ABG First drive impression: 2008 Smart ForTwo

Click the Smart for a high-res gallery from the Ann Arbor stop of the roadshow
By now we all know that SmartUSA is touring the country to introduce Americans to the new second-generation Smart ForTwo. The 2008 model will be the first one officially imported to the US market although small numbers of the first model were imported by individuals after being purchased in Canada or Europe including at least one here in the Ann Arbor. There were also abortive attempts by companies like Zap to import them as well.

But now it's officially official. Smart dealerships will begin opening up in the first quarter of 2008 but potential customers have the chance to drive the cars during the summer roadshow. Smart had five drivable cars setup during the Ann Arbor Art Fair along with a static display consisting of one complete car and a cutaway chassis.

Continue reading my impressions of the new Smart after the jump.

Earlier in the same week I was able to spend a day with a diesel equipped 2006 model and the new version is instantly recognizable as a Smart. One the outside the changes are subtle with the overall length increased by eight inches to a total of 8.8 feet. Width and height are also increased by a couple inches each and the weight is up by about 100lbs. The biggest visible difference is in the nose with changes made to meet the new EU pedestrian protection standards. The rear crash protection was also improved.

Much more noticeable is the all new interior. Interior volume feels about the same but the dash board design that now includes a locking glove box. The center mounted tachometer and clock are optional but the LCD display under the speedometer now incorporates an up-shift signal that is more useful than having the tach in the middle. On the safety side front and side airbags as well as automatic seatbelt pre-tensioners are standard.

The automated manual gearbox is now much improved compared to the older model. In automatic mode the shifts are much smoother without the vehicle pitching that was present before. In manual mode the response is much quicker than the leisurely shifts of the 2006 model. Initially, SmartUSA will only be offering a gas engine and according to the Smart rep they have been averaging mileage in the mid-40mpg range during the roadshow.

The drive loop in downtown Ann Arbor provided about ten minutes behind the wheel and lines were steady with people waiting up to an hour for a turn. About 800 people went through during the first two days of the Art Fair most people are coming away very enthusiastic about the prospect of owning a Smart.

The Smart will be available in three trim levels with the base pure starting at under $12,000. The mid-level passion adds a panoramic glass roof and other features at under $14,000 and the passion cabriolet coming in at $17,000. Smart is projecting first year sales of about 20,000 units.

Having now driven the original and the new version it's apparent that they probably made the right decision in waiting for the new model before bringing it to this market. As it is this car will probably do well in urban areas where potential drivers don't need to spend much time at freeway speeds. Parking and maneuverability are outstanding and mileage is also excellent. If they bring over the micro-hybrid and diesel versions it will be even better. If you're interested in checking out the Smart for yourself check out the roadshow schedule at the SmartUSA website.

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