In an automotive marketplace shaken to its very roots during 2008,
the variety of responses by automakers has ranged from whistling-past-
the-graveyard insouciance to ambitious graspings at opportunity. But,
said F. Scott Fitzgerald, "let me tell you about the very rich. They
are different from you and me." So are their cars, as it turns out;
and no mere global financial meltdown will ever come between a top-
hat swell and his drophead coupé.
Gems by nature are small and brilliant, which describes the cachet of
the smart fortwo microcar right from the start. Intended simply as a
maneuverable and fuel-efficient urban commuter, the fortwo will
startle occupants and onlookers alike with its cabochon-like daintiness.
Available as either a coupe or a cabriolet, the fortwo ranges in
price from a mere $11,590 to $16,590. A three-cylinder engine
displacing 1.0-liter produces just 71 horsepower while delivering
fuel economy on the order of 33 mpg/city, 41 mpg/highway (should a
driver be bold enough to venture onto a highway, that is). An
innovative "automanual" transmission requires gear-shifts, albeit
without a clutch; and its acceptance amongst automotive
traditionalists isn't universal. A fully automatic gearbox provides
an alternative, yet it penalizes already scanty performance.
For the smart set with their weekday pieds-a-terre apartments in the
city center and their weekend villas in the countryside, the
innovative smart fortwo commuter coupe could hardly be more aptly
aimed and named.