Odd-looking Smart cars turn heads but save plenty on gas
Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 2:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 2:36 p.m.
OCALA — Raymond Foren is aware that he draws long looks and curious glances on his daily commute to work in his Smart Fortwo.
That's the price you pay when you and your car — at just nine feet long and 1,800 pounds — share the road with 6,000-pound pickup trucks and massive SUVs.
Foren is also aware that not all the glances he gets are admiring. But he's more amused than offended that other people are tickled by his tiny little car zipping into Ocala from his home in Silver Springs Shores.
“I see people in giant four-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs laughing at my Smart Fortwo when I commute on Maricamp Road, but the joke is really on them,” said Foren, 58. “I get good mileage and there's usually only one person in the other vehicle.”
Foren has always been interested in subcompact cars like the 1950s Nash Metropolitan and the three-wheeled BMW Isetta. Apparently, he isn't the only one.
Business Insider magazine reported in April that year-over-year sales of Smart cars jumped 92.2 percent in 2012, and the brand has logged 14 consecutive months of sales increases driven largely by the Millennials, environmentalists and city dwellers.
That doesn't mean Smart cars are going to take over the nation's highways and byways anytime soon.
According to Motor Trend magazine, the top selling vehicle models in the U.S. continue to be the Ford F-Series pickups and Chevy Silverado, followed by the Toyota Camry.
Foren purchased his Smart Fortwo in Orlando after seeing one on a trip to Scotland.
“In Scotland the Smart Fortwo got 69 miles per gallon but here it gets about 40 mpg because of the pollution equipment. It's fun to drive, like a go kart,” Foren said.
Critics say that is one of the knocks on the Smart Fortwo: it doesn't get quite the mileage you would want in a tiny car with a diminutive one-liter, three-cylinder engine that puts out a meager 70 hp.
“I've been up to 72 miles per hour but I don't like to drive on the interstate because it does get pushed around,” Foren said.
Another knock is the price tag. While Foren's car cost just $14,500 brand new and with an extended warranty, it is not considerably less expensive than leading economy cars that offer more room and horsepower.
But Foren loves the car's safety features, along with its mileage.
“I had a car pull in front of me near the mall. When I started to zig-zag the computer straightened the car right out.”
Still, he has some quibbles.
“The air conditioning and wipers slow down at stops and the rear wiper runs when you back up.” Foren said.
When asked if he would buy the same car again, Foren said possibly.
Some of the mileage savings were offset by maintenance costs, Foren said.
The Smart Fortwo shares the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety “microcar” class with the Scion iQ. Both 2013 models are rated “good” for front, side and rollover crash safety.
“The Smart car body has a safety cage,” Foren said.
Both the 2013 Smart Fortwo and Scion iQ were rated as “acceptable” on rear crash safety by the Institute.
An October 2012 article in Car and Driver magazine put the Smart market in focus.
“With 1,030 Smarts sold in September of this year, the numbers don't approach those of heavy hitters like the Ford Fiesta (3,923 sales last month), but Mazda moved only 756 examples of the 2, and Toyota did just 1,118 Yarises. At about 10,000 cars per year, the U.S. will be Smart's fourth-largest market and a reasonably good seller in objective terms,” the article states.
Kyle Korray, sales associate at DeLuca Toyota, said most customers look at Toyota models like the Camry rather than the Scion iQ.
“The Camry, Corolla and Prius are our big sellers, although the Scion iQ does have plenty of room for me at 6-foot-4,” Korray said.
“We've sold (a few) of the Scion iQ's and other customers have considered the Scion iQ as a tow-behind car or a car to fit limited garage space,” Korray explained.
Local used-car dealer Roger Hogsten recently handled five low-mileage 2013 Smart Fortwo cars from a fleet.
“People might have felt they were too small. Buyers here seem to want the large trucks and SUVs. There's a lot of towing and farming in our area also,” said Hogsten who has been in the Ocala wholesale and retail car trade for more than 35 years.
“I wholesaled several (of the Fortwo cars) out to other dealers,” he said.