Ou're on your way to town. Driving along, you notice that all the cars and trucks sharing traffic time with you all have only the driver inside, and every single driver stares at you as you drive past.
The reason is because you are driving a new car called the Smart for two — “Smart,” because that's the brand name, and “for two,” as in just for two occupants.
The car is less than 9 ft. long and about 5 ft. tall. It comes in two models: the Pure and the Passion, and you can get the Passion in a convertible. Base price is $11,590 for the Pure, $13,500 for the Passion coupe, and $16,590 for the Passion Cabrio with all the trimmings.
Your initial thought of how small the car is vanishes as soon as you climb inside. The two bucket seats are comfortable and supportive, and you sit up tall, with a commanding view down the steeply sloped nose to the roadway. Headroom? You could be 6-foot-3 and wear a sombrero inside. Legroom? You probably won't want the seat pushed back all the way.
Power is not great, but it doesn't need to be. At just over 2,300 lbs., the Smart car will take about 13 sec. to go from 0 to 60, but its 70 hp and 68 ft.-lbs. of torque let you zip away from stoplights. The fact is, it feels quick and agile.
The engine is a 1-liter, 3-cyl., dual-overhead-camshaft jewel. Fuel economy ranges from about 40 mpg to reports of more than 50 mpg. The car is an ultralow-emissions vehicle. The engine is at the rear, with rear-wheel drive.
The car has a five-speed manual transmission with an internal electronic clutch. You can put up with slight hesitations as it shifts, or you can click it into manual mode and use the thumb shift buttons on the steering wheel.
Opportunity for change
“Driving alone doesn't make sense in a big car,” says Dave Schembri, president of Smart USA. “It's like going to a restaurant alone and ordering dinners for five.”
Mercedes built the Smart cars with some clever coordination with Mitsubishi and have sold them with great success in Europe for the last decade. Mitsubishi is exceptional at making small cars with highly efficient small engines.
Mercedes redesigned the car entirely for the U.S., cutting down to the single two-occupant model and rebuilding it to exacting safety standards with a combination of high-strength steel in the frame and occupant capsule and corrosion-proof plastic body panels. The body panels have molded-in color and are recyclable.
Mercedes also had to try to determine how to market, promote and sell the cars. But Roger Penske stepped forward and made Mercedes a deal it couldn't resist. “We're the distributor — the connection between the manufacturer and the consumer,” says Penske, who linked up his own rental-truck empire to form a customer-service network. “The whole concept is a low cost of ownership, but we're offering features people don't expect in a small car. We expect positive earnings the first year, with 20,000 to 25,000 sales.”
The cars will only be in the largest metropolitan areas at first. Visit www.smartusa.com to find a dealer.