Hey, smart car, how smart are you, really? Since the late 90s, thousands of you have found homes on the streets and highways of Europe, but have only now made your way to the other side of the pond.
Lately, I’ve been seeing smart cars pop up in abundance on the streets of San Francisco. And last month, American roads became more intelligent when the BRABUS version of the smart fortwo hit the streets.
Smart cars might look like Fisher Price toys, but these days, less is more.
We can compare the BRABUS to the Urban Tractor, the John Deere-inspired, green and yellow cabriolet which was all the rage at the 2008 Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas. The Urban Tractor's slogan: "Going green doesn’t mean you have to give up being cool." The model came complete with a miniature model tractor on the radio antenna, plus four air horns and a big mama of a stereo. And the nods to an agricultural equipment manufacturer certainly has made the hipster crowd smile.
But how did it drive? Tim Mutchler of Consumer Reports' first impression of the Urban Tractor was similar to the experience he had with his John Deere riding mower. “Both fit in my garage easily. Both are pretty slow and noisy on the road. Both are easy to park. And both have headlights and a cup holder.”
BRABUS picks up where the Urban Tractor left off. It boasts a 112-horsepower, three-cylinder engine, which equates to 41 miles per gallon of efficiency—in this era of gas topping five dollars a gallon, efficiency is the new waste. At $17,990 for the coupe and $20,990 for the cabriolet, dealership prices are indeed steep, but buyers should consider the puny 70-horsepower engine of standard microcars.
In the post-SUV era, how do Fisher Price toys-on-wheels rate in safety? BRABUS models come equipped with passenger and driver side airbags, seat belt tensioners, and belt force limiters. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the smart fortwo five stars for side impact protection and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the smart fortwo coupe their highest rating in frontal offset and side crash tests.
It's encouraging to see the future of smart car innovation finally hitting American streets and a concerted effort toward fuel efficiency and safety coming along with it. What's more, smart cars are a signal Americans could finally be divorcing themselves from the bigger-is-better philosophy that has fueled the American love affair with cars since the Model T.