Automobile - - Ethos -

IT IS A well-known fact that I am a so­cial­ist try­ing to get by in a cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety. Yes, I have more than my fair share of old cars. To each ac­cord­ing to his need, as they say. Also, I am re­minded that while money can’t buy hap­pi­ness, nei­ther can poverty.

On the heels of a thought-in­duc­ing re­cent birth­day, such were the weighty con­cerns as I dis­em­barked in San Diego to at­tend the launch of the new elec­tric Smart. And to cel­e­brate the big Six-Oh. Seems like only 30 years ago I was in these pages cel­e­brat­ing my 30th with a car com­pany’s help, but there you are. Af­ter all those years, I’ve got­ten older but still haven’t joined Amer­ica’s 1 per­cent.

I came pre­pared to dis­miss the new Smart. I’ve never found pre­vi­ous mod­els from the Mercedes pro­tec­torate ef­fi­cient enough to jus­tify their util­ity-lim­it­ing di­men­sions and unin­spired chas­sis, ex­cept where ur­ban park­ing was a pri­mary con­cern. For that I’ve given Smart my top award for New York City park­ing for 10 years run­ning. Noth­ing parks eas­ier.

How­ever, Smart quit gaso­line and be­came an all-elec­tric brand last sum­mer, a move that led a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of its dealer body to bail. I as­sumed the ex­o­dus had some­thing to do with the fact that sales were al­ready in the soup. Also detri­men­tal was the 2018 cabrio’s of­fi­cial 57-mile range (58 for the coupe), which, though likely to un­der­state real-life range by as much as 20 miles, is even worse than the out­go­ing Smart elec­tric, which of­fi­cially served up a not quite as fee­ble 68 miles be­tween charges.

Yet for all that, the new model is an unexpected joy, per­haps the most per­fect re­al­iza­tion yet of the Smart con­cept. Zippy be­cause of all that elec­tric-mo­tor torque avail­able from 0 rpm, it’s silent, taut, and de­light­fully airy, just the ticket for shop­ping or cruis­ing around a large, sunny city. It will even make it to a nearby sub­urb and back. As al­ways, park­ing is capo di tutti capi. With tax re­bates, the Smart Cabrio is a low-$20,000 propo­si­tion, not un­rea­son­able for a zesty, open­topped city car of qual­ity even if it can’t go too far. It’s even more rea­son­able if you’re look­ing for a sec­ond car and more so still if you’re rich and af­ter one as beach or city trans­port.

I felt rich when I parked the Smart to as­sume the helm of a new Mercedes-Benz S560 con­vert­ible. As part of a com­mem­o­ra­tive birth­day drive planned to mark my as­cent to old man­dom, I ar­ranged to wheel the Mercedes 500 miles up to Big Sur and the leg­endary Post Ranch Inn. Based on years of stay­ing in hostel­ries above my sta­tion, a happy corol­lary to decades spent at­tend­ing launches of cars I could never af­ford, I long since came to the con­clu­sion that there can be no place bet­ter to rest one’s weary bones than this sin­gu­lar ho­tel at Cal­i­for­nia’s west­ern­most edge. Like the Mercedes, it pro­vides oc­cu­pants with a sud­den and pen­e­trat­ing in­sight into why the 1 per­centers fight so hard to keep what they have.

An ul­tra-pri­vate as­sem­blage of idio­syn­cratic lux­ury re­sort pods over­look­ing the Pa­cific, the inn was built on a beau­ti­ful spot of land that had been the Post fam­ily’s ranch for more than 100 years be­fore open­ing to guests in 1992.

Think Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling­wa­ter with­out the en­gi­neer­ing de­fects, crack­ing con­crete, and some­one telling you to not touch any­thing. Rooms are ul­tra-pri­vate, free­stand­ing gems con­structed of steel, wood, stone, old wine casks, and other nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als. Views from all 40 rooms and suites are bril­liant, and in spite of a top-shelf ap­proach to ev­ery­thing a guest might need or de­sire—noth­ing is left to chance—it lacks the pre­tense and sub­lim­i­nal hos­til­ity so many up­scale es­tab­lish­ments ooze. At din­ner, cou­ples beam at each other with a serenity it’s hard to imag­ine them mus­ter­ing back home. This makes it a per­fect des­ti­na­tion for most any spe­cial oc­ca­sion.

The S560, mean­while, is the dis­tin­guished long-legged dis­tance tourer you might like to ar­rive in. I’d wor­ried about Mercedes-Benz qual­ity, and although I still wouldn’t want to be pay­ing the re­pair bills on this $155,000 yacht five or 10 years out, the ex­trav­a­gant con­veyance has me con­vinced. Im­pos­ing in its looks, if not as in­sis­tently beau­ti­ful as the large W126 SEC coupes of yore, it charms with so­lid­ity and at­ten­tion to de­tail, plus an in­te­rior of un­speak­able com­fort, not to men­tion fresh style. Like the Post Ranch, it makes me grate­ful there is a cap­i­tal­ist world for us so­cial­ists who are lucky enough to visit on our birth­days. AM

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