The newest brand in the Canadian market, Mercedes-Benz’s diminutive Smart debuts for 2005 with the two-passenger Fortwo, available in coupe or cabriolet configuration.
It might be tough to get your hands on one, as allocations sell out quickly. They’re currently cruising on their novelty status, but they’re very practical as runabouts for crowded downtown cores, and they’re beyond way-cool. Should you tire of the colour, the dealer can simply remove any body panel and snap one on in a more pleasing shade.
Smart’s tiny envelope wraps around an interior that’s brilliantly designed to take advantage of every inch of space. Basketball players and jockeys are equally comfortable in the upright seats, thanks to Smart’s tall configuration and sloping toe boards; even those over six feet will have no problem. The rear cargo space will haul a week’s worth of groceries, and the passenger seat can be folded for more space if necessary.
The rear-mounted three-cylinder turbo diesel engine is noisy under acceleration, but delivers impressive fuel economy. A six-speed, clutchless sequential transmission can be optioned up to a “Softouch” that can also be put into automatic mode. Handling certainly isn’t on par with Mercedes’ conventional models, but Smart can spin on its own axis – handy in tight parking spots – and when its standard three-season tires are replaced with winter rubber, it’s actually much better in snow than expected. It handles nasty roads about the same as other small economy cars which, given its tiny footprint, is meant as a compliment. ABS and electronic stability program are standard; since a car with such a small wheelbase can easily spin, the ESP cannot be turned off.
While it’s intended as a city car, it cruises comfortably on the highway, with 120 km/hr presenting no problem. It does take some getting used to having the back window right behind one’s head; vehicles that stop a safe distance back still look like they’re an inch away. When parking at the mall, it’s best to stay at the front of the spot, lest other drivers swoop in thinking it’s empty. Finding diesel can be a problem in some downtown areas, although Smart doesn’t need filling very often.
The cabriolet’s “Tritop” opens three ways, with the canvas roof peeling back or dropping down entirely; remove the side rails and the car becomes a convertible.
The base “Pure” comes with 15-inch steel wheels, intermittent rear wiper (on the coupe), CD player, and power locks and windows.
The mid-line “Pulse” adds 15-inch alloy wheels, silver-painted grille, glass roof (on the coupe), and storage nets in the doors.
The top-line “Passion” adds air conditioning, power heated mirrors, luggage compartment cover, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and rolling locks.
As tiny cars go, Smart is relatively expensive for its size; the Toyota Echo hatchback starts at $3,505 less, while the Chevrolet Aveo undercuts it by $2,905. But having the coolest car on the block? Priceless.
The Smart Fortwo is built in Hambach, France.