When you see photos or illustrations of the smallest cars available today, the smart fortwo is often displayed.
It’s easy to understand if viewers believed the car was a toy, or just a prototype of something that might be built someday, but wouldn’t be seen anytime soon on American roadways.
What’s difficult to comprehend is this tiny vehicle – not even 9 feet in length – was developed by the parent company of Mercedes-Benz.
A New Trend
While Mercedes built a legacy of stylish, comfortable-to-ride-in luxury vehicles, the smart fortwo is appropriately named.
It’s a keen way to get around if you want to get two people from one place to another, easily and with great fuel economy.
Daimler AG, the parent company of the manufacturer, smart GmbH, originally designed the City Coupe and unveiled it in 1998 in Europe.
Europeans latched onto the car to transverse the tight streets of their crowded cities, and to combat fuel prices that were high long before Americans began griping about rising gas costs.
Early on, something that happened to the Mercedes impacted the design of the smart fortwo, improving its safety and paving the way for its introduction in the United States.
The Microcar Phenomenon
The official class in America, “Microcar”, says much about the vehicles. The second-generation models are small enough to park as many as three of them in a standard-length car space.
Parking is one thing…staying alive in a collision, another entirely.
Just before the City Coupe was launched, the Mercedes A Class failed a brake-swerve-and-recover maneuver aimed at testing stability in an emergency.
From there, smart GmbH decided to expend the funds needed to properly alter the City Coupe to improve the ride, handling and transmission. It impacted sales, but made buyers more comfortable in the long run.
Its new Tridion frame – made of rigid steel – surrounds and protects the passenger area and ultimately defines the vehicle’s design.
It weighs just more than 1,600 pounds, so how it performs in a collision is imperative.
To get the most out of the front crumple zone, the smart fortwo employs a rear engine – think Volkswagen Bug.
The engine itself is remarkable
- Just three cylinders, but turbocharged
- 1.0-liter engine
- 71 horsepower
The smart fortwo comes in two body styles, the three-door hatchback, and the two-door convertible.
An interesting aspect of the exterior is interchangeable body panels. It’s easy for owners to change what the car looks like, just by changing side door panels, or the roof.
Of course its 42 miles per gallon attracts a lot of potential buyers these days. The smart fortwo was ranked the most fuel-efficient (non-hybrid) car in the U.S. federal government’s 2008 Fuel Economy Guide.
Among the Cheapest New Cars Out There
The smart fortwo became available in America at the start of 2008, with its redesigned Model 451.
By mid-year, Forbes.com named it the fourth cheapest vehicle to purchase in the United States, with a base manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $11,590.
Of its three trims, the base model Pure still comes with power locks and stability control as standard – the only such vehicle to claim that on Forbes.com’s list.
The other trims, Passion and Passion Cabriolet, range in price from MSRP $13,590 to $16,590.
Aside from fuel economy, potential buyers might not feel comfortable safety-wise motoring around in a car with such a short front-end.
However, in May 2008 the smart fortwo received top ratings in passenger protection, in both front and side crashes, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
With an engine pumping 72 horsepower, it’s not like you should plan to zoom around on freeways and highways often in a smart fortwo. For commuting, sure, but this car is really something for inner-city driving – where you get the most out of maneuvering through tight streets and traffic congestion.
It also sure would be cool to take the top off and cruise to the beach in a smart fortwo.