Smart Fortwo – 2008 First Drive: San Jose, CA—With prices at the gas pumps spiraling out of control and the threat of global warming now widely acknowledged, small cars are quickly becoming a big trend. Several manufacturers will be introducing new compact models over the next 12 months, but the smallest among them—the new 2008 Smart fortwo—is definitely the biggest news.
Long popular in Europe and other parts of the world where high fuel prices and crowded streets make larger cars impractical, the Fortwo comes to the U.S. with the head-turning styling, a surprisingly roomy interior, and excellent fuel economy. One look and there can be no argument that this cute little two-seater represents a radical departure from every other mass-marketed car on American roads. But how well does it work?
Generally better than you’d expect, though we walked away from our day-long drive through California’s Silicon Valley feeling sadly disappointed by its one major mechanical shortcoming.
Unlike most new car models, the idea for the Smart Fortwo didn’t spring from the fertile minds whirring away inside an automaker’s design studios.
In 1989, the creator of Swatch watches announced that he wanted to bring an environmentally-friendly small car to market, one with colorful body panels that could be changed as easily as his timepieces. The company formed a partnership with Mercedes-Benz in 1994, and the first Smart Fortwos rolled into European dealers’ showrooms four years later.
This new “micro-car” would become a strong seller in an urban landscape where insanely tight parking spaces and outrageously-priced petrol were the rule. Over its eight-year run, more than 770,000 copies of the first-generation Fortwo were sold in nearly three-dozen countries around the world.
The second-generation of the Fortwo, which is nearly eight inches longer and two inches wider than the original, was launched in Europe in 2007. It makes its American debut in the first quarter of 2008 at approximately 70 dealerships nationwide, including stand-alone Smart retailers and selected Mercedes-Benz stores. To find out more about the program and locate the Smart retailer nearest you, log on to www.smartusa.com.