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Smart Fortwo Coupe and Cabriolet.

Smart Fortwo EuroNCAP crash testing.  (Source: EuroNCAP)
Smart's Fortwo proves to be a big hit with consumers

With gas prices comfortably past the $3.00 mark in most regions of the United States, many drivers and auto manufacturers are looking for ways to consume less gas. Drivers are looking to cut down on unnecessary trips and turning their attention to more fuel efficient offerings when it comes time to purchase a new vehicle.

Auto manufacturers -- for their part -- are trying to accommodate the eco-conscious consumers with efficient gasoline engines, turbo-diesel engines, and a vast array of hybrids.

The Smart Fortwo, however, doesn't use expensive turbo-diesel engines or a hybrid powertrain to achieve its fuel economy numbers. Instead, its diminutive dimensions, extremely light curb weight (1,804 lbs), and tiny 1.0-liter (70 HP) engine allow it to return fuel economy numbers of 33 MPG city/40 MPG highway.

The similarly-priced Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris achieve ratings of 28/34 and 29/36 respectively. Those vehicles, however, look like giants compared to the Fortwo. The Smart Fortwo measures just 106.1" from bumper to bumper -- to put this into perspective, the Fortwo would fit within the wheelbase of a 2008 Toyota Camry. Likewise, the vehicle is only 61.3" wide -- five inches narrower than a Mini Cooper.

The diminutive dimensions allow the Smart Fortwo to fit into tight spaces that other seemingly "small" vehicles wouldn't dare venture. Parking space too small? Just park head first up against the curb. The Fortwo makes compact parking spaces at malls look like an exercise in excess.

The Smart Fortwo's small size and miserable performance numbers (60 MPH is reached is achieved in a lethargic 14.1 seconds from a standstill) hasn't stopped people from lining up to purchase the vehicle. Penske Automotive Group (PAG), the U.S. importer for the Smart Fortwo, reports that the vehicle has surpassed all sales expectations. Over 15,000 Fortwos were originally projected to be sold in 2008, but Penske is now on track to receive 25,000 units this year -- all of which are spoken for. Penske says that he could sell 40,000 units if he had the supply.

Buyers are also loading up on options with the average buyer dropping $1,600 on accessories for a vehicle that starts at $14,235 including destination fee.

"This is not a customer who is buying a car because it is cheap," said PAG CEO Roger Penske. "People are interested in its urban friendliness and its fuel economy," he said. "It is the total of what we offer."

Traditional hot beds for "quirky car" sales like New York and Los Angeles have seen booming sales for the vehicle. Cities not typically known for their hip car culture are also seeing lots of interest. "In Pittsburgh and places like that, the dealers are dying for the cars," added Penske.

Drivers used to driving "normal" family sedans or SUVs may balk at the idea of a tiny "tin can" vehicle roaming the streets, but it appears that many buyers are willing to put up with the downsides in order to make a statement.





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