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Smart Fortwo Smart Car

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

Although the smart fortwo may be new to us in the United States, smart
vehicles are sold in 36 countries throughout the world. More than
750,000 fortwo vehicles have been sold since its introduction, and that
number is expected to grow now that the United States has become the
37th country to offer this interesting little vehicle. And far from just
another blah econo box, smart offers a prestigious lineage as a member
of the Mercedes Car Group.

The smart fortwo is the only model currently slated to be offered in
America. Three versions — the pure, passion coupe and passion cabriolet
— all come with the three-cylinder, 1-L gasoline-powered engine that
cranks out 70 hp. Other engine types and sizes (including
high-performance offerings by sport tuner BRABUS) may become available
in the next few years, though no specific timeline has been outlined

The smart fortwo pure — the standard entry-level model —
starts at $11,590. The smart fortwo passion coupe, an upscale version,
starts at $13,590. And the smart fortwo passion cabriolet, seen below,
starts at $16,590.

The U.S. version is only 8 feet by 10 inches long, which means
you can fit two smart fortwos in an average parking space, or maybe four
in a standard garage. And at 5-feet, 1-inch-tall, the smart still has
as much headroom as most luxury vehicles. At 6 feet, 3 inches, I still
had a good three inches of headroom in this cabriolet. And at 5-feet,
1-inch-wide, my wife (also 6 feet-plus) and I still had plenty of
shoulder room when we ran it down to the local hamburger joint. And the
curious crowds did gather, as this was one of only two smart cars in our
part of the country.

The rear storage area can accommodate 8 cubic feet of whatever
you might want to take along while exploring — 12 if you load it up to
the roofline. The front passenger seat also folds down, creating
additional space.

The top speed of the smart fortwo is listed at an
electronically limited 90 mph, and I can attest to at least 80 mph of
that figure as I drove into work in the typical Southern California
morning commuter circus. It felt like I was going about 20 mph slower as
the nimble little roller moved right along with the flow of traffic.
Not wanting to get run over by my larger travelers, I maneuvered into
the slow lane and throttled back to 65 mph with no instability or
skittish road wander. Acceleration with the standard semi-automatic (no
clutch pedal) five-speed transmission is acceptable with 0-60 mph times
falling in the 12-second range and the driver can choose between full
automatic or manual shift selection via steering-wheel-mounted paddles.
When you want to get sporty, right hand shifts up, left hand downshifts.

The vehicle is designed to achieve 40-plus mpg under normal
driving conditions and current standards, so with its 8.7-gallon gas
tank this little runabout should deliver about 350 miles per trip to the
gas station. One thing to note is that the three-cylinder engine
requires premium gasoline. However, even at 20 cents a gallon more for
the premium, that only equates to an additional $1.75 per tank, or less
than 1/2-cent per mile.

The safety system of the smart fortwo is designed to achieve a
4-star crash rating, according to the manufacturer. The highlight is the
tridion safety cell, designed to protect the occupants in the event of
an accident. The reinforced-steel safety-cell design allows for the
redistribution of crash energy. And because of the size of the vehicle,
most crashes will also involve one of the wheels, which also helps to
displace and dissipate energy — a life-saving lesson learned in modern
car racing.

Passenger doors are also designed for easy access during rescue
and the vehicle comes standard with four air bags (two full-size front
and two side air bags for head and neck protection). Other safety
features such as ESP (electronic stability program) and ABS brakes are
also standard.

Regarding rust, the smart fortwo’s steel body is fully
zinc-plated. As a further provision against corrosion, there is a coat
of cataphoretic paint under the main powder-coat paint, and all body
cavities are preserved by a special agent. Finally, the body panels and
complete underbody are made of plastic (polypropylene), which are not
prone to rust even if scratched.

And now for the good news. Unlike earlier European models that
have a different engine and transmission, the import version is
flat-towable. As of this writing, smart USA is developing a tow bar for
the smart fortwo that will attach to the front of the vehicle that will
allow for flat-towing behind a motorhome. With a base weight of just
1,800 pounds, there are few motorhomes that will have any problems
towing this novel lightweight dinghy.

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