The smart fortwo: coming to America
See the new smart fortwo on the road and you’ll probably love it or hate it as it definitely stands out from the crowd. Drive it and you’ll find things that you love and things that you could definitely like more. But ultimately, the launch of the smart fortwo in the U.S. in January 2008 will excite the image-conscious, environmentally-focused, and parking space-constrained consumer.
The shortest and most compact automobile currently in production is scheduled to enter the largest automotive market in the world next year. Who is smart? smart is a member of Mercedes-Benz cars and the result of a 1994 joint venture between Nicolas Hayek, the inventor of Swatch watches and Mercedes-Benz.. Smart is engineered and manufactured in Europe.
Defying the two-seater image
A compact car that is currently only available as a two-seat vehicle (get it – for two), the fortwo doesn’t feel like you’re driving a two-seater. The vehicle only measures 106 inches in length, roughly 9 feet, yet the spacious cabin provides enough leg and head room for those taller than average. The openness of the cabin and forward placement of the instrument panel eliminate the cramped and constrained feelings of other compact cars, however, the reach to the center stack controls suffers, requiring most drivers to lean forward uncomfortably to adjust the air conditioning, change the radio station, etc. The cargo space, located directly behind the front seats, is easily accessible by the driver, combating the lack of a center console, and provides enough openness behind the driver to increase the level of comfort with the small amount of space that exists between you and the traffic behind you. The passenger seat folds flat for extra space for large items. Elbow and shoulder room is limited, but the smart engineers thought of that too, offsetting the passenger seat behind the driver seat by 5 inches and avoiding shoulder-to-shoulder positioning. If you’re comfortable with your passenger, you won’t mind grabbing his knee every now and then when you overreach for the shift knob. If not, it may take a while to get used to the closeness of knob, both to you and the seat next to you.
Traditional storage areas like map pockets in the door and a lockable glove box exist, as do cubbies to the left and right of the steering wheel that easily hold a cell phone, sunglasses, and other small items that you may typically store in a center or overhead console. A slanted floor and a forward lip help to keep the items from sliding out when accelerating and cornering. Two cup holders located on the floor under the instrument panel are sufficient for their purpose, but difficult to reach.
I think Upholstery, I think Sofa. But this interior works
The interior is nicely designed and color-coordinated with appropriate touches of plastic, accent trim and fabric-covered areas. The majority of the door panels and instrument panel are upholstered in a patterned fabric, softening and jazzing up the interior. Though my personal preference is the black fabric with black leather seats, as well as a black, single-tone exterior (call me boring), smart is available with a variety of interior upholstery colors to complement the range of exterior colors.
Economical and Ecological? Impressive.
Not only is the smart economical, it is ecological as well. An ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV), the fortwo has a compact three-cylinder engine that outputs 70 hp and achieves an average of 40/45 miles per gallon (city/hwy) under 2007 provisions. Beginning in 2008, the EPA will recalculate across the industry according to new standards and the fortwo will achieve an average of 33/40 miles per gallon. U.S. versions of the fortwo have a compression ratio of 10.0:1 which enables the engine to run closer to optimum combustion under a high load, resulting in low emissions and low consumption. Emissions are below 0.5 grams of HC per day due to the multi-layer plastic sandwich tank that minimizes the fuel vapors escaping into the atmosphere.
The smart fortwo’s manufacturing facility in Hambach, France, prioritizes environmental protection and uses only water-soluble paints for the smart’s three basic colors, a powder-coating process for the tridion safety cell, and fully-recyclable molded-in color body panels. Parts of the underbody and inner wheelhouses are produced entirely from recyclates and the instrument panel is made partly from the renewable raw material, flax.
How Safe Can a Car This Small Be?
The smart fortwo has a lot to overcome in the U.S. market for perceptions of safety. Highways and city streets crowded with large trucks and SUVs make the fortwo susceptible to fears of being crushed and severely injured. Though the spacious cabin and higher seating position help the perception of a safe environment, the proof is in the design. The fortwo uses the tridion safety cell, a sort of framework that protects the occupants like the shell of a walnut. Its small size and short wheelbase provide a level of stiffness that makes it a hard nut to crack, or bend, or crush. Strategically placed steel reinforcements in the body add to the strength. Integrated panel stiffening in the side skirts, reaching from wheelhouse to wheelhouse, offer added protection in the event of a side impact and an additional bulkhead bolted into the B-pillar has the same function. The high seating position, while offering a greater perception of safety, also offers advantages in an offset frontal impact and side impact. The engine, fuel tank and battery are safely housed in impact-protected zones, which make it nearly impossible for them to penetrate the interior. The rear crash management system features two crash boxes, a high-strength steel bumper, and a rear-mounted engine that absorbs impact energy. Dual-stage front driver and passenger airbags are standard as are two head/thorax side airbags (though only activated in a side-impact collision), a passenger seat occupancy sensor and knee pad that spans the entire width of the instrument panel. A child seat anchor point is located on the passenger side and seat occupancy sensor detects passenger size to control deployment . The fortwo comes standard with an electronic stability program (esp) with traction control, brake assist, differential lock and hill start assist (prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards while on a slope) and an anti-lock braking system (abs). The fortwo’s 73.5 inch wheelbase also has a side-impact advantage: the other car will almost always hit an axle, which then absorbs part of the impact energy.
Acceleration and Handling
The fortwo comes equipped with an automated 5-speed manual transmission that can be used in automatic mode, manual mode by the shifter, or paddle shifters located on the right and left of the steering wheel (optional). Driving in automatic mode, though the simplest of methods, lacks quickness and lags annoyingly between gears. Whether pulling out into fast traffic or simply trying to enjoy an everyday drive through town, the obvious lull while waiting for the next gear to engage is unfortunate for such an otherwise fun vehicle. Thankfully a manual shift mode is included, which allows the driver to opt to shift at a much higher rpm, taking advantage of what torque is available. The paddle shifters are fun and addictive, though often confusing when shifting during turns and cornering maneuvers and requiring more concentration than standard stick shifting.
The fortwo, while zippy and fun in city streets, lacks in high-speed handling. Its small size and low weight make it highly susceptible to road imperfections, which, at high speeds can be a little unnerving. Wind gusts, potholes and pavement patterns are felt through quick jolts to the side requiring a tight two hands on the wheel and a constant consciousness of the road ahead in order to maintain a straight line. Freeway driving at speeds up to 75 mph felt solid, though the rpm reading is consistent above 30Align Right00. At about 80 mph the fortwo shows its engine limitations and begs the question of long-term sustainability at high speeds. Though its handling of the hills and elevations in and around San Francisco was quite impressive. This is, however, a city car, with the majority of benefits being in urban environments. Periodic long distance trips are possible, but I wouldn’t recommend long daily freeway commutes.
Does it Make Sense?
To the environmentally-conscious consumer with no need for a 2nd row, desire for greater parking flexibility and driving maneuverability, enhanced fuel economy, a liking for the unique and head-turning, and passion for fun, the fortwo is a smart choice. Be prepared for a 24-month/2 year warranty, explained as an attempt to keep prices low, recommended premium fuel for optimum performance, and a bare bones base model (pure) where power steering, power windows, air conditioning and a radio/CD are extra, or not available at all. The fortwo is available in three trim levels, the pure (starting at $11,590), passion coupe (starting at $13,590) and the passion cabriolet (starting at $16,590).