1 May 2003
By CHRIS HARRIS
SMART is a DaimlerChrysler company originally conceived in the early 1990s as a business venture between Swiss watchmakers Swatch and VW to build a better European city car.
Daimler-Benz, as Mercedes-Benz was known as before its takeover of the Chrysler Corporation in 1998, took over during 1993 when VW got cold feet and went its own way with the Lupo.
The result was the rear-engined, rear-drive Smart City Coupe, a two seater monobox city car with a composite body built around a super-strong exoskeletal-like cage Smart dubbed Tridion.
More security comes from the Fortwo’s wheels-at-each-corner wheelbase, stabiliser bar and De Dion axle suspension, modern rubber and lexicon of computerised anti-lock and stability electrickery all conspire to keep things planted, not sideways, backwards or upside down even when cornering hard.
Such devices were deemed vital in the 2.5-metre Smart after Mercedes’ original A-class very publicly rolled over in 1997, casting doubts about the stableness of such short vehicles.
Europe finally saw the Smart during 1999, but Australians had to wait until a significantly upgraded and reengineered Series II model arrived in 2003, complete with a tiny turbocharged 698cc three-cylinder single-cam petrol engine.
Pumping out a plucky 45kW of power at 5250rpm and just 95Nm of torque between 2000 and 4000rpm, and aided by the sub-750kg weight, the Fortwo’s top speed is an electronically limited 130km/h.
Using only 4.7l/100km and Euro-4 emissions compatible, the engine is mated to a six-speed clutchless sequential manual transmission. In motorcycle style the driver taps the lever towards the ‘+’ for up-shifts and ‘-‘ for downshifts.
Equipment levels include air-conditioning, power windows, keyless entry, a CD player, fog lights, alloy wheels, a leather steering wheel, along with dual front airbags, an electronic stability program featuring a hill-start action, anti-lock brakes with an electronic brake force distribution device, seat-belt tensioners and belt-force limiters.
Also introduced in May ’03 was the Smart Cabriolet, with an electric roof that slides like a giant sunroof back to the top of the rear window. It collapses and, along with the removable (and storable) side window bars, makes for a fuller, if somewhat fiddly, open car.
But the reduced luggage capacity that results means the ForTwo is a very limited load carrier. Count on only soft baggage for bigger trips.
From January 2004 Smart renamed its City Coupe and Cabriolet ‘ForTwo’, in line with the larger four-seater ForFour light car.