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by Michael Clark
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Whether it’s being used for security patrol, Hollywood comic relief, or the delivery of circular culinary delights from the local pizza concern, the Smart Fortwo has been welcomed with open arms by numerous wheeled Canadians. With a starting price in the sub-seventeen department, it is a fuel-savvy, anti-auto-establishment statement that is guaranteed to attract a crowd. Forget about how much car you want; how much car do you really need?
Before you answer that, take note of all the commuter traffic with a passenger load of me, myself and I. Tally up the parking garage bumps and scrapes that you’ve accepted as beyond your control. Then calculate your Egomobile’s annual fuel costs. Maybe it’s high time to get smart.
For most Canucks, the question of how smart is the Smart should definitely include a winter driving pop quiz. Lone Star Motors of Winnipeg provided a 2006 Smart Fortwo coupe for testing. This is the top-line Passion series, above the sports-minded Pulse series and the base model, simply dubbed Pure. The Passion has a starting MSRP of $19,650, plus freight and options.
If you’re wondering where to draw the original line to the Smart’s simplicity, think vintage Beetle: the familiar parcel cubbies, the massive speedometer, and an exterior that just screams “hug me”. At only 2.5 metres in length, the Fortwo is easier to get your arms around than some of your aunties.
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What it lacks in size, the Fortwo trumps with personality. Smart is to Mercedes-Benz as the Mini is to BMW. Both are inexpensive roller skates with plenty of tech pilfered from their cushy cousins. The Electronic Stability Program, the diesel injection technology, even the varied sizing between front and rear wheels and tires. I think they do that on the odd AMG.
Living with diesel used to mean dual batteries, black smoke, and the watched-pot-never-boils glow plug indicator. The glows are good to go, in what seems to be the time interval afforded to some “fasten seat belt” indicators. This was in sub-zero temperatures that would normally spell death to a diesel, unless it had been plugged in for 48 hours inside a heated garage.
The rear-mounted mill gives a smidge of cold start rebuff, though it quickly smoothes out. Push the climate control slide to the hottest setting, and an electric pre-heater starts to warm the cabin. (Heated seats are a $395 option.) Even with a charged-air cooling system, the Smart is never chilly. Windshield defrost is the clear see-through winner, with side glass needing the extra fan oomph, especially with a breathing passenger.
Safety is rampant underfoot. Standard ABS conjoins with the Electronic Stability Program. The ESP works exceptionally well, even with summer tires under panic lane changes. The ABS stops the Smart with a yank similar to that of an aircraft carrier cable snagging a Tomcat. (Check the rear view before demonstrating to your passenger.) The perimeter placement of the wheels makes for stable footing. Even with elevated seating positions, manoeuvres never felt “tippy”. The unassisted rack and pinion steering will never make you sweat, nor complain of slop.
ESP means consistent inputs to achieve traction. However, most systems have the ability to be defeated; that “off” switch is crucial for light-stuck scenarios, when a little bit of wheelspin can rock you out and on your way. The Smart system cannot be defeated, which means that there are plenty of embarrassing moments ahead if you don’t spring for winter tires. Mine occurred at a potential photo op on Winnipeg’s Glenwood Crescent, in about six inches of fresh powder with a melting base. I suppose I could have gotten out, lifted the Smart, and carried it ten feet. But there were kids around, and I didn’t want to frighten them.
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The Passion level includes the “Softouch” transmission, which adds an automatic shift program to the six-speed Softip semi-manual. Leave it off. Driving in Auto mode reminds me of my favorite Addams Family character. (Lurch, not Gomez.) You accelerate to the shift point, the power drops, and then it kicks you in the pants as you upshift. Deft control of the slapstick shifter is your best bet for driving enjoyment. Spend $240 for the optional RPM gauge and clock; it’s so much more fashionable than the upshift light. Anyone can tromp a 300 hp V8 to reach the next traffic light, but it takes a certain amount of finesse to burst from the traffic crowd with a mere 40 ponies. In fact, it’s downright fun.
As for passive safety, the tridion safety cell is a marvelous cocoon. Mercedes-Benz has even gone as far as to pound a Smart with an S-Class behemoth in crash testing, and only minor injury measures occurred on the crash test dummies. All Smarts have dual frontal airbags and seat-mounted side airbags.
Slippery tires aside, there was one glaring issue with the Smart: I could only fit $12.63 of diesel fuel into the tank to fill it. Oh, great. What am I going to do with all this leftover money?
Technical Data: 2006 Smart Fortwo Passion
|Options||$635 (Heated seats $395; tachometer and clock package $240)|
|Price as tested||$21,680 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives|
|Type||2-door, 2-passenger subcompact coupe|
|Engine||0.8-litre inline 3 CDI turbo diesel|
|Horsepower||40 @ 4200 rpm|
|Torque||74 lb-ft @ 1800-2800 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed automatic w/manual mode|
|Tires||P145/65R15 (front)/P175/55R15 (rear)|
|Curb weight||730 kg (1609 lbs)|
|Wheelbase||1812 mm (71.3 in.)|
|Length||2500 mm (98.4 in.)|
|Width||1515 mm (59.6 in.)|
|Height||1549 mm (60.9 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||260 litres (9.1 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 4.6 L/100 km (61 mpg Imperial)|
|Hwy: 3.8 L/100 km (74 mpg Imperial)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|