And speaking of those trucks: What about safety? This is an understandably sensitive topic for Smart. The press materials stress that the Fortwo is "one of the safest cars in the super-mini segment"—which, now that I read it again, doesn't sound especially reassuring. The Fortwo meets all safety regulations and comes standard with front and side airbags. You're well-protected in the event of a one-car accident, a rollover, or a collision with another small car at moderate speeds. But crikey, beware those SUVs. At 1,800 pounds—little more than half the weight of a Camry—the Fortwo is less than one-third as heavy as an empty Cadillac Escalade. Simple physics tells us a head-on rendezvous is unlikely to go well for the underdog.
My biggest disappointment with the Fortwo is its gas mileage. It's very good, but I'd expected a car this light to post even more eye-popping numbers. At 33 miles per gallon in the city, and 41 mpg on the highway, its fuel efficiency isn't dramatically better than that of a Honda Fit (28 city/34 highway)—a car with far more engine power and interior capacity.
Which highlights the major issue here: While novel and fun, ultimately the Fortwo is just too impractical to recommend over, say, the Fit. Because of its diminutive size, the Fortwo can't really be used like a regular car. Yes, it fits two average-size adults very comfortably, with good leg room. But anything more is beyond its capacity. When I drove around with a slightly beefy friend of mine sitting in the passenger seat, the Fortwo felt claustrophobic—and this 6-foot-2 pal was bumping up against the sunroof. There's no back seat at all, so forget about squeezing in a third person (even a kid). You can cram a few bags of groceries into the barely there trunk or perhaps a couple of gym bags. But you'll never get a large suitcase in there. And going camping is out of the question.
If the Fortwo cost $8,000 and got 50 mpg, it would be a terrific option as a second car. But at $13,590 for a middle-of-the-road model, it's no cheaper than the Fit (which I previously reviewed and loved), and it's far less car for the money. As I see it, there are only two reasons to buy a Fortwo.
The first is if you want an easier time finding parking. The Fortwo fits in half a space, and those leftover scraps of room on city blocks suddenly turn into viable parking opportunities. This is a godsend in crowded urban areas.
The other reason to buy a Fortwo is if you enjoy being stared at. I personally haven't been ogled this much on the road since I toured a friend's neighborhood in his restored Model T. People pointed at the Fortwo as I went by—smiling, waving, giving me the thumbs-up. At stop lights, drivers next to me would roll down their windows and ask, "What kind of car is that?" When I pulled up next to a corner filled with teen girls, one laughed and shouted, "It looks like a shopping cart!"
The prospect of this sort of attention, I suspect, is what's driving the Fortwo's sales. Smart's press materials compare owning a Fortwo to owning an iPod or an iPhone, and it's easy to see why: All three are high-design, overpriced objects of shimmery desire. Remember, the original Smart car was actually the product of a partnership between Mercedes-Benz and the inventor of the Swatch watch. Which makes a lot of sense—because the Fortwo is not so much a car as a trendy gadget.
TODAY IN SLATE
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What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture
Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You
Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows
Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?
The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.
Happy Constitution Day!
Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.