Smart cars debut on-Island; a short, sassy, economical ride
Weighing-in at just 1,800 pounds and measuring only 100 inches long, the Mercedes-Benz Smart ForTwo has become increasingly popular on the Island, since its introduction into the U.S. in January.
Starting at $11,590, this tiny two-seater comes with a smaller price tag than hybrid alternatives with similar fuel efficiencies. The Smart ForTwo, a fully gasoline-powered car, is EPA-rated at 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway.
In March, Bridget Dunnigan, a veterinarian at the Vineyard Veterinary Clinic in Edgartown, was the first Islander to buy a Smart ForTwo; she said she has only refueled three times so far.
For Dr. Dunnigan, the selling points of the car were its looks, its low environmental impact, and its low impact on her pocketbook. When shopping for her new car, she chose the Smart ForTwo over the Prius for its price, and because she didn't need the three more seats in the Prius.
"I don't spend a lot of money on cars," she said. "But it is a beautiful Island car."
She noted that, with eight cubic feet of storage room, the Smart ForTwo has more room for each passenger than her 14-year-old Saturn did, and easily fits her three dogs or all of her groceries.
She said that she has not yet been able to get a discount on ferry tickets for her car, which is roughly half the length of other cars.
Jason Leone, owner of Adventure Rentals, proudly calls himself one of a few "smart guys" on the Vineyard for purchasing eight Smart ForTwo cars for his rental business earlier this year. Mr. Leone said that renters sometimes need a little convincing to take a Smart car for a spin at first, but he has the sell worked out.
"This is the new wave," Mr. Leone said. He adds in a guarantee to Smart customers: "easy parking, even in Edgartown."
Photo by Alex Bell
Ken Bettenhauser, co-owner of A-A Island Auto Rental, ordered three Smart cars about two years ago that arrived in May. Mr. Bettenhauser thinks that the novelty of the futuristic-looking cars draws people to his location.
He also introduced into his fleet last year 11 Mini-Coopers. He said that, like the Mercedes-made Smart cars, both cars have good engineering. However, the Smart ForTwo still offers more impressive fuel efficiency over the four-person Mini-Cooper, which is rated at only 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.
Reviews on the automobile pages of the New York Times have been critical. One reviewer was appalled that the ForTwo's gas mileage wasn't higher for such a small car. Another, writing in May, called the Smart ForTwo "a chore to drive," citing upsetting wind noises on the highway and an awkward transmission. The reviewer acknowledged the novelty of the car, but he wasn't impressed by the ForTwo's performance.
The Smart ForTwo's exact dimensions are 8.8 feet long by 5.1 feet tall by 5.1 feet wide. The car received the highest overall rating possible from the Insurance Institute for Highway Testing. It has a 61-horsepower, three-cylinder engine. For safety reasons, the vehicle's top speed is electronically capped at 90 mph.