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Responsibility 101 - Resonator

Responsibility 101

Dec 7, 2006 SHARE
Epcp_0612_02_z+responsibility_101+les_bidrawn Photo 1/1   |   Responsibility 101 - Resonator

Although it wasn't much of a movie, there was a great line in "Over the Hedge," a tiny bit of insightful humor. It takes place when a bunch of animals are staring in awe at a homeowner's sport utility vehicle.

Innocent porcupine: "Wow...it's huge. How many people does it carry?"

Sassy raccoon: "Usually one."

Despite watching it three times during a recent trans-Atlantic flight, that's all I remember.

"Usually one."

That it's a waste of resources is obvious; I could jump up and down on a soapbox expounding on the evils of conspicuous consumption and gas-guzzling leviathans 'till I was blue in the face. Afterwards, I'd leave in my 15-mpg M3 and be just as guilty (although a lot cooler).

The commute to my office isn't especially daunting or long; ten freeway miles there, ten freeway miles back. Some days it takes six minutes, some days 45. Either way, it's somewhat of a waste driving the M3 for this daily slog. The BMW barely has time to stretch its long legs before it's shut down and stabled for the next eight hours. Sometimes I think the M3 gets frustrated. I know I do.

A few days ago, I saw a Smart Car on the freeway, cruising along at 80 mph. Its diminutive proportions were hypnotic; I found myself inching closer and closer until I could have reached out and thumped the driver on the head. This dude would have none of it and promptly accelerated to 95 mph and then 100. I backed off at 105 mph and figured looking at a picture of a Smart would be much safer. Turns out it was my buddy James Hickerson, a suspension development engineer from Eibach Springs. Apparently Jeff Bennett, the mayor of Corona, Calif. (and a former Champ Car driver) has brought 2000 Smart Cars stateside and is certifying them for 50-state usage. G&K is doing the federalization chores, the same company that certified the Ferrari Enzo and various high-profile cars like Nissan's Skyline. Bennett has sprinkled a few Smarts throughout his city including Corona-based, industry heavyweight Eibach.

In stock trim, the turbocharged Smart produces 60 hp and can keep up with 85 mph traffic, all the while achieving some 50-mpg. The Smart that Hickerson was driving had been modified with performance software, larger 15-inch wheels (195/60-series tires) and a sport suspension. My seat time in Smarts has been limited to moving one five feet in a French parking structure (it was in the way). I did not expect the quickness or dexterity from this tiny car. In short, it was a hoot to drive, sort of like a rogue vehicle from Disney's Autopia ride, only faster and with a better seat.

I can't help but compare this Smart to the Fiat Abarth of yesteryear, especially the highly modified Abarths. The Abarth spawned an entire industry based on getting more from the tiny car. Granted, the gains were meager compared to modern cars but nonetheless significant given their relative starting point. Remember the Okrasa performance kits for the air-cooled Beetle? Big-valve heads, Solex carbs and a free-flowing intake conspired to bring output from 36 hp to 48 hp. These $248 kits flew off the shelves as power-hungry enthusiasts sought more performance. Maybe we could do the same thing with the Smart.

As I write these words Smarts are defined as a grey market vehicle, that is a non-US spec vehicle brought in by a private party. Typically if the manufacturer sees a significant demand, it will export the car.

Apparently, that time is now.

I'd gladly drive a Smart to work or on the hundred bullshit errands I have to run throughout any given week. I'd tune the bejesus out of it and make it my own little hot rod. I'd also support folks interested in doing the same thing. I guess what I'm saying is even though the Smart can't be classified as a high performance vehicle we can still have fun with it, improve it, play with it. And that it helps save precious natural resources means I can flog the M3 guilt free.

How the Smart thing will play out is anyone's guess. I've heard a few numbers bandied about-low to mid 20s is the price point. That's less than hybrids from Honda or Toyota but those are much bigger vehicles.

Electronic vehicles still don't make sense; you are most likely going to pay for that electricity via a fossil-fueled power plant. That leaves gas as the best most efficient fuel and makes the Smart and attractive option.

I am going to spend a month in the Eibach Smart and check out its viability. During that time the M3 will be getting supercharged so I actually kill two birds with one stone.

So if you see me on the Pomona freeway remember, I'm doing my part for the environment, doing my part at 80-105 mph.

Responsibility rocks.
Les Bidrawn
Editor
european.car@primedia.com

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