When Mercedes-Benz Canada started importing the smart car in 2004, I thought it would never last.
I laughed when it was announced plans were to sell 1,000 in the first year. The smirk was erased when almost 4,000 were bought. As of May 1 of this year it was 14,683 smarts on Canadian roads and counting.
The smart (always with a lower case “s”) began as an idea by Swatch watch founder Nicolas Hayek as a car for the same kind of fashion conscious but budget-minded people who bought his watches.
The concept was good, but the execution was troubled. That caused Swatch’s partner, Mercedes-Benz, to step in and take over the project.
Now available in the U.S. as well as Canada, one of the reasons it’s selling so well is consumers have begun rethinking what they really need. When you consider an inner city vehicle only travels an average of 29 km per day and sits idle 95 per cent of the time, having a great, hulking SUV downtown doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The second generation smart was introduced in 2008 and while it looks similar, much has changed. It’s still called the fortwo (for two passengers), is still less than three metres long and it still has that cheeky, playful look about it that always makes people smile.
However, the changes start with the engine. The turbo diesel of the first generation was dropped in favour of gasoline. The power plant remains a diminutive three-cylinder but now it’s 1.0-litres (999 cc actually versus 799 cc with the diesel) producing 70 hp and 68 lb/ft of torque. That’s 30 more hp than the 40 hp of the previous engine. But the diesel had slightly more torque at 74 lb/ft.
That’s enough to see the new smart go from 0-100 km/h in 13.3 seconds with a top speed limited to 145 km/h. Fuel consumption is listed at 5.9/4.8/5.4L/ 100 km city/highway/combined.
While the smart is still offered as the base “pure” coupe ($14,990), the “passion” coupe ($18,250) and “passion” cabriolet ($21,250), smart is now celebrating its tenth anniversary with the introduction of the Brabus in either coupe or cabriolet.
Brabus is a Germany company long associated with aftermarket parts and now operates in a joint venture with Mercedes-Benz for smart.
It builds on the passion and adds enhanced performance through freer exhaust tuning plus chassis and suspension components. Compared to the size of the car, the “Monoblock VII” Brabus wheels look huge.
Everything is done in leather, brushed aluminum and stainless steel coupled with Brabus-only black-on-black or silver-on-silver paint. The body features Brabus side skirts, front spoiler with optional foglights and rear valance finished off with a pair of 76 mm, chrome tailpipes.
With 68 lb/ft of torque in a car with a curb weight of 820 kg, it gets up to speed faster than you might expect because of the power–to-weight ratio.
The smart is more a state of mind and a statement all at once. In fact smart describes potential buyers as “thought leaders”, the kind of people who buy iPods and iPhones. And with the Brabus you can look smart and be smart too.
2009 smart fortwo Brabus
Type: Two-seat coupe/convertible
Price: $24,900; as tested, $25,698.
Engine: 1.0-litre (999 cc), inline, three-cylinder (70 hp, 68 lb/ft)
• Enhanced performance
• Cutting-edge interior