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The inventor of the motor car has re-invented it, with the new Smart ForTwo.
The latest version of the world’s smallest car has been unveiled in Germany overnight as Mercedes-Benz aims to combat urban gridlock with a tiny two-seater hatchback that is as long as most cars are wide.
In a dramatic display, the company smashed the new Smart car head-on against a 2.2-tonne limousine to prove it can handle an impact with a vehicle more than twice its size -- and the occupants can walk away from the crash.
The all-new Smart “ForTwo”, as it is known, also has the smallest turning circle of any car on sale today -- incredibly it’s able to make a U-turn in a space not much bigger than the width of a single lane.
The diminutive car known for its tall and skinny appearance now has technology that will stop it being blown side-to-side by strong crosswinds or a passing truck.
The original Smart ForTwo introduced in 1998 was jointly developed by Swiss watch maker Swatch and German car maker Mercedes-Benz and built in a factory in France.
But Mercedes-Benz has since taken the Smart car in-house and fitted much of the technology from its luxury vehicles.
The company claims the new third-generation model will have the highest levels of occupant safety ever fitted to a car of its size.
To graphically demonstrate the point, Mercedes-Benz conducted a head-on crash at 50km/h with one of its $200,000 limousines and the new Smart car, which weighs less than half of its much bigger brother.
Mercedes-Benz would not speculate on the Smart car’s safety score expected later this year, but confirmed it will set a new benchmark for a car of its size thanks to the extensive use of lightweight but ultra-high strength steels and more advanced occupant restraint systems.
To that end, the new Smart has more airbags than it has seats. There are five airbags: two for the front, two for the side and one for the driver’s knee.
Mercedes safety engineers told News Corp Australia internal testing has shown it exceeds the five-star scoring requirements in the offset frontal crash test by independent authority ANCAP.
Australian owners of the existing Smart car may also be pleased to learn the new generation model has a much smoother “twin-clutch” automatic gearbox, eliminating the “rocking-horse” effect of the old version’s robotised manual gearbox as it changed gears.
As before the Smart car is powered by a super-economical three-cylinder engine which is mounted between the rear wheels.
The new model is due on sale in Europe later this year priced from €11,000.
In Australia, the current Smart ForTwo starts from $18,990 drive-away but Mercedes-Benz is yet to confirm the new model for introduction Down Under.
Europeans are prepared to pay more for a car that can fit in spaces normally reserved for scooters -- more than 1.5 million Smart cars have been sold globally -- but Australians are yet to embrace the premium price with the same enthusiasm.
In Australia, you can buy a tiny five-door hatchback -- that’s not much bigger than a Smart -- from just $12,990 drive-away.
Most of the cut-price city cars come from countries with which Australia has a Free Trade Agreement. The Smart car comes from France and is subject to a 5 per cent import tariff, putting it at a disadvantage in the most price-sensitive segment of the market.
Just 3500 Smart cars have been sold in Australia over the past 12 years and sales have been in freefall over the past five years while the overdue new model was being developed.
Mercedes-Benz is hoping the new Smart will find more appeal as our cities and inner suburbs become more congested and parking spots become harder to find.
The new model also has more luxury features -- such as a collision warning system and an iPad-style cabin control screen -- which will help justify the premium price.
“We love the car, we want the car, but we need to make the sure the price is right for the Australian market, and that negotiation starts now,” said Mercedes-Benz Australia.
Mercedes also unveiled a slightly longer four-door four-seat version that will be sold alongside the ForTwo. Imaginatively, it’s called the ForFour.
Fast facts: 2015 Smart ForTwo
Price: $18,990 (estimated)
On sale: Late 2015 -- if it is confirmed for Australia
Engine: Turbo-charged three-cylinder engine (898cc)
Economy: Not yet announced
Transmission: Six-speed twin clutch automatic
Turning circle: 6.95 metres (1.5 metres less than the old model)
Length: 2.69 metres (the same as before)
Width: 1.66 metres (100m wider than before)
Wheelbase: 1873mm (63mm longer than before)
Weight: 880kg (150kg more than before)