Flybrian

REVIEW: Smart Fortwo is lovable, but not the wisest choice

23 posts in this topic

Smart Fortwo is lovable, but not the wisest choice
By Dan Neil |Los Angeles Times
Link to Original Article @ DetNews

Posted Image


"Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is Man."

-- Alexander Pope

Want to know thyself better? Gauge your reaction to this car, the Smart Fortwo, a four-wheeled flea built by Smart -- a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler -- to be imported to the United States in the first quarter of 2008. Measuring 106.1 inches long and weighing just under 1,650 pounds, the Fortwo soon will be, by an astonishing margin, the smallest gas-powered car on the market: nearly 40 inches shorter than the BMW Mini, a whopping four feet shorter than the Scion xA. This is car design as seen through the wrong end of the telescope.

Cute? Oh my God, yes. It couldn't be any cuter if it were buried up to its neck in kittens. Attention-grabbing? Ice cream trucks playing "La Bamba" at 100 decibels don't get more notice. Likable? It's irresistible. The Smart is a rolling sight gag, like a fat man wearing a tiny bowler hat, or a Speedo.

Safe? Can we go back to "likable"? At roughly one-third the weight of a large luxury sedan -- such as Mercedes' S-class -- the Fortwo would be at a profound Newtonian disadvantage in most any vehicle-to-vehicle collision.

So, the first question potential buyers must consider is a cosmic version of: Do I feel lucky? The Fortwo -- sold in 36 countries and a familiar sight to anyone who has traveled abroad -- is supposed to be a very safe car. I'm sure it is, relatively. The cabin is surrounded by something called the Tridion safety cell, a highly reinforced steel superstructure designed to deform and redistribute crash energy away from the occupants. The cars coming to the United States will have anti-lock brakes, stability control, reinforced doors and front and side air bags.

The trouble lies not so much in the car but with the American driving environment that, unlike Europe's, is filled with 3-ton trucks and SUVs, for which the Fortwo is no more than a snack. It is a dolorous fact of physics that when two vehicles meet head-on, the occupants in the lighter vehicle are almost instantly accelerated backward. Brains, aortas and other soft tissues do not care for this at all. The Fortwo's evident lack of energy-absorbing crumple zones makes this issue even more acute.

The solution, naturally, is not to hit anything or be hit. In my short time in the Fortwo, I adopted the kind of hyper-vigilance/paranoia I usually reserve for riding motorcycles. The religiously minded may consider investing in icons of the plastic dashboard-mounted variety. Know thyself.

Smart has taken a bumpy route to the United States. The Boblingen, Germany-based company -- formed in 1994 as an alliance between the Swiss watchmaker Swatch and then-named Daimler-Benz -- has lost piles of cash, somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 billion since 1998. The company had planned to come to the American market in 2006 with the Formore -- a tiny SUV based on a Mercedes C-class chassis -- but pulled the plug on that in 2005 as the Chrysler division's losses began to drag down the parent company.

The current effort is a more modest enterprise headed by auto entrepreneur Roger Penske, whose company created Smart USA to market and distribute the cars. Smart USA hopes to sell about 20,000 cars in the first year through about 70 dealerships nationwide.

Returning to Pope's admonition: If you find yourself drawn to the Fortwo, you are probably an iconoclast, a real dyed-in-the-wool-beret Europhile. Unless I'm much mistaken, the Fortwo is the first French-built car to come to the United States in decades (Smart's factory is in Hambach, France). In other words, to buy the Fortwo is to bite your thumb at old Bill O'Reilly. The Fortwo has the same sort of winning maneuverability and lowercased sportiness of the old Citroen 2CV. (Incidentally, Citroen's famous "Tin Snail" and the Fiat 500 are both being revived to satisfy Europe's growing appetite for super-thrifty city cars.)

There is no getting around it: The Fortwo is a minor hoot to drive. U.S.-spec cars will have a 1-liter, 70-hp, three-cylinder engine wedged in the back under the cargo hold. The cars will come with a five-speed sequential gearbox with optional shifter paddles behind the steering wheel; this gearbox has an automatic mode that offers convenient although spectacularly sluggish cog changing. The Fortwo uses rear-wheel drive.

Got that? A rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-seater, with manumatic shifting. Think of it as the world's dorkiest Porsche.

Despite the lack of horseflesh, the Fortwo is a lively little cavort. The engine revs fiendishly to its 6,500-rpm redline and the gearing is such that the car can nick through city traffic easily. Block to block, stoplight to stoplight, the car's straight-line performance is a non-issue. The paddle shifters are a big help. When it comes to getting on the freeway, the Fortwo requires more patience and a cruel disregard for the squealing engine but it does manage to reach highway speeds in about 16 seconds. Once up to speed, the Fortwo will comfortably maintain 80 mph, which is just enough to keep you from getting mowed down on Interstate 5.

As for handling, it doesn't, much. In order to make the ride tolerable in this wee wheelbase vehicle, the suspension has been set very soft; take a corner quickly and the Fortwo lolls and rolls like it's on old bedsprings. And yet, even this quality has a quirky fun factor.

Inside the cabin, the Fortwo is not just roomy but positively spacious. The high roof offers lots of headroom and the transparent roof (in the upfitted "Passion" edition) lends the car an unexpected airiness. The cargo capacity is surprising. I piled 10 bags of groceries and two cases of water in the back without a problem. The Cabrio model has a canvas top that retracts electrically from between the fixed roof rails. Leg room and shoulder room are ample. From the driver's seat you could assume you were in any other compact car until you look over your shoulder to discover that, lo, it appears someone has stolen the back half of the car.

There are three strong, perhaps insurmountable, objections to the Fortwo: First, the price. The base model (Pure) will run about $12,000; the Passion will run about $14,000. Unfortunately, in the time it's taken to get this car to the States, several other bigger, better-equipped cars have come in at around those price points -- e.g., the Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris and Chevy Aveo (which, not irrelevantly, got a five-star frontal crash rating from the government).

Second, the Fortwo's greatest asset, its size, doesn't really have much of a payoff on America's broad boulevards and avenues. Unlike the back streets of, say, Siena, American cities are scaled to accommodate much larger vehicles.

At the same time, it's not at all clear that municipalities will allow the Smart car to perform its neatest trick -- parking perpendicular to the curb.

Last, fuel economy: The 1-liter car gets less than 40 miles per gallon in mixed driving -- good but not great, considering that the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius return about the same mileage in much larger, more usable cars.

The Smart was a revolutionary idea in the 1990s, but the revolution has swept past. It's winsome and fun and -- as I discovered -- a shameless chick magnet. But in the rapidly diversifying market, you can get more car for less.

Smart, on the other hand, offers you less car for more.
0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Seriously, how can you get up in the morning, drive this outside of a golf course, and still respect yourself?

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

they don't. but they make up for it by spending all the extra money they have from not having too spend a boat load at the gas pump.

First must have mod...GSXR engine

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A death-trap that only gets 31/43 mpg, and 0-60 mph in 15.5 seconds. Uh no thanks.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Last, fuel economy: The 1-liter car gets less than 40 miles per gallon in mixed driving -- good but not great, considering that the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius return about the same mileage in much larger, more usable cars.

You're comparing a $12,000 car to a pair of cars that can't be bought for less than $20,000.
0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would drive one to school... I passed so many parking spaces this morning that would have been fine in a Smart. It's also a lot cooler than a Rio or Aveo (less "welfare" and more "posh seventh car".)

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You're comparing a $12,000 car to a pair of cars that can't be bought for less than $20,000.

You could get a $12,000 Toyota Yaris that gets maybe 1mpg less, but seats 4, and is arguably at least a little bit safer.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>>"The Smart is a rolling sight gag, like a fat man wearing a tiny bowler hat, or a Speedo."<<

>>"I adopted the kind of hyper-vigilance/paranoia..."<<

Great- it's a fat man in a speedo that completely stresses you out when you drive. That alone isn't worth $12.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

well they are cute, and doesnt seem, but they are spacious inside, they are very comon in portugal, thay have all the things that a regular car has, panoramic roof, semi-auto transmission, AC, airbags, all that stuf, they are preatyy fast, but they are eletronicaly "stranguled" (i dont know how to say that in english lool) at 75 mph, but they are fast, but NOT typic a american car definitively.. its to small for americans, thats why you, americans, have a smart fortwo in the moma (museum of modern art) in new york.. its considered a piece of modern art lmao

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You could get a $12,000 Toyota Yaris that gets maybe 1mpg less, but seats 4, and is arguably at least a little bit safer.

Yeah, but Dan chose to compare mileage to the hybrids rather than the Smart's direct price competitors, where he only cited safety.

$12,000 = CPO Civic, last year's Cobalt, etc...

Some people like buying brand new for some reason... Even if it's a tiny little tin can like the Smart.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

the same argument he uses against this seems to me to apply to sh3tboxes like the fit and yaris too.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Proving that there is a sucker born every minute, they will sell. The streets of downtown Toronto are already polluted with these things, usually driven by a 45+ yr. old school teacher. I'm all for fuel mileage, but I can't help but smirk every time I see one of these.

Buy a Miata convertible if you want small and cool. Buy a Malibu 4 cyl. if you want cheap and good gas mileage. Buy a Smart if you want to get stared at for all the wrong reasons.

Then again, it will probably take attention away from the driver's comb-over.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You could get a $12,000 Toyota Yaris that gets maybe 1mpg less, but seats 4, and is arguably at least a little bit safer.

I don't think safety will be an issue.

Check out this youtube video of a frontal off-set crash test between an S-Class and a SMART.......pretty cool stuff!

Sure the front end is gone....but the safety cell appears to remain totally intact!

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

well that is because SMART is mercedes, everything in a smart is mercedes! in the back you can see "engeneered by mercedes-benz" those cars are very good cars and very fast, that BRABUS fortwo has turbo and has 100 hp! ! in such a small car are many hp... and exists other smaller engines with 0.6L turbo charged with 86hp

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

O.C... and as the Fortwo pingpongs into the next lane - on its side - in front of more traffic - and gets hit - only to pingpong into another lane - upside down - in front of more traffic - and gets hit - ..............

All the while, the Mercedes S-Class is still right where the accident left it. eeewwwwwwwwwwww.........

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd rather have the S-class..I'd rather have a 4500lb commuter car than a sub-2000lb commuter car..

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You're comparing a $12,000 car to a pair of cars that can't be bought for less than $20,000.

The Smarts sold here by Zap cars retailed for $25k...I doubt if the ones imported by DC will really be $12k.

Edited by moltar
0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll Keep driving my 12mpg Suburban with 505HP and 550 LBs and pick these little coffins out of my grill. There is no place for them on American Roads. Here in Kirkland Washington, Across Lake washington from Seattle there is a dealership that imports these smart cars and they sell for between 18K to 30K depending on equipment. Not many but a few are allways seen and even my wife who says they are cute also says she would not want any family member or friend in one as they would be killed or seriously injured in it. Have not found too many people other than the extreme Green / Tree Huggers who would want this.

I hate the Hybrid from Toyota and Honda, but would take that over this if I had to drive one for my ride.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

They sell quite a few Smart cars in Canada.

Yeah, but since it is below zero most of the time up here, it isn't hot wearing a ski mask most of the year - which is what you would have to do SO AS NOT TO DIE OF EMBARASSMENT FOR BEING CAUGHT DEAD IN ONE OF THESE RIDICULOUS LOOKING VEHICLES.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Your content will need to be approved by a moderator

Guest
You are commenting as a guest. If you have an account, please sign in.
Reply to this topic...

×   You have pasted content with formatting.   Remove formatting

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

Loading...