ACROSS THE COUNTRY IN A “SMART CAR” AT 48 MILES PER GALLON: This is interesting, but I’m not all that impressed. My mother just traded in her 12-year-old Saturn SL, which routinely got over 40 mpg on the highway. It was a bit sluggish, but it had four doors. The compromises made here to get a bit more don’t seem worth it.

She replaced the Saturn — she loved it, but at 165K+ miles it was time — with a Honda Civic. She likes it, and she’s getting 36 mpg in mixed driving, so I imagine that with her legendarily frugal driving style she could get around 40 on the highway. Is it worth chopping off the back half of the car to get 48?

UPDATE: Alex del Castillo emails: “Have we unlearned something? I remember my boss’s zippy little CRX getting 50 real world MPG in New Orleans back in 86. One would think that 20 years later we could do better than the Smart Car. I am not prone to conspiracy theory, but it almost seems as if they are sandbagging…”

I don’t think it’s that. Extra safety requirements added weight, and consumers quit caring about mileage.