The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Smarter cars debut to American drivers

Increasing gas prices and American motorists’ greater awareness of the environment’s fragile state have driven up sales of cars that look as though they are related to the talking vehicles in Chevron’s Techron gasoline commercials.

The country’s first microcar was deemed a success before its first dealership opened in mid-January. Only in the U.S. for five months, the smart car by Mercedes Benz has taken the country by storm, company representatives say.

Three models of the smart car hit the streets on January 18: the smart fortwo pure coupe, passion coupe and cabriolet. With base prices of $11,590, $13, 590 and $16,590, respectively, the microcars not only take a smaller bite out of a consumer’s weekly gasoline bills, but are considerably cheaper to buy than larger, fuel-efficient automobiles.

The smart fortwo pure coupe tops out at $14,045. The passion coupe hits a high of $15, 580. And the cabriolet’s top-of-the-line price is $18,230. These figures do not include tax, title, registration, destination charges or other dealer fees.

The smart car has achieved the highest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for front and side crash worthiness. And front and side air bags are standard equipment.

A variety of options allow consumers to take the modestly priced models into the luxury category rather quickly.

Options include a variety of interior and exterior color choices, a sun roof, fog lamps, analog clock and revolution counter, upgrades in the stereo system, or a comfort package with black leather heated seats, electric power steering, rain-sensing windshield wipers and light-sensor head lamps.

More add-ons at the dealership include a 6-inch touch-screen navigation system, Sirius Satellite Radio, Bluetooth connection with speaker phone, an iPod connection with touch-screen control and a charging feature, as one system ($2,495), and a back-up camera ($295).

The smart car is manufactured in an environmentally conscientious manner. And the its materials were chosen for their minimal environmental impact and maximum recyclability. Smart car puts minimum pressure on the environment from when buyers drive it off the lot to when its runs it course.

A test drive of a fully loaded smart fortwo passion coupe reveals that it is extremely comfortable and handles very well.

The leather sports steering wheel is a little smaller than a traditional-size steering wheel. The car has an attractive dashboard and a nicely sized glove box. While the rearview mirror is small and shaped oddly, it is fully functional.

At 5.1 feet high, the smart car is a little taller than most cars. From the ground to the bottom of the car, it is the same. The difference is the height of its seats, which are about 8 inches higher. This means the driver looks out above the dashboard at a higher eye level than a traditional car. Because of this, visibility is very good.

The car backs into a little parking space like a dream. It is easy to see through the back window, and with power steering, the car is easy to steer.

This car has a five-gear, manual transmission that converts to an automatic feature (most cars have the reverse). Drivers can shift by the paddles on the steering wheel or by using the gear shift. But there is no need to shift because the car will automatically pick the safest gear.

The brand specialist who came along on the test drive said that in manual, when shifting, drivers tell the car to engage the clutch, as there is no clutch pedal on the floor. He suggests that when drivers touch the paddle or the gear shift, they raise their foot slightly off the gas pedal to make the transmission shift smoother. Hot rods will like the shifting motion when they do not ease off the gas pedal.

All three models get 33 city and 41 highway. Mileage is based on 2008 EPA standards that take into account real-life driving situations: start/stop, air conditioning, etc.

The car is 8.8 feet in length, and its height and width are 5.1 feet. There is plenty of headroom. Marketing material for the car indicates that two 6-feet, 5-inch people can sit side by side with shoulder room to spare.

The smart car holds 8.7 gallons of premium gas. The engine is in the back of the vehicle under the storage area. It has a 1.0 L, 71 HP, three-cylinder engine, with a five-speed automated manual transmission. The brand specialist said the engine was switched from Mercedes Benz to Mitsubishi in 2007. He said the engine is popular in Europe, and it gets a four-to-five star reliability rating.

During the test drive, the temperature in the San Fernando Valley was more than 100 degrees, which was not a problem because the car has plenty of cold air and air movement to handle a hot day.

Because of its size, storage is modest but workable, with inside door compartments, a glove box and a 20 by 40-inch storage area in back of the seats (a net allows drivers to stack stuff right up to the car’s roof). The passenger seat also folds flat, so drivers can fit a 7-foot surfboard inside, the brand specialist indicates.

The smart car is a well-made, small car by Mercedes Benz. The car handles very nicely, has plenty of pep and parks like a dream.

Do not wait until you need a car to buy a smart car, because you may be disappointed. While a others cars may be available for purchase at dealerships, the business model for selling the smart car is via the Internet.

If ordered today, the smart car may not arrive for 18 months because the manufacturer underestimated its popularity in America. Without a backlog, delivery of the smart car may take 10 weeks.

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