Two years ago I was given a Smart Fortwo to road test for a week and to say that I thought it was a monumental pile of crap would be an understatement. Yes it’s small, and yes you can park it just about anyplace, the problem is that after parking it, too many of its owners simply walk away from it without setting them ablaze. When Smart first entered the U.S. car market they brought with them a great ad campaign, the promise of amazing fuel economy and a fun little car that would make you feel happy when you drove it. The ad campaign worked because in 2008 Smart sold 25,000 of these little buggers to people who bought into the hype before ever having driven one.
Then 2009 came along and Smart sales in the U.S. began to drop as people realized that these cars actually weren’t very good. We’re now 7 months into 2010 and according to Automotive News, Smart has only sold a dismal 4,000 cars to U.S. consumers. So what happened here? Well, I’ll tell you, in theory the Smart Fortwo is a great little car. It’s small, somewhat economical and makes for a good urban runabout. The problem is that it’s not a car that was designed for American roads and or the 70-80 mph sustained speeds that Americans are accustom to driving at on U.S. highways and interstates.
Maintaining these speeds in the Smart means you are never going to take your foot off the floor. Also, cruising at these speeds is also a bit unnerving as the Smart does not welcome speeds in excess of 70 mph. The short wheel base and ultra tiny wheels mean you feel every bump in the road. Combine that with scary emergency handling and you have the makings of a none-to-happy scene if something goes array. My test car averaged a combined mileage of around 41 mpg. Yes, it’s good, but you have to realize that the fuel capacity is only 5.8 gallons, which means you’re filling up every 210 miles or so. The Smart’s transmission is another story entirely… simply put, it stinks.
In all honesty I can’t see Smart regaining any ground here in the U.S. unless it implements some drastic changes to its model line in the form of enhanced performance, fuel range and price. Today’s mini-car market simply has too many good cars for a poor performer like the Smart to have any type of competitive edge.