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smart cars in Europe

Broadcast date : 20th May 2007

The name smart is an interesting one. Originally it stood for Swatch Mercedes Art Car, after the Swiss watch company, Swatch, conceived the idea for a bare-bones modern city car.

The original smart car company soon ran out of money and was bailed out by DaimlerChrysler. Thanks to this bold bit of risk-taking, 750 000 people have gone the smart route since 1998.

Itís a car that makes plenty of sense for the packed inner cities of Europe, and another bold move was to sell it as a piece of automotive jewelry, rather than a bargain-bin econo-box.

The yuppies loved the style of the car, and the mix of hi-tech-with-minimalism. Thus you get a fuel-miserly 700 cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine that can sip combustibles at the rate of 5 litres per hundred.

But you also get a fair degree of crash protection and driver aids, as well as a sequential-shift Electro-hydraulic gearbox. This eliminates the clutch pedal for stop-start city motoring.

The smart has been on sale here since 2002. Initially motoring experts, including the team at Car Torque, were skeptical, what with South African wide-open spaces and all.

Negatives for us pragmatic South Africans included a high list price. This ranges between R120 000 and R148 000, depending on the model chosen, and Father Time gearchanges which were also jerky.

But sales peaked at between 500 and 600 per year initially. To date just under two-thousand smart ForTwos have been sold here.

And thereís even an enthusiastic smart owners club in Gauteng. Or is that a smart enthusiastic ownerís club?

The final edition of the current smart ForTwo, launched for the European market, is known as the Edition Red.

Since 2002 DaimlerChryslerís smart division has produced special Brabus versions and this saw power increase from 45 to 55 kiloWatts.

Leather and alcantara cloth with special stitching, as well as detailing of the safety cell in the passenger compartment denote this final Brabus model, which smart sees becoming a collectorís item in time to come.

The Brabus smart with its wider wheels, and extra trim is said to accelerate to a 100 km/h in under 13 seconds, and have a top speed of 150 km/h.

The Edition Red model was produced as a taster for the new smart ForTwo, which has made its debut in Europe. But it wonít be seen in right-hand-drive countries like England and South Africa until September this year.

The new smart will actually not be that different to the original. Like the recently-launched Mini, you will have to be a bit of an anorak to note the details.

A new nose and an overall length increased by 200 mm are the key distinguishing factors.

DaimlerChrysler have sourced a new one-litre engine from its Mitsubishi stable for the smart, which is a smart idea, as it means slightly increased performance from a less-stressed engine.

When the new smart goes on sale here, itíll be in a different motoring environment to the one it explored back in 2003.

With a reported 800 cars a day being added to the Gauteng motoring grid, the smartís overall length of 2,7 metres will suddenly make a lot more sense.

If DaimlerChrysler in South Africa can keep the price down to reasonable limits, the smart may well be considered a smart move in the next couple of years.

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