Smartphone, Smart Car, and a smart new way to test cars
It's not easy to design a car that will turn heads in Southern California. Seeing a Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley or other "rare" car is an everyday occurrence. You'll get a lot more attention showing off your new Apple iPhone or inviting passersby over for a game of Mario Cart on your Nintendo Wii, both of which are harder to come by. Yet neither gets you from point A to point B without a good pair of walking shoes.
But there is one car that turns heads everywhere it goes, is cooler than an iPhone, harder to get than a Wii and rarer then a Lamborghini: The 2008 Smart Fortwo, or as everyone likes to call it, the Smart Car. Smart Cars are an everyday part of life in Europe, but here in the U.S. they are part of a car downsizing revolution currently taking place that will bring more micro cars to our streets.
The Smart Car and the Apple iPhone have a lot in common. Both have good looks, do far more than you'd expect, are cool to be seen with, are sought after by Hollywood's hottest celebrities, and both are something the average person can buy (after you get through the waiting list). There are so many similarities that we decided to use an Apple iPhone 3G loaded with the recently available application "Dynolicious" to test our Smart Car -- the first full iPhone road test in road test history.
Here's the amazing part: The Apple iPhone contains highly sensitive accelerometers that, paired with the Dynolicious software ($12.99), show the iPhone to be highly accurate in measuring vehicle performance. Dynolicious is the first automotive performance meter available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Its wide range of measured performance metrics includes acceleration times, elapsed time (by distance), lateral G’s and horsepower. We would have thrown in a Nintendo Wii during the Smart Car test, but we're still on the waiting list. Speaking of waiting list, getting our hands on the Smart Car wasn’t easy due to the large demand. We are very thankful that Bosco Hathaway, LLC in Newport Beach was kind enough to provide one for us, a shiny new Smart Fortwo Passion Cabriolet convertible with only 1000 miles on the odometer.
It was now time to hit the road and find out how well the Smart Car does around town and on California's busy freeways. We securely mounted our iPhone to the windshield, careful to ensure it was mounted properly to achieve the most accurate readings. We ran through the Dynolicious calibration routines, entered our Smart Car's actual weight (thanks to a nearby truck-weighing station) and started our testing.
Road testing is where the Smart Car started to show signs that this may not be the smartest car available. The five-speed transmission is painfully slow when in the full automatic mode. Shifts take more than a full second each to complete, and as our iPhone test software registered, these slow shifts put the Smart Car's 0-to-60 run at 15.2 seconds with the air conditioning running. The iPhone only registered 56 hp at the wheels -- yes, the iPhone's Dynolicious software calculates your horsepower -- during this set of test runs.
I then retested the Smart Car with the a/c off, using the manual-shifting mode of the transmission. The results recorded by the iPhone where consistent with each run and showed a large improvement. The Smart Car performed the 0 to 60 run in 13.6 seconds and registered 61 hp at the wheels. Officially, the Smart Fortwo's 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine is rated at 71 hp at the crankshaft and a reading of 61 hp at the wheels is perfectly inline (you usually lose about 13-17 percent due to the powertrain). Manual-mode shifts were still slow and added about two seconds to the 0-to-60 time, but were much improved over the fully automatic mode.
We tested the Smart Car in three different configurations. Each configuration was tested three times to ensure consistent results. The first configuration was in full automatic mode with the a/c on. The second configuration was in full automatic mode with the a/c off (performance increased noticeably). The final configuration was in manual shift mode with the a/c off -- this resulted in the best performance. The Dynolicious software for the Apple iPhone (and iPod Touch) measured consistent results and its graphing capabilities clearly pointed out the slow transmission shifts. Handling and g-force numbers were calculated on a 200-ft skidpad.
Panic braking from 60 mph
Driving around town, the Smart Car's transmission was very annoying; the slow shifts and non-linear throttle response made it quirky. Parking was a cinch due to the Smart Car's small size, and even those "compact" spots felt spacious. I was able to easily parallel park (driving nose-in first) in spots no other car would even consider trying. Everywhere I drove, other drivers noticed me -- many rolling down their windows t