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smart fortwo: Quick Test

The car to have when you're ready to get serious about fuel efficiency

By Emile Bouret   
How smart is America?

With gasoline prices over $4 per gallon, and the number of cars on our freeways seemingly unaffected, it makes you wonder. And of course, the subject that has pundits, politicians and even average citizens scratching their heads is how to improve the environment.

But with all the big trucks and SUVs still on the road, are Americans ready to do more than just pay lip service to fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility? Just how far are we willing to go to turn our good intentions into action?

Meet America’s smallest car, the smart fortwo.

The smart attracts attention from nearly everyone who sees it. People want to stop you and ask questions about it. "Is that thing electric?" "Does it get good mileage?" "How fast does it go?"

The answers are:
- No, it's not electric. It's actually powered by a three-cylinder gasoline engine.
- Yes, it gets decent mileage, although not quite as great as you might expect: 35 to 40-some miles per gallon.
- And its top speed is enough to get you in trouble - just over 90 mph.

Overall, the smart's performance is adequate when you're puttering around town, but when accelerating you need to keep reminding yourself that patience is a virtue.

Its handling is nimble and its size alone makes it very maneuverable. We weren't brave enough to try getting it sideways, so its very active stability control was welcome for once.

The brakes are effective, but a little unstable when used aggressively. But in all fairness, this car is not about aggression.

The smart's design is fun and honest and its cute-puppy looks make everyone smile. The best part of the car is its interior. It's clever, fun and useful.

Somehow, smart has engineered legroom and headroom into the tiny fortwo that is equal to that of some full size SUVs. There's just a huge amount of space for a two-door, rear-engined car with such a small footprint.

The smart is as safe as it can possibly be, with airbags, a rollbar-like safety cage, aggressive stability control and ABS. But for now, it's still the smallest car on the road and physics can't be denied.

The smart is by no means an expensive car, but you pay for its funkiness factor as there are better values available. And although it's hard to complain about mileage in the high 30s, low 40s, its looks - and size - suggest more.

This car's appeal doesn't come from its power or performance, it comes from making a statement about your commitment to a more responsible lifestyle. The smiles you get from people every day, everywhere you go are just an added bonus.

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smart fortwo

Performance
- Acceleration: Just adequate around town - Lacking everywhere else
- Handling: Very active stability control is welcomed for once
- Braking: A little unstable when used aggressively, but effective

Design
- Exterior: Fun, honest, makes people smile - a lot
- Interior: Best aspect of this car - clever, fun, useful

Utility
- Comfort: Legroom and headroom equal to full size SUVs
- Space: Huge for a two door, rear-engined car with a tiny footprint

Safety
- Dynamics: Stability control relieves your fears, but physics cannot be denied
- Technology: Every airbag, rollbar-like safety cage, aggressive stability control, ABS, etc.

Value
- Price: You pay for its funkiness factor - there are better values out there
- Mileage: Hard to argue with high 30s, low 40s, but looks suggest more

Emotional Appeal
- Heart thumpin' factor: Makes you want to hug it every morning
- Fun to spank: Fun to get reactions, but not to hustle

SPECIFICATIONS

Layout: Rear engine / Rear wheel drive
Engine: 1.0 liter, inline 3 cylinder
Power (SAE): 71 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 68 lbs-ft @ 4500 rpm
Redline: 6000 rpm
Gearbox: 5 speed automated manual
Curb Weight: 1808 lbs.
0-60 mph: 14.5 sec.
1/4 mile: 20.0 sec.
Top Speed: 91 mph (electronically limited)
Mileage: 33 city / 41 highway
Base Price: $14,235
Competitors: Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Vespa moped

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