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SMART FOR YOU?

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Jul 19, 2008

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

GET SMART? By BT Justice With gas prices approaching $5.00 per gallon and our harmful impact on earth's environment becoming more and more obvious, the smart fortwo is seriously worth considering for a variety of people. The smart people declare the smart fortwo is not intended to be a niche vehicle. But it clearly is. On the other hand, the smart people are promoting it as a lifestyle vehicle. Promotional materials state that the "smart expresses the lifestyle of an enlightened and forward-thinking social class, [it is for those w open-minded attitude of the 'thought leaders' who choose innovative solutions as an existential part of their everyday lives." Well, no wonder my press test drive was in the SF Bay area. Luckily for smart, more and more people are coming around to this type of attitude. Change is certainly in the air. Change from big SUV to crossover for sure. But again, is the smart fortwo for you?

Despite the Obamaesque promotion of the smart, this car is simply impractical for some. If you need this vehicle to haul around a bunch of kids or critters, forget it. If you want a really fun two-seater, there are smarter choices. If you do a considerable amount of highway or mountain driving, you may wish to consider another vehicle. That said, if you want an extremely efficient, well built, simple to drive, blissfully easy to park, very safe, yes safe, vehicle, with a surprising amount of storage capacity, that is in fact comfortable, the smart fortwo is an excellent choice. You will look like the smartest one around as you pass gas station after gas station. You will feel like Einstein while everyone else is circling the block looking for parking and you have long since parked in half the space most cars require. It may well be the perfect car for city dwellers and a vast number of commuters.

Who else is this car smart for? The young crowd will love swapping panels. Yes, you can easily take off the outside panels and swap them for other colors. Sort of like cell phone covers. I'm told that in Europe, where the first generation smart has been on sale since 1998 (selling about 770,000 units), that there are busy websites dedicated to swapping panels. Get bored of the color, find another one. Need to update your Myspace, hey, check out my new panels. The smart is unquestionably a head-turner. It is the rare car that results in so many looks, smiles, and nods. People asked questions about the smart everywhere I stopped. The one question I was asked over-and-over is whether the smart is safe. It certainly seems to be. The smart (Daimler) people spent a lot of time and effort on safety. After speaking with several very German engineers and reviewing an abundance of information, I'm convinced the smart fortwo is safe. The car is chock-full of high tech to keep you from crashing, and should one happen, it is essentially a roll cage. For instance, the smart fortwo includes an electronic stability program, traction control system, brake assist, differential lock and hill start assist, projection headlights, a tridion safety cell made of high-strength steel, four airbags, etc. So while small, you get a lot of safety features. More than I can think of on any other vehicle starting at under $12,000.000. Additionally, there are other, less obvious safety features to consider. For instance, mom and dad may be persuaded by the fact that junior can only take one friend along (reducing social pressure to drive like a moron) and the Smart is not exactly a muscle car. So if the kids can be sold on the quirky hip factor, this could be an ideal choice.

The smart fortwo is safe, efficient, hip, and in the vanguard of design, technology and public interest. It is also comfortable and handles fairly well. I drove the smart fortwo in San Jose, around Stanford, up to San Francisco, around the city, and even in Venice Beach. The smart fortwo is easy to drive and enjoyable, but not exactly fun. The convertible version certainly adds to the fun factor, and is even more of a head turner. On city streets the Smart was fantastic. It is perfect for cities like San Francisco. Sufficient pep, able to zip around clogged streets, easy to park, efficient. You name it. It certainly handled the twists and turns of famous Lombard Street in SF. At one point I was almost pushed off the road. This likely would not have happened in a bigger car, but ironically, no harm was done. The smart was so small I had plenty of space to share a lane. What about a trip to the suburbs, exurbs or other far away destinations? The smart fortwo was competent and decently comfortable traveling medium distances on suburban roads and the highway. It had sufficient acceleration, was stable, and felt safe and solid. Initially I was worried that the smart would drive tinny and cheap. Daimler made sure that is not so. It also has a surprising amount of interior room and even storage capacity. It could handle a reasonable trip to Costco and enough luggage for a weekend jaunt for two.

With all of these positives, there are limitations besides the need to haul a ton of cargo. For lots of highway driving or twisties or mountain roads, I would choose something else. While it handles well and is comfortable, my recommendation to those who travel often or long distances on the highway or on mountain roads is to find a bit bigger vehicle with stronger performance and greater comfort. Smart seems to have chosen the perfect time to introduce the fortwo in the U.S. Gas prices are spiraling out of control, glaciers are melting, inflation is zooming skyward, and there is a clear societal-wide desire for change. America is ready for this type of positive change. While not for everyone, the smart fortwo is a very intelligent vehicle choice for many and seriously worth considering for a wide variety of transportation needs.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT Now more than ever, the Smart fortwo may indeed be smart for you. For more information about Smart cars, go to www.smartusa.com 

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2008 Smart For Two Price: $11,590 (Pure) $13,590 (Passion) Engine: 1-liter 12-valve 3-in-line aluminum Horsepower: 70 at 5800 RPM Torque: 68 pound-feet at 4500 rpm EPA rating (miles per gallon): 33 MPG city / 41 MPG highway Drive configuration: Rear-wheel drive

Transmission: 5-speed automated manual with paddle shifters Suspension: Front - lower wishbone, McPherson strut with anti-roll bar Rear - DeDion axle, coil springs, telescoping shock absorbers Brakes: Front - 11-inch disc Rear - 8-inch disc Dimensions Overall length - 106.1 inches Overall width - 61.38 inches Overall height - 60.71 inches Curb weight - 1808 pounds

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