The Frontal Cortex

A Review of the Fortwo

Dan Neil, the finest car critic around, drives the Fortwo, aka the Smart car. He likes the car just fine – “it’s a minor hoot to drive” – but worries about his safety on American streets:

So, the first question potential buyers must consider is a cosmic version of: Do I feel lucky? The Fortwo — sold in 36 countries and a familiar sight to anyone who has traveled abroad — is supposed to be a very safe car. I’m sure it is, relatively. The cabin is surrounded by something called the Tridion safety cell, a highly reinforced steel superstructure designed to deform and redistribute crash energy away from the occupants. The cars coming to the U.S. will have anti-lock brakes, stability control, reinforced doors and front and side air bags.

The trouble lies not so much in the car but with the American driving environment that, unlike Europe’s, is filled with 3-ton trucks and SUVs, for which the Fortwo is no more than a snack. It is a dolorous fact of physics that when two vehicles meet head-on, the occupants in the lighter vehicle are almost instantly accelerated backward. Brains, aortas and other soft tissues do not care for this at all. The Fortwo’s evident lack of energy-absorbing crumple zones makes this issue even more acute.

Neil also found that, in mixed-driving, the Fortwo “only” got about 40 mpg, which is comparable to the Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Prius and plenty of small European cars with diesel engines. (That mileage is less impressive when you consider that the Fortwo only has 70 horsepower.) Those caveats aside, I’d still consider the Fortwo if I was doing the vast majority of my driving in a dense city with a shortage of parking spaces, like NY or Boston or SF. It would be a fun little commuter car.

Update: In other automotive news, GM yesterday set a distance record for a car running on hydrogen fuel cells. It was a three hundred mile romp through rural New York and, apart from an overheated battery, the cars performed flawlessly.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark
    May 16, 2007

    I remain dubious. There might be a few places in the US where this vehicle might make sense, but for the most part the American driving environment is simply too different from its native habitat for it to make sense here.

  2. #2 Tom
    May 16, 2007

    With gas prices on a steady incline it is only a matter of time before the people who feel that they need enormous vehicles will not have the enormous bank account required to keep filling up their tanks twice a week. The United States is heading in the direction of smaller vehicles. The tridion safety cell design does not only disperse the energy from an accident underneath the vehicle it also is designed to activate other vehicles crumple zones. Iím very surprised to see people complaining about 40 miles to the gallon. And yes your right that it does compare to the civic HYBRID and other small DEISIL vehicles. But this car is just a regular gasoline powered vehicle and the base price starts under $12,000. Itís affordable, it will save tons of money on gas, and it has been proven to be one of the safer vehicles on the road. I just canít see any negatives with this car coming to the U.S.

  3. #4 jimBOB
    May 20, 2007

    When do we get a mini plug-in hybrid? If the Peak Oil people are right, gas prices could rise into double figures per gallon before all that much longer. At that point giant SUV’s will be museum pieces, and even compact cars like my ancient Civic will be expensive to drive.

    Seriously, if a microcar can’t do any better at mileage than a 5-passenger Prius, then what’s the point? Sure, it’s a bit cheaper up front, but given the size it just seems like a missed opportunity.

  4. #5 catbeller
    May 20, 2007

    the car isn’t unsafe. the SUVs are unsafe. get rid of them. as kevin smith said implied in his podcast, he’d rather you die than he, so he drives a tank.

    SUVs consider all the other cars on the road as mobile metal airbags. SUVs exist so that the driver can survive by using your family as a cushion to absorb the energy of their tank colliding with you.

    outlaw them.

  5. #6 catbeller
    May 20, 2007

    And this http://commutercars.com/ father and son team have the electric minicar you all have been waiting for. Clooney has the first. They can make a fiberglass version for 20 grand, but they haven’t the money, so they’re selling the 100K versions first to finance the manufacturing of the 20K versions. But the car exists. if someone gives them some money, and you’ll have your cheap electric minicar. the solutions are out there.

  6. #7 jimBOB
    May 20, 2007

    catbeller

    From your link:

    Mass production required to build the T200 and T100 Tangos is still dependent on funding. Production is expected to commence about 2 years from the point of this funding.

    i.e. They won’t be available for mortals to buy for two years after they get funding, which they haven’t got and may never get. The Tango isn’t quite here yet, alas.

    Also I don’t think they are legal outside California.

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