By on August 17, 2006

1039971smart_nyc109.jpg Since the late 90’s, hundreds of thousands of smart cars found homes in European towns, villages and apartments. I first encountered the smart fortwo at my tribe’s annual Testfest. Canada’s finest motoring hacks caned the diminutive machine on highways, byways, roads and racetrack, where one burly journalist declared the smart as much fun as a fart in a wetsuit. And now the butt of a thousand headline puns is headed your way America, thanks to the otherwise sane metal movers at The United Auto Group.  

Admittedly, my automotive tastes run towards aggressive-looking beasts with luxurious curves that bring shivers to places best not mentioned here. By that standard, the smart fortwo could easily be the named “the vehicle least likely to raise wood.” I just can’t get my head around the fact that the fourtwo is a car, and not a four-wheeled projectile fired out of battleship’s main guns. (Up close, it looks like a baby’s pram crossed with a Pokemon.) While I could fully deconstruct the utter strangeness of the fourtwo’s design, this paragraph is already longer than the car itself. Suffice it to say, the fourtwo is a four-wheeled two-by-four.

104242306a2830.jpgOf course, it would be easy to just let rip and have a good ole slagfest at the smart's expense. Sure, the cargo capacity sucks; there’s hardly enough extra space to pack a couple of Slim Jims. Yes, from a safety point-of-view, it’s SUV toe jam. And sure, the Canada-spec diesel engine only puts out 40hp, making the fourtwo only marginally faster than walking. [NB: a British lunatic dropped a Hayabusa bike engine, beefed up the suspension and created a 180hp track monster known as the "smartuki."] Well, guess what?  It cain't tow nothin’ neither.

On the positive side, the fourtwo is an environmentalist’s wet dream. You can drive the snot out of it all day for under $13 in diesel, stick it in parking spots meant for two-wheelers, leave the atmosphere almost completely chemically unmolested and receive two thumbs up from academics and hairy socialist types who assume you give a shit about the environment. That’s not exactly my thing, but it’s still a refreshing change from the middle digit communication afforded the Hummer H3. Anyway, the fortwo is a very clever piece of engineering.

104188606a2831.jpg Forone thing, it’s amazing how much room there is inside the motorized fishbowl. The sloped windshield is panoramic, the side windows are bigger than my widescreen TV and there's plenty of head and legroom for life-sized human beings. The initial impression– that there’s nothing between you and oncoming traffic– is eventually dispelled by the enormous expanse of foam-padded dash twixt wheel and glass. While I've seen tougher-looking accessories on a Tonka toy, the fortwo’s instrumentation is hilarious; think iMac meets the Jetsons. The clock and tachometer are housed in globes atop swiveling stalks.

Despite the Mercedes Benz connection, the fourtwo’s switchgear errs on the side of cheap and cheerful, operating with all the precision and tactility of a cereal box top. By the same token, the optional clutch-free semi-manual transmission is entirely without grace. Generally I try these tip shift gizmos out once, just to say I did, and then ignore them. However, the fourtwo’s slapstick is infinitely preferable to the lag and lurch of automatic mode – which causes the back of your head to repeatedly meet the headrest, and not in that muscle car kinda way.

103984906a28331.jpg The smart fourtwo’s handling is the fourth Ace in the deck (after fuel economy, size and planet hugging street cred). It feels as if the smart has been bolted to a go-kart frame. Stiff and square, with a wheel at each corner, there's almost zero body roll and lots of road feel beneath your butt. Although it requires more forward planning than a Middle Eastern invasion, blowing by startled Mustangs and Hondas like a giant mutant high-top on steroids is a priceless experience. However, due to the fourtwo’s height and slab-sided-ness, understeer is out there… somewhere… and strong winds at highway speed require both hands on the wheel.  In fact, the ride’s so squirrelly, it might as well have a farking sail.

Once I got over my initial reluctance to be seen in the fourtwo, I got a perverse pleasure from driving the wee beastie everywhere. It was hugely satisfying bringing it to car meets, provoking extended bouts of contemptous sniggering from stalwart hairy-chested muscle car guys. Almost without exception, the car’s sardonic detractors were eventually won over by the fourtwo’s practicality and spacious interior– even if they only admitted their enchantment begrudgingly. It’s true. Whether a grassroots grease monkey or an over-moneyed connoisseur of silken engineering, any true car nut is sure to find the smart Fortwo a compelling automobile-– even if they would never, ever own one.

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79 Comments on “smart fortwo revisited...”


  • avatar
    gearhead455

    I consider myself a “pistonhead” but I like the little bastard!

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    If they make it legal to drive ‘em on the sidewalk, I’ll take one!

  • avatar
    radimus

    The guys a the UK show Top Gear crash tested one into a concrete barrier. Click here for the video. Pretty amazing.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    …receive two thumbs up from academics and hairy socialist types who assume you give a shit about the environment.

    LOL, that was great.

    I could like the Smart for certain cities, but not where I live. Too many teenagers inheriting their parent’s old SUVs these days.

  • avatar
    e28M5

    I saw tons of them in Rome (Italy) a few years ago. I was fascinated by it’s ability to park nose first into a parking space meant for (maybe) two scooters. It makes sense in cities like Rome ’cause parking is chaotic to say the least.

  • avatar
    brettr

    It’s really ugly, but, I think that’s why I like it. Not sure if I’d ever buyone though (being a hairy chested muscle car guy :).

  • avatar
    jjdaddyo

    I would love to buy one of these, except I am sure I would wind up a smear on the bumper of some 90-pound, cell phone yakkin’, soccer mommy’s Yukon.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    It is crazy that people who live and drive mostly within the bounds of a major city drive anything other than cars like this.

  • avatar
    modspell

    This is the best laugh (inspried by a car write-up) I’ve had in months. How can you not be fascinated by a vehicle named Fortwo?

    Ohhhh, I get it now, “For-Two,” not “Fort Wo.”

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    picture this, it’s 2010 and the only thing they will let ordinary people into the tunnels leading to NYC are things like the smart car. Then Frisco, LA, and other cities restrict full sized cars in the city

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    This car makes sense for a large city environment.

  • avatar
    jjdaddyo

    Better copy of that Top Gear video (with sound) here:

  • avatar
    a_d_y_a

    # radimus:
    August 17th, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    The guys a the UK show Top Gear crash tested one into a concrete barrier. Click here for the video. Pretty amazing.

    That is Fifth Gear not Top Gear

  • avatar
    TechBob

    We got one in BC and it’s a blast to drive! You absolutely do not feel it’s that small while driving (it’s about the same eye-level with mini trucks) – especially with the glass roof. In fact, the first thing that goes through your mind when you exit after an extended drive is: “What happened to the rest of my car?” You also have to deal with people smiling at you a lot…

    The engine is a tiny jewel: fan-cooled intercooler in front of the turbo and all – viewable when you pop off the floor of the lugage area behind the comfy seats. Lots of odd wasted space under the car’s thick floor, though – it makes me wonder if this wasn’t intended to be an electric hybrid at one point in it’s design life. There sure would be a lot of room for batteries.

    The big goof on MB’s part, though is content and accessories “positioning”. The base car has an exceptionally crummy non DIN radio / CD player that can’t play MP3s with and no glovebox, tach or clock. If you want to “upgrade” your sound, the CD changer and some slightly better speakers – it’s almost $750 (CA). Add an (admittedly cute) pod shaped clock and tach and you are over $1K easy. (Oh, and floor mats and seat covers must be custom made… because they don’t sell them.)

    I understand MB makes a lot of money on their options ($1,500 for an integrated “last gen” cell phone?) on their luxury line, but that’s rediculous! Our Scion XB was $4k cheaper and has a great sounding MP3 CD on it. Their target market is younger buyers who expect decent sound and base level equipment without paying through the nose. The Smart is fitted and options priced like old-line Euro MBs (where you can get a “strippo” 300 with hand-crank windows and plaid seats…) and may explain why the youth appeal and overall sales have been limited.

  • avatar
    tms1999

    How much do they sell for though?
    Is it going to be competitive?
    Or is it going to be a “that’s nice, but for [whatever the amount is] I can get a ‘real’ car that seat four and does not take 20 seconds to hit 45 MPH” kind of car.

  • avatar
    gakoenig

    A “farking sail”?

    What’s next, pictures of well endowed rodents and mashups of the HaHa guy?

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Techbob, puts it on par with Porsche eh? A $16,000 (canadian) base price isn’t quite so sweet if you have to spend another $4,000 to get one you can live with.
    The Fortwo Passion tested stickered at over $20,000 Canadian.
    These cars don’t fit in the “rolling living room” category that we’re used to: they’re a means of getting about and expending as little fuel as possible. Creature comforts are sparse, although the tester did come with heated seats, air and ESP traction control (surprisingly – they handle very well in the snow).

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Since low price and MPG are (presumably) the key selling points, shouldn’t they have made an appearance in this article? Telling me it will run all day on $13 worth of diesel is nice but it doesn’t tell me how many miles/KM that is nor does it tell me how much diesel in gallons/liters are being used.

  • avatar
    renegade211

    The smart Fortwo is based on a great idea.
    Unfortunately, Mercedes failed to execute it well.

    The proposition was:

    1) A minimal car.
    There are plenty of situations where you only need to haul yourself and a backpack around the city. With these requirements, it was an opportunity to build the perfect economical citycar.
    The downfall: For the same price,you can get a “real” compact car from plenty of european manufacturers. Nuff said.

    2) A cool small car.
    A perfect market niche: People buy small cars because they are cheap to buy and run. When the Smart was designed, there was no such thing as a premium small car.
    The downfall: An engine and transmission that are just no fun. Plus, the Smart is probably too weird-looking to ever be mainstream.

    BMW perfectly filled the second niche with their Mini, the first one is still up for grabs (though Renault are making a decent effort with their Dacia Logan, a no-frills compact sedan that was designed for emerging markets and sells for about 8000 bucks)

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    By the way, I’ve seen either this vehicle, or something like it, around here (Colorado). Don’t know who is selling them, though.

    If they could legally park on the sidewalk, they’d be big sellers, I think. the under-50cc scooters are big sellers for just this reason: No license, no plate, and can park at a bike rack for $0.00.

  • avatar
    renegade211

    P.S: I love the idea of putting a mean motorcycle engine in the Smart car – that’s exactly what Mercedes should have done!

  • avatar
    TechBob

    I don’t know about Porches (not a fan for some reason), but it does handle nicely most of the time. Decreasing radius corners make it feel a little top heavy (and tippy) if you go a little too fast. Ours wound up around $21K – but it’s still under-equiped for that price range – especially with no back seat. An Echo/Yaro is more practical, but it doesn’t look like a shuttle craft!

    I did one calculation (too 20 minute to convert form litres/km, or whatever to mpg – I’m not metric…) that returned 72 mpg on an engine with less than 1,000 km on it! It’s fun to watch the fuel guage count down how many litres left when it gets below 1/4 full.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    $20K Canadian works out to something like $15k US, right? As TMS points out, you can buy a real car for that kind of money. The only application I could see is maybe as a 2nd car so you don’t waste money driving your gas guzzler, but that $15k could buy a lot of gas for your Yukon or Expedition, even at $5/gallon.

    Also, I think I’d feel safer on my motorcycle.

  • avatar
    modspell

    I’m 6-4, would I fit in this tuna can?

  • avatar
    phattie

    I see a lot of these in Ottawa (Canada).

    This is a car for someone who already has a larger car and needs a little runabout for errands or commuting around the city. As a primary car, its too expensive and too compromised.

  • avatar
    renegade211

    For those of you wondering about how it stacks up in terms of price,
    here are some German prices for the most basic models:
    (given in Euros, multiply with 1.3 for US dollars):

    Smart Fortwo: 9,500 EUR

    Toyota Aygo: 8,900 EUR
    Peugeot 107: 9,100 EUR
    Renault Clio: 8,950 EUR
    Ford Ka: 8,000 EUR

    All the other cars are cars with 4 seats and 60-70 hp.

  • avatar
    chanman

    You really need to *want* one to get one – the price is at the upper end of the price range for a Fit or Yaris and partway through the price range of the evergreen, everpresent civics and corollas. – and those seat 4 (5 in a pinch), have a trunk, and normal power delivery…

  • avatar
    TechBob

    I’m 6’3 and took a day trip with another tall friend and we fit great (with luggage). The CA $ is almost on par with the US, so I wouldn’t expect much difference these days. Gas in Canada is up there, though – equivalent to $5/gal, I think.

    It’s a great 2nd car – but it would be nice if it had a back seat. The new Japan only Mitsubishi micro (the next gen Smart is getting it’s engine from) would be a nice compromise.

    Still wish they had been able to give it a more interesting drive train. All the “tall” newer Mercedes have suspiciously thick floors (“A”, “B”, “Smart”, and “R-Class”) – I wonder if MB’s hybrid/diesel program got left on the cost-cutting room floor somewhere back in the ’90s?
    (music over: “Who’s sorry now … ?”)

  • avatar
    dean

    I live in TechBob’s neck of the woods, and I still double-take when I see a Smart. They are still a head-turner.

    As has been mentioned, though, you can get a well equipped Mazda 3 sedan, or a base Mazda 3 hatch for similar money once you add a couple options to the Smart. No, the mileage isn’t as good, but there is a lot more utility.

    That said, I bet a fortwo can get you laid in some places.

  • avatar
    philbailey

    No drain plug! Oil change at dealership: C$175.

  • avatar
    BarryO

    Dean,

    Yeah, in Munchkinland.

    I hear there is an electric version. It takes 2 D batteries.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush


    TechBob, the Mercedes B has a "sandwich" floor, the engine is
    designed to slide under it in a front on collision instead of in your
    lap.

    (the Porsche reference was to the effect that adding options has
    on the final price).

    Martin- there are umpteen million reviews filled with stats on the
    smart. This one leans more towards humourous driving impression… but
    here you go:
    Fuel consumption: City: 4.6 L/100 km (61 mpg Imperial) Hwy: 3.8 L/100
    km (74 mpg Imperial)
    Diesel

    chanman – I agree – there are those who are really going to want this
    quirky little roller skate – either because it makes a green statement,
    or because it's cute and different. Me… I'd rather a Yaris or Mazda3.
    There were plans to bring the four-seater to N. America, but they were
    nixed. A roadster version somewhat resembling a Fiat Spyder was
    available for a short run, now canned as well. Environment Canada has
    one – it was on display at Mosport during the 2004 ALMS. Cuuute.

     Dean – I'm sure you're right – great if you don't mind hair and Birkenstocks.

  • avatar
    RicardoHead

    They’re different, and the people who are into them are strange. I lived in Europe when they came out and knew the oddball owners. Also the motors are piles of crap, not smooth, gutless, and Smart as a company is a huge financial loser.

    You’re best off finding a real company to tie your automotive investment and relationship to. Daimler wants to dump its investment in this dog, but if you really have an Unterschiedlichkeitskomplex to fill, then this is your vehicle.

  • avatar

    Smart Fortwo: 9,500 EUR – This is pretty much the on the road price in France and includes tax and delivery.

    That equals 12,181.60 USD at today’s rate.
    $20k Canadian is 17,784.78 USD.

    The first wave sold in Canada went mostly to companies looking to attract attention by stickering them up.
    They play up the Mercedes connection but the cars are built near Strasbourg in Hambach with rumours flying recently that DC was trying to ship the production elsewhere.
    If they really brought in the numbers they needed to North America and lowered the price instead of selling them as niche cars they might have a long-term chance. Without that they are SOL and will remain so until they join the likes of MG.

    I know nothing of the United Auto Group. Can we assume that they are in no way affiliated with DCX?

  • avatar
    TechBob

    Bottom line on the Smart car is that it always makes you smile when you drive it. Despite it’s shortcomings, it’s a really pleasant car all around and really does draw an appreciative audiance (OK, some with Birkenstocks and lots of macrame…). It’s a shame it coudln’t enough marketing traction to get the 4door and roadster to a broader market.

    I think I remember reading about MB prototypes running around with Diesel/Elec hybrid’s in the ’90s. The Sandwich floor does provide a place for the A/B/Smart to route collision energy, but there are still huge voids under the smart (large enough for an auxilliary radiator and a couple of fans under the driver’s side) that seem under utilized.

    My theory is that engineers and product planners had efficient drivetrains in mind (I heard rumours of sealed high-temp super efficient ceramic diesel engines …) when chasis was laid out. I’ve watched bean counters and “focus-group-centric” Product Managers kill potentially disruptive innovation in practically every industry because they couldn’t show ROI within current customer base.

    This is what gives us half-baked model launches (Fiero with a 4 spd, Ford 500 with no engine, etc.) that die before they’re really “complete”. Differentiation drives competitive positioning – but it seems to be a risk few leaders are actually willing to take. We can always dream …

  • avatar
    Kevin

    You heard it right here first folks, this thing ain’t going to fly in America. It might have a small urban niche among the kind of people who buy organic tofu at Whole Foods and rent space in an art studio. Say, 20k units a year, tops.

    I’ve seen quite a few message board pundits raving about this thing, and I don’t believe a one of them would lay down actual money for it.

  • avatar
    Kelly Wechsler

    Wait a minute… Is this the 1950′s VW Beetle for 2006? The “People’s Car” with modern safety?

  • avatar

    @Techbob

    You are correct about the initial idea for a hybrid “swatchmobile” powertrain. It never worked out so a rather conventional engine was used.

    What I couldn’t stand about my test drive was the constant gear shifting. It is supposed to be a city car…

  • avatar
    TechBob

    Kurt – I think you’d have to get the “auto” stick version (with or without extra cost paddles) or the car would be pretty undriveable. In “auto” mode the 6 spd manual is pretty transparent – even downshifting for curves when you expect it. Launching the car takes a little getting used to – I almost rolled backwards into a couple of high-dollar MBz when I picked it up because I didn’t understand the sequence for “hill starts”. (Brake holds for a few seconds, then stomp the accellerator before it lets go…!)

  • avatar
    Ryan

    I rode in one of these once, and it’s just a little strange. To begin with, it’s a little noisy, since the engine is both a diesel, and about a foot from your posterior. Then, at a stoplight, an F-150 pulled up behind us. I was driving a fairly large car at the time, so it felt like the truck was in the backseat (I know, the smart doesn’t have one).

    Still, cool little things, and I admire it, even if just as a counterpoint to the Escalade and H2

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    There is no reason, absolutely none, that this car couldn’t become THE city car in America. You can’t go much faster than about 50 mph on most freeways at rush hour anyway – they’re so clogged – and on the surface streets, this rig will get ‘er done.
    Gas needs to get to $4.50 a gallon and it will happen – this car and that price.
    I’m also glad to read that petrol savings won’t have to come with a hairshirt.

  • avatar
    gbh

    Honest and for true, the Smart holds its own on the highway, thank you very much. I would agree, some crosswinds can be unnerving, but no worse than any one of a dozen vans I’ve driven.

    The last few times I have been on hwy 80, I have had Canadian tagged Fortwos running 80 MPH with the rest of traffic. (I may have been going a bit faster, but that part is hazy…)

    I personally have only driven a gas model, and if I still lived in SFO, I’d park the Porsche unless I was leaving the city. The looks are (obviously) love it or hate it. But, I would have no fear at all driving one in any city with no fear whatsoever of the head-in-the-glovebox SUV drivers.

    Sadly, with the exchange rate being what it is, the Smart has a lot of competition. I would hesitate to prognosticate it’ll do 50K units a year. But one can dream…

    Too bad they can’t make them in the US and sell them for $10K. Of course, I wish they weren’t killing the roadster before it even gets here too.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Yup, I had no problem on the highway with it, it will go 140 kms. I never felt unsafe – although it was a bit unnerving to be tailgated. Since it has no rear end whatsoever, if someone’s riding your tail, they’re right there.
    Despite its flaws, I still think it’s fantastic – I love seeing car makers come up with something innovative. It’s kind of… a personal transportation unit.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    Maybe some people are asking the wrong questions here. This smart thing is not your NY to California car. It is not your take the family camping car. It may not even be a shopping car. It is to take one or two people on a commute to a crowded urban area where streets and parking are limited.It would be assumed that most family people would have another larger something or other in their driveway to do the schlepping. Now you have to rate this thing on it’s intended mission not can it replace your F150, minivan, and Suv.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Batteries not included
    Some assembly required
    Ages 8 and up
    Small parts- choking hazard
    Buy one get a SUV free

  • avatar
    Martinjmpr

    Hmmm..well, except for the possible advantage of being able to drive in poor weather (although I don’t know how comfortable I’d feel doing that) I can’t think of a good reason to get one of these over a small motorcycle or scooter. And most scooters have a trunk of some kind. A sub-50cc scooter can be had in most places for under $1500, and they usually get slightly better MPG than this car.

    I think it could be popular in the US, but one of two things has to happen: Either the price has to come down significantly (I’d say down to the $6k range) or they have to be able to offer something unique, maybe PHEV capability or something.

  • avatar

    Lesley writes, re Dean’s comment about how a smart might get you laid in some places (but not inside!!!)

    Dean – I’m sure you’re right – great if you don’t mind hair and Birkenstocks.

    Lesley,

    Ariel Sharon wore Birkenstocks.

    Also, this article was my best laugh of the week so far. Thanks!

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    If it were less expensive, I’d buy one. I live fairly close to where I work. At least half of my trips are 1) just me, 2) under 5 miles and 3) top out at 45mph or less. As a second car… or third… or fourth (we have four – the curse of living in the suburbs with teens), something like this makes perfect sense. On any day when the four drivers are simultaneously in motion, at least three will be on trips that are well-matched to the Smart’s capabilities.

    Using it for short trips makes complaints about the crappy radio and other ergonomic issues pointless. Typically, a suburban driver will be in it for 10 minutes. Who cares if it’s not a premium radio?

    And anybody who’s driven a Ford Aspire on the freeways certainly won’t feel any less safe switching to a Smart.

    Hmmm… I could get four of these in my two-car garage… I’d never scrape a windshield again.

  • avatar

    >>Wait a minute… Is this the 1950’s VW Beetle for 2006? The “People’s Car” with modern safety?

    Not unless they drastically reduce the price. Then, maybe.

    GBH: Honest and for true, the Smart holds its own on the highway, thank you very much. I would agree, some crosswinds can be unnerving, but no worse than any one of a dozen vans I’ve driven.

    My first car, a ’62 Ford Falcon, which I acquired in 1970, was buffetted by every truck that past me betw Boston and SF (I didn’t drive the thing over 50, because of its age, and my desire to make it last). And when I got to the Bay Bridge, I had to give the steering wheel a quarter turn to keep the car going straight. I bet the Smart is distinctly more stable than the Falcon was.

    I have seen one several times in Lincoln MA (a Boston suburb adjacent to my own).

    There is a Citroen that gets around 80mpg with a standard ICE.

  • avatar

    a petrol engine

  • avatar
    radimus

    So what is the interior noise level like in these Smarts? My last foray into subcompacts was a 94 Geo Metro. I liked it a lot, but after four years I had to get rid of it because my ears couldn’t take the cacophony any longer. Could hardly hear the radio over the road noise reverberating in through nearly every body panel. I traded it on a 97 Merc Tracer, which was much nicer and pretty much got the same gas mileage, but now I have to unload that as it hurts my back to drive the thing any distance.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    martinjmpr: The price of the smart won’t go to 6K, but if gas goes to $6.00, the smart and all of the other puddle jumpers fit, yarus, etc. will see cheap. As for the motorcycle, if you lived in the northeast in the winter, you would not want to make the daily commute on a two wheeler at any savings. As a senior, the death rate for us old guys riding bikes in any weather is too much for me to think about. Unfortunately, the minicars are the smallest cheapest safest way you could make a commute with certainty in many parts of the Country. Only fuel availability and cost will determine how many of the little things we see going into the city. ps there is something less than a smart and more than a motorcycle, it was called a bmw isetta, it had a triangular layout with two wide wheels up front two narrow onesat the back and you opened the door in the front with the steering wheel moving with the door. It’s sort of hard to explain. But if you got hit in it, your family was saved the cost of a casket for your funeral, they just buried you with it.

  • avatar

    In response to Jerry Weber’s comments:

    I agree completely about motorcycles and weather. Forget commuting all year in the northeast. Too much rain, too much snow, too much cold. Frankly, I wouldn’t get on them under any reasonable circumstances. Years ago, I wrote an article on bicycle safety, because I rode a lot, and figured the more I knew about how bicycle accidents happened, the safer I’d be. I came across comparisons with motorcycles, and I can tell you that bicycles are much, much safer than motorcycles. Doctors refer to motorcycles as organ delivery devices.

    Re the Isetta: it’s not much less than a smart, and it’s much cuter, in my opinion. Google it.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Just so we are clear — those two Brits in the video have NO CLUE as to what they are talking about.

    Deceleration cannot kill human beings. This has been proven time and time again, most noteably by the Air Force in the 50s where they ran people at over 500 miles an hour into brick walls and they survived.

    Why?

    Because there was no sheer.

    Accidents involve two and only two forces.

    Sheer and deceleration. Sheer kills. Deceleration does nothing.

    Prevent sheer and humans live. This is why NASCAR drivers can hit walls at 180mph and live. There is no sheer.

    Sheer is putting your head through a windshield, getting a steering column through your chest, have the car catch on fire, etc.

    Read your “Unsafe at Any Speed,” people.

  • avatar
    gbh

    I believe this is the kind of AF testing Jonny is referencing…

    http://www.ejectionsite.com/stapp.htm

    There are limits to what the human body can handle, and they are often very much higher than people understand – IF the forces/abuse are imparted to the body correctly.

    Humans can survive in spaces well over 200F for much longer than one might think if certain rules are followed.

    Oh yeah, if we’re into Isettas, don’t forget the Messerschmitts…

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    Interesting that someone brought up the Isetta. When I showed this article to a co-worker, her first comment was “That thing looks like the car Urkel drove!” For those who never saw the TV show Family Matters, Urkel drove an Isetta.

  • avatar
    eldunce

    Jonny: If you believe that so strongly, jump out of a building sometime – all you need to do is swan dive to survive, right?

    To slow a 100lb person from 100mph takes 100 * 5280 / 100 = 5280 ft-lbs of work. That work can be done in less time, requiring a higher instantaneous force, or more time, decreasing the instantaneous force required.

    Seat belts are important not only because they keep you in place, but allow the deceleration to take a few fractions of a second more, in order that you don’t get demolished.

    You could argue that seatbelts, crumple zones and the like effectively eliminate the chance of being killed from deceleration, but it’s certainly not impossible to die from such. Shear may be a more deadly phenomenon, as it exposes your body to rapid ablation, but ask any motorcycle driver: would they rather shear off their leathers, or run headlong into a median?

  • avatar
    eldunce

    gbh:

    “properly applied” forces mean applying a stop with something much less rigid than metal or stone. The straps on captain stapp’s chair are a good example of that, or a seatbelt.

    If you decelerate 70mph as the result of a brick wall, over significantly less of one-fifth of a second, and you can bet your body is going to be hurting.

  • avatar
    philipwitak

    thoroughly enjoyed this article and all the attendent comments. but with all due respect, i find your statement “assume you give a shit about the environment. That’s not exactly my thing…” inappropriate and quite disappointing.

    everybody – including pistonheads [and i am one myself] – needs to ‘give a shit about the environment.’ and people in your position – people who attempt to influence others for a living – ought to be leading the way.

  • avatar

    Stapp stopped short from 632 mph over 1.4 seconds,  riding the rocket-
    powered “Sonic Wind” on sled tracks in 1953 experiments he conducted to test whether humans
    might survive ejection from supersonic aircraft. He burst nearly every capillary in his eyes, though his sight was nearly normal a day later.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    philipwitak: I quite agree… should have phrased it differently.

    I actually do care quite a lot – spend a lot of time in the woods on horseback where it seems time has stood still and surroundings are unsullied.
    Hard to balance a love of horsepower and combustion with concern over their effect.

  • avatar
    ktm

    It’s shear, not sheer.

  • avatar
    gbh

    eldunce,

    “If you decelerate 70mph as the result of a brick wall, over significantly less of one-fifth of a second, and you can bet your body is going to be hurting.”

    I have absolutely no argument with that conclusion. None. The point is, that it can be a survivable event.

    I was simply agreeing that if one is properly affixed, one’s body can absorb a lot of g-force. In fact, more than is generated running head-on into a very thick concrete wall at 70 MPH.

    Impalement, or parking lot belly-flop from the seventh floor is a somewhat different type of event.

    Several people have survived free falls from over 10,000 feet without a parachute.
    (Since the person falling achieves terminal velocity of approx. 120 MPH after falling about 1000 ft, the altitude is kind of a moot point beyond that. But still…)

  • avatar
    2006300c

    Picture this, it’s 2010 and the only thing they will let ordinary people into the tunnels leading to NYC are things like the smart car. Then Frisco, LA, and other cities restrict full sized cars in the city

    This is America, my friend, the home of individualism, no politician would be that stupid or that arrogant and self righteous to even consider something like that. Keep your left wing Euro trash nanny state neo-fascist beliefs to yourself please. If the American public desires more fuel efficiency (and they do), they will buy more efficient (not necessarily smaller) cars

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    2006300C I like your minuteman attitude. We go down with our cannons blazing because this is America. An America that was given for too long a reduced price for fuel and responded by using half of the World’s supply. Do you reallly think their will be a traffic lane for “rugged American Individualists” driving their pickups and humvs because this is not Europe? If the Govt has to function for the greatest good, then many types of “changes” will not only be mandated to but accepted by us the people. If you think that small cars only is extreme, try no cars just trains and other public transportation into cities. Gas that is essentially rationed by it’s high price willlimit long drives for all sorts of reasons. It’s here without laws outlawing them, ford will decrease pickup mfg. by 28% because nobody is buying F150′s unless they need them for hauling. In Every other crisis the fuel came back down, not this time. China & India will make sure that any surplus will be taken up by their new and larger use of fuel. This is change it is permanent and it is not European or pincko. (By the way, have you been to Continental Europe lately? It looks well ordered, and civilized to me. They have a lifestyle that uses less fuel but doesn’t impede them one bit. Even Walmart had to leave Germany, they just weren’t popular, some would not be angry if they left America.)

  • avatar
    2006300c

    I am not talking about Pickups and Hummers which are a fad; I’m talking about normal automobiles, mid and full sized cars. Every liberal always points to hummers even though they constitute an incredible small amount of SUV sales. People who want to use the Government to falsely engineer some utopian dream world where everything is done for the so called”common good” are anti democratic. The American people never go along with these kinds of self righteous theories be the left or right wing. Individual freedom is the foundation of a truly democratic society. Europe is controlled by a SO CALLED intellectual ruling class that will soon see their experiment fail do to a working population that cannot support the dependents. Technological innovation and the free market will address the issues related to fuel efficiency while allowing people to “have their cake and eat it too” as it has done in the past and is doing currently with the example of Ford that you citied. The ford fusion is faster and more comfortable than The F150. The American way works. I know you hate that but it is fact.

  • avatar

    2006300c writes
    >>This is America, my friend, the home of individualism, no politician would be that stupid or that arrogant and self righteous to even consider something like that. Keep your left wing Euro trash nanny state neo-fascist beliefs to yourself please. If the American public desires more fuel efficiency (and they do), they will buy more efficient (not necessarily smaller) cars

    As the nation becomes more crowded, more regulation will be inevitable. (Europe is around 2-3 times more crowded than the US.) We currently have a population of 300 million–up from 150 million when Eisenhower became president, and when rush hour traffic didn’t exist in places like Seattle. If present trends hold, we’ll be approaching half a billion by mid-century. To put it another way, the population is increasing by the equivalent of more than four New Jerseys every decade. This more than anything threatens our automobility. More info on the main cause of this problem at http://www.cis.org.

  • avatar
    2006300c

    The fact that more population equals more resource use is indisputable, but the future is not as bleak as it seems. The growing political pressure to stem illegal immigration is an ever rising tide. Also, low wage jobs are being filtered out by mechanization. There is now self propelled produce harvesting equipment and Self checkouts and automatic carwashes, dry cleaning and online services will make it very hard for people on the low end of the economic spectrum, who statistically have more children, to have a good life and still have multiple children. Prosecutions for the sick act of child support fraud are also on the rise in my state. The fact that even having one child puts a huge strain on anyone’s income will limit population growth among other sectors as well. There is also increased awareness and use of contraceptives. The fact that population tends to center on the coasts will also be addressed. As housing becomes scarce and unaffordable, people will have no choice but to move to the more inland states and perhaps even the former rust belt thus alleviating congestion. (5 bedroom house $499,000).

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    the above two blogs speak for themselves. It will not be the fascist politicians leading the way for a sea change in what we drive, it will be necessity. Now if you think we can technology our way out of this, look again. A 2007 jeep commander with a german mb diesel will get 19 and 23mpg. Sure it’s not the 15-19 that the gasser gets now, but it won’t even put a dent in where we will have to get to in mpg for the future. This will take a sea change in size and power ratings of cars. 30mpg will have to be the norm with 40-50 on trips doable. We need to double fuel millege in the next decade, and those left leaning pinko, communist, startving western europeans have accomplished this by having smaller lighter cars. Surely our democractically elected politicians in America will come up with a much more cowboy sized answer to the pot heads of Europe left wing approach.

  • avatar
    pk

    About the greashift, what might work, is to shift ahead of time. It sounds annoying but can be quite fun:

    If you know a corner well, about two seconds before the desired shift point, notch the lever. The car will then – miraculously and much to the amazement of your passenger – shift exactly when you want it to.

    Sad, but it works. Too bad BMW didn’t develop the thing…

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    eldunce:

    Read what I write before responding.

    Splattering your brains all over the sidewalkl would be shear.

    However, if you landed on one of those stunt-guy air-filled pillow things, you would live. Hell, you would jump up and do it again.

    Why?

    Because of the two forces involved in an accident, deceleration does not kill humans — only shear does.

  • avatar
    RMcG

    I have had one since December 2004, (a Passion)..(as also have an M6,SL500 and Touareg.)

    I love the thing..I am six three and 260 and the damn thing is great in a congested city. My wife loves it and prefers it above any of the other cars. Acceleration is not..brisk, but in a crowded city you don’t notice it. The passenger seat folds flat for hauling stuff. It is safer than it looks..an immensely strong rollcage basically..which is why insurance is very cheap. ALl the worries about them being wiped off the Canadian hghways by vast SUVs have not materialized. Yeah, the gearbox is rubbish, but at low speeds you forget about it after a while…..
    It will probably the car I keep for the longest time.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Yes, I wasn't worried about safety at all while driving it. I'd seen
    all the crash test videos, and figured that the worst thing that could
    happen in a crash is that we'd probably bounce… and come down to rest
    somewhere outside of Timmins.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    A news story from May of last year:

    Lorry Driver Shunts Smart Car Down Motorway

    A lorry driver shunted a tiny Smart car two miles down a busy German motorway because he didn’t know it was wedged to his truck.

    Klaus Buergermeister only stopped, allowing the Smart car’s terrified driver to escape, when he was flagged down by police.

    “I couldn’t believe it when I got out of the truck and saw there was a car stuck on the front of it,” he (the driver) said.

    He added he had felt a slight bump, but said he thought he had simply driven over a stone in the road.

    Instead he had hit the Smart car and its bumper had wedged on the truck’s radiator grill.

  • avatar
    NamDuong

    Americans are too fat to fit in these things.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Haaaahaa – Frank, you made that up didn’t you??

  • avatar
    seminal

    I could floor the gas on this thing an not worry about gas mileage? Right now I’m driving a 350z but can’t enjoy the performance because of the traffic and the price of gas in LA. Everytime I push on the gas I think about all the money flowing out of my tailpipe.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I have a picture (I think) of a collision between a Smart and an M-Class, showing the M-Class on its side, and the Smart not all the worse for the wear… how to post pictures? Can anyone tell me?

  • avatar

    This is a future vehicle for us, fuel efficient and consume less power than big cars.


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