smart fortwo: Little Car-Big Deal
Steve Schaefer, Wed, 30 Dec 2009 08:05:11 PST
The tiny smart fortwo measures two inches less than nine feet long. However, step inside and you'll be amazed. Standing just over five feet tall and about the same wide, a smart actually fits two full-sized people, comfortably. Yes, they spell the brand name with a lowercase initial s.
Inside that tiny, 1,800-pound pod sits a one-liter engine-behind the seat, tipped at an angle, so you don't see it, although you can hear it shift though its gear changes.
Smart employs an "automated manual" five speed transmission. That means that instead of the seamless hum we're used to, the car shifts for itself-but you hear, and especially feel, the gear changes.
There's a noticeable gap between shifts where the engine takes a little break-and where you'd normally use the clutch to disengage the engine. It's unnerving at first but becomes easier to live with over time. Selecting gears using the manual mode fixes most of the issue.
With a tiny engine and light weight, you get great fuel economy. The smart lists at 33 City and 41 Highway, averaging 36 overall. That is absolutely tops in the "Minicompact Segment," according to the EPA. The agency awards the little two-seater a 7 in Air Pollution and a 9 in Greenhouse Gas scores-so it's delivering what it promises.
Further on the environmental front, the smart, produced in Hambach, France, uses only water-soluble paints for the three basic colors-black, white and yellow. The molded plastic body panels are fully recyclable. Parts of the underbody and inner wheelhouses are made from recycled materials. The instrument panel is produced partly from flax-a completely renewable material (I think my breakfast cereal has some in it, too).
You can order a coupe or a cabriolet (that's European for convertible). Coupes come in two models-pure and passion, while the cabriolet is available in the passion level only.
The pure offers the basics, but also includes luxury touches such as a leather two-spoke steering wheel and gearshift knob, tire pressure control system, projector beam halogen headlamps, lockable glovebox and outside temperature indicator. It also features manual windows and side mirrors, and no audio system. Numerous factory-installed options are available.
The passion adds in a sunroof, alloy wheels, air conditioning with climate control, a three-spoke leather wheel with shift paddles, power windows, electric and heated side mirrors, and an AM/FM/CD audio system.
The passion cabriolet further sweetens the deal with an audio system with a 6 CD changer, but most notably takes off the top. The cloth top retracts in two sections. The front part pulls back, like a sunroof, even as you're driving (at any speed). The lower section, with its glass window, can be dropped separately. For a more open-air feeling, the side roof bars pop out and stow in a special area in the tailgate. It all works quite well and gives the little car a sportier feeling.
Every smart comes with an electronic stability program (ESP), normally a feature of upscale vehicles. ESP uses selective brake intervention and adjusts engine power to stabilize the vehicle. Antilock brakes are integrated into the ESP system.
The car also has traction control to regulate wheel slippage and brake assist to make sure you get maximum braking power in a panic stop. Hill start assist prevents the car from rolling backwards while on an incline.
To add to your peace of mind, every smart has the tridion safety cell, which works, according to the press material, like a walnut's hard shell. The body is reinforced at strategic spots with high strength steel, and other structural pieces are added. The safety cell is designed to activate the crumple zone of the OTHER CAR in a crash. Four airbags contribute to safety too.
Smart is a division of Mercedes-Benz-a company that has studied safety and implemented measures to ensure it for more than a century. In 1972, the company developed a super compact concept, but it wasn't until 1994 that they met with Nicolas G. Hayek, of Swatch watches, who wanted to bring a small city car to market.
The joint-venture smart debuted in 1997 at the Frankfurt Auto Show and production began in 1998 on version one of the car. It's sold today in 37 countries is the heavily revised second generation.
The smart is easy on the wallet. The pure starts at just $12,235, including destination charge. The passion coupe begins at $14,235, while the passion cabriolet runs $17,235. My Crystal White test car, with three options, came to $20 short of $18,000.
If you don't need to carry more than yourself and one passenger and have modest cargo requirements, you can enjoy a highly efficient little runabout without spending much cash.