Smart much smarter after timely makeover
a.. New fortwo is same but different
a.. Changes enhance green credentials
The message from Dr Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the mighty
DaimlerChrysler organisation and head of the Mercedes Car Group, said: "Meet
me for a smart event on the roof of the ten-storey car park in downtown
Stuttgart at 19.00 hours." I was concerned; this man was known to have a
very serious sense of humour.
What to wear for a "smart event" atop a multistorey? Dr Z is the
boss of smart, which is hardly the world's most conventional car company; it
just had to be . . . smart casual.
I threaded my way through the traffic to the car park. A crowd
of protesters stood in the drizzle and half-darkness, waving placards. Their
message was clear: they wanted more smarts. German humour.
Quickly driving past, I started the circular climb to the roof,
passing strange sights on the way, including two smart fortwo models parked
in a single bay and next to them an ordinary saloon in a bay with another
apparently mounting it. German humour again.
Then the final turn on to the roof. But instead of a dark
expanse of cold, wet, windswept concrete, there was a glass-walled edifice,
aglitter with light, welcoming and warm. German hospitality.
This was Dr Z's smart event: the official unveiling of the new,
slightly larger, slightly higher-powered, slightly roomier and more
comfortable (but just for two) smarter smart fortwo for 2007.
Arriving in the UK late next summer, it is 90 per cent different
from the previous fortwo but looks similar, with changes aimed at enhancing
the original concept without departing from it. It is about 7½in longer, the
boot is a third bigger, the diesel emits only 90 g/km of CO2 and averages
about 80mpg, while the 1-litre petrol engine produces up to 84bhp and has a
top speed of 90mph.
New smart's five-speed automated manual gearbox is said to shift
more smoothly than the previous six, and safety has been designed to achieve
the EuroNCAP four-star rating. There is a choice of coupé or cabrio, which
has a powered roof that can be opened and closed even at top speed. German
Smart is the progeny of a marriage between the watchmaker,
Swatch Group, and the carmaker, Mercedes-Benz; in 1994, they set up the
jointventure company, Micro Compact Car. Later, Daimler-Benz (now
DaimlerChrysler) took a 100 per cent share. Early design plans for the smart
(it stands for Swatch Mercedes Art) included overall length about the same
as the width of a truck, with the ability to park end-on to the kerb.
The project needed significant investment in technology, not
least to ensure that the car did not fall over in extremis. Early reaction
was guarded, not only because of its offbeat design but also because its
handling was uninspired. While Daimler-Benz was serious about it (albeit
commercially nervous), some regarded it as a joke, with its little
rear-mounted 700cc engine, quirky interior and stubby exterior, but it was
steadily improved. About 750,000 have been sold.
The original smart fortwo might have emerged before its time but
now the seriousness of the world's looming ecological crisis is becoming
accepted, it may come into its own. Zetsche said: "The advantages of smart
have become more evident today and with environmental changes the need for
it is greater. Cities have to find solutions to jams and emissions."
Wilfried Steffen, the president of DaimlerChrysler UK, believes
smart jokes are history. "It is not just a fashion item but a rational way
to meet transport needs," he said. So, with its snug fit into
traffic-clogged streets and its green credentials, the birth of the latest,
improved fortwo on a Stuttgart stacker could be timely. German
For direct contact replace nospam with schmetterling