Oil prices have gone up, people have changed from SUV's to small cars, diesel engines are favored over petrol engines, public transport has broadened and all of this influences one thing- Traffic Congestion.
What once took minutes cover, nowadays takes hours. Point A to B is crammed with cars, bikes, traffic signals etc, and that's what has propelled manufacturers to build city cars, cars that are particularly intended to operate effectively in the city.
The Smart Fortwo was one the first of its kind. Daimler and Swiss watch maker Swatch, joined hands to formulate this two seater car which was a immense hit as soon as it moved out on the market. City cars are making more sense now than they ever did, and who better can you talk to other than Aydar Rakhmatullin, the owner of a 2008 Smart Fortwo in the U.S.A and a regular visitor of Indian Autos Blog. We queried him a lot of doubts and questions, and this is what he had to say.
IAB- Tell us something about your car. When did you buy it and more importantly why did you buy it?
I got my Smart about 5 months ago and even though I’ve got a few other cars, I only drive them occasionally, to just keep them running. This car is blast to drive and gets a lot of attention. So if you are a shy person, this car is not for you.
First time I saw and drove one was in Switzerland back in 2002. That was when I knew that I MUST have one. Unfortunately at that time, it was almost impossible to get a Smart here in the States. By the end of 2006 some rumors started to float around the internet that it finally might come here. Smart USA started take reservations in spring of 2007, so I placed my order and a long wait started. Smart went officially on sale in February and I finally got my “Surfmobile” in April. I’ve had it for almost 5 months and I love it. It is more then just practical transportation. It is very unique and different and not like any other car you will see on the roads today.
Currently, there is a wait time of between 12-18 months to get your pre-ordered Smart, but to me it is well worth the wait.
IAB- We do see that you love your car. Have you given it a name?!
I love cars and surfing, while I have another "proper" surf car, I named my Smart "SURFMOBILE", just to emphasize it`s small size (most surf cars are quite big to accommodate long boards)
IAB- Tell us something about the other cars that you own. How would you contrast your car with some of the similar city cars?
At the present time I also own PT Cruiser, Chevy S10 4x4 pickup truck and my wife drives Scion XA. It drives similar to any other small car despite of it size. The first thing that almost everyone who has ever sat in my car says is that how comfortable and spacious it is inside. Once you are inside, you do not even realize how small it is and it is the only car I have ever owned where I do not need to push my seat all the way back.
One thing to expect is a little bit more bumpier ride because it has such a small wheel base, and the transmission needs to get used to. Technically, the Smart transmission is 5 speed manual with an automatic mode. You have a choice to drive it in Auto or Manual mode and can shift from one to another on the fly. In the Manual mode you can up-shift or down-shift with paddle-shifters or use gear shifter to change gears. Some drivers who are used to only driving cars with auto transmissions report sluggish performance.
I personally drive 99% of the time in Manual mode and for me, the transmission is one of the best parts of driving a Smart.
IAB- Some People say the Smart Fortwo is one of the safest cars around due to the 'tridion' frame and its complex engineering. How do you feel when you sit in the car? Do you feel safe and secure?
I strongly feel that car is very safe, at least if compared to the subcompact cars like Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris. Even though Smart was designed as city car I feel very confident driving it on the highway at high speeds. As I said earlier, I decided that I wanted a Smart the first time drove one.
Smart got top safety ratings from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Euro NCAP, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Smart is very small but packed with safety equipment: Front and side aibags, Antilock Brakes (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (EPS), Acceleration Skid Control (ASC) & Engine Torque Control (ETC), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Hill Start Assist (HSA). The highlight of the safety management system is ofcourse the tridion safety cell as you pointed out earlier. Basically tridon safety cell is roll-cage similar to one in the racing cars.
IAB- Tell us something about the modifications you have carried out on your car.
Some of my upgrades include performance exhaust by "Breathless Performance Products", Evil Twin Cold Air Intake, K&N air filter, ScanGage II trip computer and diagnostic tool, blackened out headlights, custom rims to name few. In the near future I want to add black 17" Lorinser rims, body kit and custom wrap (graphics). I don't plan on doing any extravagant alterations on my Smart. I want to keep it street legal because it is my daily driver.
IAB- What is the fastest you have gone in it?
Speed is limited by ECU (Engine Control Unit) to 90mph (145km/h). Some people do not believe me when I say that such a small car can do 90, so I posted a photo of my speedo clocked at 92mph on my CarDomain page. Some owners reported maximum speed of 110mph (177 km/h) after reprogramming ECU.
IAB- Tell me about the maintenance part of it. How much you shell out and how frequently? Where do you get it serviced?
I've got around 6000 miles so far on my Smart. Smart recommends oil change intervals 10,000 miles (around 15000 km). The car is pretty reliable and I do not have any problems so far. I do all basic service on all my cars myself, not because I`m cheap, but because I like to work on the cars.
There is a network of dealerships here in the States, and from what I've heard service/repair/parts prices are comparable to any other brands. All the red panels on my car is made out of plastic. I can get a new full set or separate pieces from the dealership. Full set cost around $800 - $1200 depending on the color. All the panels easily replaceable. So technically I can change the color of my car in my garage in about 90 minutes. This will definitely cut cost in the case of a small fender bender because I can just buy a new panel and replace the damaged one.
IAB- What is the maximum distance you have covered in it? How did you feel at the end of it?
Usually I drive around 90 miles a day a few days a week to work, I think my longest trip was around 400 miles. Trust me, I felt good!
IAB- Your take on the Indian auto industry
Do not know much about Indian auto industry for exception of the Tata and that Indian company owns Jaguar.... :-)
IAB- Our Indian readers are so bothered about gas mileage, and this being a city car, they would hunt us down and shoot us if we don't talk about the mileage aspect. How much does your Fortwo return anyway?
After almost 6000 miles, I am averaging somewhere between 42 and 48 MPG driving in mixed conditions (city/ highway). I guess this car should work wonders in India.
You can get more pictures and information on Aydar's car at his Car Domain page
If you would also want to literally see the benefits of this car in the city, click here.