Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Tortoise

Remember the tale of the hare and the tortoise? The hare was a confident bragger, but ended up losing the big race to the tortoise, who was slow but smart? Well, in the realm of automobiles, I have found the tortoise, who in this case is Smart, but slow.

I went last week and test drove the Smart Fortwo, so named because it is definitely a car for only two people. I found a car that lived up to both its name and its brand, but unfortunately, also lived up to the properties of that famous tortoise.

People lined up for an opportunity to try out this diminutive Mercedes, which will not be on sale in the United States till early next year. I guess we all wanted to know what can you buy for $12,000. OK, no one is actually going to get one for that little, you will want all the extras and some of the more expensive ($14,000-17,000) models offer some pretty cool features that many will find attractive.

The Smart Fortwo reminded me of the Sprite. When I was a kid I built and flew model rockets. The race to the moon was in full swing and model rockets were really popular. The first model that almost everyone built was called the Sprite. The Sprite was the smallest rocket you could build; basically an engine with fins and a nosecone.

The Smart Fortwo is like that. It is basically a reinforced crash cage with an engine. I've seen some pretty spectacular crash tests with the Fortwo and it is amazing how little damage gets transferred inside of that cage.

One of the interesting concepts in this car is that only a small amount of the cage frame (in either black or gray) is visible as part of the exterior of the car. The rest of the car is clad in a soft, dent-resistant plastic (like Saturns used to be) of one color or another. The plastic panels are all removable and an extra set can be purchased for around $850, but the extra set can be of a different color, so you can for example, take your yellow car and turn it into a blue car when the mood suits you.

What I found really surprising about the Fortwo was the amount of room inside for the two occupants. I watched two guys, one six-five and the other six-three get in one and sit, what they called, comfortably. Plenty of leg-room, just enough head-room and enough distance between the two bucket seats that they did not bump arms. There was enough room behind the liftback to put some golf clubs or a few bags of groceries, but I wouldn't want to go camping in this thing. The dashboard controls are plain and simple, nothing fancy, just utilitarian. You can get upgraded sound, though I found nothing wrong with the sound in the model I drove.

The real problem with the car is the tortoise aspect. It seemed very slow. Now this might have been because they packed us in pretty close during the test drive. I never got much space between me and the guy in front of me, nor could I hang back much because of the guy behind me. But when I tried to jump on the accelerator, the car balked and sputtered a bit and then started to take off. It might have had decent acceleration after that, but I kept closing on the guy in front of me who refused to put his foot down. They say it will top out at 90MPH. It only has a 70HP motor, but the car only weighs 1,600 lbs, so it doesn't need that much power to get it moving. Still, the jerky acceleration I experienced was enough to worry me.

On the plus side, the car is cute as hell, particularly the $14,000 Fourtwo Passion, with it's full length and width transparent roof made out of the same stuff they make jet fighter canopies out of, and the $17,000 Fortwo Passion Cabrio. I could see using a Fortwo to tool around town in, but I would not be much help if a friend needed to move.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dude, very nice write-up on the Fortwo. I didn't know this car existed until about two days ago when I saw one driving down the interstate here in the Philly area. I want one! I drive 100 miles round trip to work and back each day and can use all the help on gas mileage that I can get.

Here's the article I wrote about it.