Is Smaller Better? A Closer Look at "Smart Cars" and Fuel Efficiency

Measuring nearly eight feet long and less than five feet wide, the “ForTwo” Smart Car model is about half the size of a traditional car. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the car’s fuel efficiency at 33 miles per gallon (mpg) for city driving and 41 mpg on the highway (slightly lower results are reported by actual drivers).

As for safety, the ForTwo did well enough in crash tests to earn the group’s highest rating—five stars—thanks to the car’s steel racecar-style frame and use of high-tech front and side airbags. Despite such good safety performance for such a tiny car, testers caution that larger, heavier cars are inherently safer than smaller ones.

Beyond safety concerns, some bemoan the ForTwo price tag as unnecessarily high given what you get. The cars are not known for their handling or acceleration, though they can go 80 miles per hour if necessary. The website suggests that eco-conscious consumers might do better spending their $12,000 on a conventional sub-compact or compact car, many of which get equivalent if not better gas mileage and are likely to fare better in a crash. Obviously, for those with family and who need to pack items around - the Smart Car is most likely not an appropriate pick.

But for those who need a great urban car for short errands and commutes, the current ForTwo might be just the ticket. Environmentalists are hoping the higher mileage diesel version of the ForTwo, which has been available in Europe for several years, soon will be released in the United States. And fingers are crossed for a hybrid version that could give the hugely successful Toyota Prius—which looks almost huge in comparison to the Smart car—a run for its money in terms of fuel efficiency and savings at the pump. Though it would probably mean an increase in cost, which might decrease the value of fuel savings.


- UsNews

Melinda Crouchley