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.
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The Basics: Model Mix
The folks at Smart USA are bringing us the Fortwo in two body styles—coupe and convertible—and two different trim levels.
The entry-level Pure coupe is the most affordable, with a list of standard features that includes 15-inch wheels with wheelcovers, cloth upholstery, a fold-flat passenger seat, keyless entry, power door locks, a rear window wiper and defroster, and an outside temperature display. Many of the niceties we’ve come to expect on new cars—including air conditioning, power windows and outside mirrors, and a stereo—are extra-cost options here.
If you’re looking for more than basic transportation, you’ll want to step up to the much better-equipped Passion coupe which adds 15-inch alloys, a transparent Panorama roof panel with retractable sunshade, and power-adjustable, heated outside mirrors. Inside, the Passion coupe gets automatic climate control, power windows, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and a CD stereo with two speakers and an auxiliary audio input jack. If alfresco motoring is more your style, head straight for the top-of-the-line Passion cabriolet. In addition to the power-operated convertible top with glass rear window, this drop-top model adds a premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer and five speakers to the Passion coupe’s standard equipment list. Major options include metallic paint, front fog lights, leather upholstery, heated seats, dash-top pods containing a tachometer and analog clock, an alarm system, and that premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer and five speakers.
You’d expect a tiny car like the Smart to come with an equally small price tag and you’d be right. The Pure coupe starts at just $11,590. Step up to the more desirable Passion coupe and you’ll spend $13,590 before you start adding options. The Passion cabriolet tops the list with an MSRP of $16,590. Load the cabriolet up with all available extras and you’ll plunk down a hefty $18,230.