2008 Smart fortwo
The 2008 Smart ForTwo
made its official U.S. debut in January of this year following more than ten years of Smart sales overseas. The Smart car began as a joint venture between Mercedes and the Swiss watchmaker, Swatch, and was designed as hip urban transport for crowded European cities with narrow roads and limited parking. With congestion in several U.S. cities now making car to parking spot ratios of 5:1 not unheard of, and private parking spots rivaling the monthly payment on a new BMW 3 Series, finding a parking spot in San Francisco or New York City is every bit the challenge of finding one in Rome, London, or Paris. As the U.S. has seen gas prices skyrocket, and concerns around global warming continue to make headlines (the Smart is built in a world-class eco factory in France), the Smart seems, well, smart.
What's to Like
Mini-Mercedes looks and build quality, which means it’s surprisingly safe. The ability to park in spaces between driveways and perpendicular to the curb is, in crowded San Francisco, a big plus. The Smart also features lots of creature comforts, like a power convertible top, heated leather seats, a six-disc stereo with subwoofer and rain sensing wipers.
What's Not to Like
Although zippy around town and capable of cruising at 90 mph, the Smart is by no means a sports car. It’s not even really sporty, unless your definition of “sports car” is a lightweight, open top, rear-wheel drive two-seater – oh wait, maybe it is. Nonetheless, it certainly won’t be trouncing muscle cars at the drag strip. Also, thanks to its tall profile, short wheelbase and skinny tires, buffeting in windy conditions can be unnerving to say the least. A 2-year/24,000 mile standard warranty is among the shortest offered in the marketplace, for shame. And, this may be just us, but there should be a diesel option offered in the USA like in the rest of the world.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
The ForTwo’s driving feel belies its diminutive size. Once inside, the up-high driving position and expansive view give the impression of being behind the wheel of a more substantial car. Visibility is great both fore and aft with the top up, although there are C-pillar blind spots in the cabrio with the top up, and with the top down, the view out the back is limited. Steering feel is direct and responsive, but has a little numbness at center (no doubt, to keep the car from feeling too darty at speed). The floor-hinged pedals, like an older Beetle or 911, can take some getting used to, but pedal feel on both throttle and brakes is exemplary. Handling is marked by moderate to severe understeer to prevent any tail happy antics with the combination of rear mounted engine and rear wheel drive.
Engine and Drivetrain
The paddle-shifted manual transmission, while painfully lethargic, improves over time as the clutch breaks in and the adaptive feature of the ECU learns one’s driving style. Over time, lifting off the throttle while grabbing the next gear will become second nature in seeking to minimize shift lag. An aftermarket air intake would do wonders to improve throttle response and minimize shift time.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
The ForTwo has the distinction of being the most fuel-efficient gasoline powered car, the least expensive and lightest weight rear-wheel drive vehicle, as well as the least expensive convertible (with a power insulated top that can be raised and lowered at any speed) for sale in the states. Another interesting feature are the dent resistant, non-rusting, eco-powder coated body panels that allow the Smart’s color to be swapped-out in about an hour. All for under $1,000 and without the aid of a body shop.
Key Technology Evaluation
The ForTwo features a convertible top that can be lowered remotely with the key fob. While the rain sensing wipers, standard vehicle slip and traction control, tire pressure monitoring system, optional in-dash six-disc changer with subwoofer and heated leather seats are all impressive, the most significant bit of tech in the Smart is the Tridon Safety Cell. The ForTwo does away with traditional crumble zones and cleverly channels the crash forces from an impact around the vehicle’s occupants.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
The ForTwo is rated at 33 city and 41 highway and we have seen real-world numbers at or above the EPA estimates. In addition, the entire vehicle is powder coated rather than painted. According to Smart USA, powder coating uses 40% less energy than conventional painting methods with zero solvent emissions and no water consumption. Powder "overspray" is collected and is 98% reusable.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
All interior surfaces are colorful and of high quality, with obvious special attention given to the tactile feedback of all switchgear. This adds up to a very Teutonic interface. The driver mounted digital display is simple and easy to read. The lined convertible top does an admirable job of insulating the car both from outside drafts and road noise, and the parcel shelf in the back has proven big enough to transport two 90-pound Labrador retrievers to the beach with an admirable woof.
No car in recent memory has turned more heads than the Smart. A Lamborghini
driver we encountered on a recent outing can all too well attest that big money and noise doesn’t always capture big attention. For added attention, be sure to park perpendicular to the curb like they do in Europe. The ForTwo is instant celebrity, all for under 20k fully loaded.
Market Segment and Pricing
With a base price just north of $11,000 and a fully loaded convertible with every option coming in below $20,000, the ForTwo is a definite bargain. Although the ForTwo is first-in-category by introducing the concept of micro-cars to the U.S. market, based on strong initial sales here, other manufacturers are likely to follow suit. Look for entries from BMW with a re-work of the Isetta, Mitsubishi with the MIEV, and possibly even the reintroduction of the Fiat brand to North America with the Cinquecento (500) in the coming years.
What We Think
The Smart is the mini-Mini. Urbanites, the eco-conscious and people who crave constant attention, sign up now. The micro-car craze has officially landed in the U.S. and the wait list on the ForTwo is still a year long, although unclaimed cars (called “Orphans”) are flying off dealer lots (albeit it with hefty market adjustment surcharges). Be sure to keep an eye out for Brabus factory-tuned and other special edition ForTwos in the coming next few years.