After years of struggling to commit, Smart says it's finally bringing its tiny ForTwo to the U.S. market. And we mean tiny: The Smart ForTwo is just 106 inches long, more than 3 feet shorter than a Mini Cooper. Park it perpendicular to a Ford Expedition, and its rear end extends just 14.3 inches beyond the Expedition's side mirrors.
Under the auspices of DaimlerChrysler and car dealership mogul Roger Penske, Smart plans to sell the ForTwo in hardtop and convertible form in the U.S. starting in early 2008.
This is the second-generation ForTwo. Looking past its size — easy to do because it's so tiny — the Smart features high door sills, bulging fenders and a gaping grille up front.
Plans call for the ForTwo to be sold as both a hatchback and a Cabrio (convertible.) The hatchback opens clamshell-style, which Smart says helps in loading the car. The convertible features a soft top, but it's really more like a fold-down roof section than a full-on ragtop. The doors and a rear roll bar remain upright when the top is down, so there's less of an open-air sensation than you get in other convertibles.
The Smart that is expected to come to our shores is marginally larger than previous models sold in Europe. It gains more than 7.5 inches in length, largely so it can meet tougher European pedestrian-protection standards, provide more rear-impact protection and offer a better ride.
Still, its 106-inch length is paired with a wheelbase of only about 73 inches. Put another way, stand a Smart on its tail, and it's less than 9 feet tall; Shaquille O'Neal could totally dunk on it.
Smart markets the car as offering an unexpectedly large cabin for its shrink-wrapped size. There is adequate legroom for those approaching 6 feet tall. Headroom is plentiful because the ForTwo is as tall as most compact cars.
With an interior layout aiming to provide plenty of room for its two occupants, the biggest indication you're in a minicar comes from the elements surrounding the seats. The dashboard is crammed with the usual items, leaving it starved for space.
The stereo controls are about as big as those in a compact car, which seems monstrous in the ForTwo. Climate controls are sandwiched between the two central air vents, and the tachometer and analog clock perch near the windshield.
Behind the seats are two storage nets and a tote for the owner's manual, and all three are wedged beneath the rear window.
Under the Hood
Full details have yet to be released, but this much we know: The ForTwo is powered by a 81-horsepower, 1.0-liter three-cylinder and is estimated to get around 40 mpg in combined city and highway driving, but it can only go 90 mph. There are other engine options in the European market, but it's unclear if any of those are destined for the U.S.
There are a bevy of standard safety features, including four airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. The Smart has not yet been crash tested by any U.S. safety agency.
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