2008 Smart Fortwo
2008 Smart Fortwo; photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

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Smart’s smart design

Over the past century North Americans have only had a passing interest in buying micro cars. Some of the more successful were the American Austin/Bantam of the 1930s based on the British Austin Seven, as well as the post-war Crosley and King Midget. All of these were under 1000 cc.

In Europe, these tiny vehicles have a long history dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. Most celebrated are the Messerschmitt, BMW Isetta and Heinkel bubble cars of the 1950s and early 1960s, but production of micro vehicles on a much smaller scale has never ceased. Vespa continues to successfully market its tiny Ape trucks and sunshine vehicles in Italy, while licensing other manufacturers in India and much of Asia the rights to the design. Japan still builds its fair share of micro cars and trucks in large numbers, but increased prosperity has resulted in a “bigger is better” philosophy. Despite the pollution, cost of gasoline and congestion on this crowded island, these tiny, cleaner, fuel efficient vehicles are not as prolific as in the past.

While the original micro cars were first and foremost designed to be inexpensive to buy and operate, the latest generation must address a broad spectrum of needs. Gone are the smoky one- and two-cylinder two-stroke engines, crude accommodations, minimal braking and handling, and leisurely top speeds.

2008 Smart Fortwo
2008 Smart Fortwo. Click image to enlarge

The introduction of the first generation Smart Fortwo in Europe in 1998 heralded the beginning of a new type of micro car. Almost immediately it achieved an almost cult-like status with a new generation of buyers. It quickly established itself as a serious city car, and an alternative vehicle for tens of thousands of scooter owners. A market study revealed that 85 per cent of the 770,000 buyers from the thirty-six countries where the smart car was sold were under 40-years of age.

But whether the Smart would succeed in North America where cars were bigger and gas was cheaper, was another question. Under Mercedes-Benz ownership, the Smart brand was launched first in Canada in late 2004, and the car was an immediate hit with Canadians who enthusiastically embraced the concept of this unique, greener, more intelligent transportation choice. Even Mercedes-Benz Canada was surprised by its success in a country known for its vastness, extreme temperatures and weather patterns. While the Fortwo is predominantly a city car, it turned out to be popular with drivers living outside major urban centres: over its first three years in Canada, more than 50% of the buyers were living in smaller markets and rural areas.

Initially, when Mercedes-Benz Canada decided to import and distribute the Smart, it had a goal of selling 3,000 units over the remaining three year period of the first generation smart life cycle. Instead, more than 10,000 units were sold and new model variants were introduced to meet buyers’ needs and demands.

2008 Smart Fortwo and designer Hartmut Sinkwitz
2008 Smart Fortwo and designer Hartmut Sinkwitz. Click image to enlarge

The redesigned 2008 Smart Fortwo, now being sold in the United States for the first time, was designed with the American buyer in mind. At the launch of the new Fortwo Coupe and Cabriolet last year in Spain, I had the opportunity of speaking with Chief Designer for Smart, Hartmut Sinkwitz. Forty-year-old Sinkwitz has been with Smart since 2000 working on the various models in the line-up.

“The smart has been a huge success in a short time and we had to respect our customers for that and not create a smart with a totally new character,” said Sinkwitz. “The grille or mouth and treatment of the safety cell was retained as both do a perfect job for the design of the fortwo. The mouth has the same friendly look, but we changed the emotional expression.”

“The new smart is an adolescent now, but still laughing with open eyes. It has a more masculine appearance with a surface treatment that is sharper and aggressive sometimes. Women like the smart, but we didn’t want the fortwo to be seen as a car only women drive. Since men don’t go hunting anymore their car has to be an expression of some masculinity.”

A wider look, reshaped wheel arches, bigger tires, and a greater brow, help reinforce that aspect, said Sinkwitz.

2008 Smart Fortwo and designer Hartmut Sinkwitz
2008 Smart Fortwo and designer Hartmut Sinkwitz. Click image to enlarge

The rear end treatment of the latest generation also underwent extensive revision. “The rear body panel is raised to the back window and along with simpler taillights help all the design elements join together,” added Sinkwitz.

Because the new design was to be sold in the United States there were certain safety measures added specifically because some Americans drive unbelted. A knee bar was added and the seats were redesigned to include side airbags. A larger windscreen was designed so that unbelted occupants would not hit the top of the windscreen header in a collision.

Overall, the interior design elements have a better flow and attention was paid to the surface textures and the use of textiles. Around 30-percent more surface panels are covered in fabric. Other design elements worth noting include the a larger 220-litre trunk – 70 litres more than before. When loaded to the roof, cargo space totals 340 litres.

The new Fortwo continues to offer the familiar twin-section tailgate. The lower part can be used as a platform and facilitates easier loading and unloading. When folded down it can take a load of up to 50 kilograms.

2008 Smart Fortwo
2008 Smart Fortwo. Click image to enlarge

The 2008 Smart Fortwo is powered by a 999-cc, three-cylinder gasoline engine, producing 70 hp and 68 lb-ft of torque. This replaces the previous model’s 799-cc three-cylinder turbo-diesel engine which developed 40 horsepower and 74 lb-ft of torque. With the new engine, the Smart accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 13.3 seconds and has a top speed of 145 km/h. This compares to a 0 to 100 km/h time of 21 seconds and a top speed of 125 km/h for its diesel predecessor. Fuel consumption is now 5.9 L/100 km City and 4.8 L/100 km Highway, compared to 4.6 L/100 km City and 3.8 L/100 km Highway in the diesel model.

For fresh air fans, the cabrio version now features a fully powered top, while the roof bows can be removed easily and stored in a specially designed rack under the rear trunk carpet. Other neat features of the new top include a heated rear glass window and the ability to open or close it at speed. This is an extremely rare feature in a cabrio and one that can be appreciated by those who would rather drive in rain and get wet than stop.

With at least a seven-year cycle, Sinkwitz admitted that no work has been started on the third generation smart fortwo. “We want to live with it for a while and get feedback.”

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Smart Fortwo

    Related articles on Autos

    First Drives

  • 2008 Smart Fortwo, by Greg Wilson
  • 2005 Smart Fortwo Cabriolet, by Paul Williams
  • 2005 Smart Fortwo, by Jil McIntosh
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  • 2006 Smart Fortwo, by Michael Clark
  • 2005 Smart Fortwo Cabriolet, by Jil McIntosh
    Used Vehicle Reviews

  • Smart Fortwo, 2005-2006, by Chris Chase

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Smart Canada
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