear Rick,

Firstly, thanks for all the interesting stories you do at FOX News. You always do a great job! Your written rambles are quite exquisite!

We had the same reaction to a popular car similar in style to the Smart on the streets in
Stockholm, parked in every way imaginable - sideways, frontwards and backwards. We saw lots of small Mercedes and other economical, fuel-efficient cars. We also saw the odd Ford Explorer or Jeep Cherokee type SUV and, of course, lots of Volvos and VW's.

What was most interesting, though, was the number of 7-11's; they were everywhere!

Keep up the good work!

Jane (Cape Girardeau, MO)