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MikeT

smart at the IAA

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IAA

The 2009 International Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA) ended on Sunday the 27th in Frankfurt Germany. This is the world's most important car show and it only happens once every two years. The car displays take place in a series of more than ten huge buildings on the Frankfurt-Messe grounds to the south of central Frankfurt, spanning well over 1 km from end to end. Bring your walking shoes if you ever go! I was finally able to attend this year's show on September 24th, and what follows is a brief report regarding smart and the show, with a few notes concerning other manufacturers.

smart

smart shared its display with Mercedes-Benz and Maybach in the Festhalle this year. Two Mercedes, one Maybach and one smart were at the entrance to Hall 2 (Festhalle - see photo). smart's display was located to the left of the main entrance, sort of like its off-to-one-side location in some Canadian Mercedes showrooms! Front and centre among the vehicles on show were a series of smart ED prototypes. There was also a cutaway smart ED drivetrain (see photo). Of the various smart Electric Drive (ED) prototypes on display, one had a USA/CDN type VIN displayed through the windshield (European smarts do not have this feature) and also had the PRND shifter instead of the modified SEDrive unit in the European smart ED. It seems that the North American shifter might make more sense given the nature of the drivetrain. If you can believe that the ED will be capable of its advertised range even in adverse weather conditions, it would seem that smart is onto something good with this model, which commences series production shortly at Hambach.

Also on display were the new fortwo cdi with 54 HP, the new edition highstyle version in its brownish livery and the car2go system of vehicle sharing, not to mention the BRABUS version, pulse and pure. (why is North America denied the pulse, with its fabulous wheels?). Most of the attention in the Festhalle was taken by the new AMG-Mercedes SLS gullwing, a car which is as underwhelming in person as its specifications are impressive on paper. The various versions of the B-Class-based experimental drive vehicles were present and these too took a fair bit of attention. A BRABUS Ultimate 112 was behind glass in a "by invitation only" part of the smart area, and there were queues in the AMG portion of the Festhalle, so I didn't bother trying to go in there.

Overall the impression of smart is that they are more focused on drivetrain development than new models or a sexy new show car...surely the ED cutaway was evidence enough of good development but compared to some of the other brands, the pizzazz was definitely missing at smart. However, all would be forgiven if we in North America were offered the 98 HP BRABUS with an optional 112 HP upgrade! No-one was telling whether we'd ever get such a thing though. All things considered, smart was doing all right, even though it was clear that they had gone to little expense for the show other than producing several tens of thousands of brochures and light shoulder bags that were being given out.

smart was offering what I thought were test drives in their cars on the grounds of the IAA so I got two laminated plastic passes for this, only to discover that the test drives were in fact test rides with a professional driver at the wheel. Since none of the test cars was a BRABUS or BRABUS 112, I decided not to go and like a bad boy, I kept the two passes as souvenirs, to the chagrin of the person in charge of the test RIDE program. Anybody want one? ;)

BRABUS

The BRABUS stand was not in the same hall as Mercedes/smart/Maybach; it was in the Congress Centre CMF (Building 5) which was shared with a number of other manufacturers including Renault, Porsche and Tesla. Although BRABUS is the official tuning arm of smart, it is also a separate development house with a number of barking mad Mercedes-Benz conversions to its credit, some of which have bodywork components that look as though they were designed by a sixth grader, but which go like hell and leave all other cars, including in at least one case, the Bugatti Veyron - standing. In contrast with all this satin black bewinged excess was a smaller bit of excess - literally smaller - the smart.

The BRABUS cars - including the Tesla BRABUS roadster - were all arranged inside a compound that was visible behind a low fence from the outside, but there was an access control point, presumably at which the prospective customers' portfolios were carefully examined in order to ascertain whether they could be separated from the rabble and its assorted riff-raff and be allowed to access the BRABUS cars (and free snack food and drinks) directly. In our case, we mentioned that a Board member of Club smart Car from Canada happened to be in attendance in his short pants and loud blue Hawaiian smart silhouette shirt and could we three please be let in. Whether it was out of pity or respect for CsC I don't know, but in we went.

And straight to the BRABUS tailor-made models we went. The first of these was the famous (well at least at this website forum) BRABUS version of the smart Electric Drive (ED), which is beautifully finished in a very smart-appropriate greenish colour. Why is smart going all boring on colours these days anyway? Why would someone buy a silver or black smart? One of life's mysteries.....

You can't deny that the BRABUS tailor-made cars are stunningly finished and impeccably trimmed. The only problem in some cases is that the good taste of their customers can occasionally be called into question. BRABUS does not make its car conversions on speculation. They wait for an order. So these bespoke trim opportunities bring with them the risk that some of the choices will be less than happy, but I suppose that if the customer is happy (and the customer is never wrong, so they tell us) then it's all good.

Over then, past the British Racing Green tailormade fortwo, to the smart BRABUS Ultimate R. Well let's start with the price. How about over 70 thousand Euros ($114,000) including 19% value added taxes? Make it a tad under a hundred grand before taxes then. Good. If that doesn't make you choke on your coffee, how about the thin veneer of real carbon fibre that was carefully crafted by someone at massive cost and then bonded to the smart's metal tridion shell? If we didn't know that all of this was only for effect and that a humble steel shell lies a couple of mm under the composite of epoxy and woven carbon strands, maybe it'd have seemed better value. At least it was the real thing and not a mac-tac interpretation of CF. Now that unpleasantness is over, the best things about this Ultimate R were the very nice interior in Alcantara and the fact that it too has the 112 HP engine.

Just to be clear about the BRABUS Ultimate 112, only 112 of them will ever be built (I asked jokingly whether the next series of 115 cars would be the Ultimate 115, assuming they could find three more HP in the 999 cc engine) and as of September 24 2009, only 7 remain to be built the others having already been ordered by actual living clients. So get your name on the list SOON! And keep this important fact in mind: you can actually order one with a bare minimum of trim changes, in which case the 18 inch wheels, sports suspension, 112 HP and 150 Nm of torque will be all that remains after the potential excess has been distilled down, to turn a quite hideously overpriced tiny car into a moderately overpriced one. Any and all of the modifications can be ordered individually so if you just HAVE to get the Alcantara trim everywhere there would otherwise be hard plastic or painted metal inside, well that too is possible.

The sorry truth is that I would love to have an Ultimate 112, moreover one with a minimum of changes from a run-of-the-mill fortwo, other than a proper smart colour instead of the boring black and silver that is all smart dares sell as a BRABUS in their own showrooms. I picked up a couple of Ultimate 112 brochures, the same ones that were out last year, but even so the car still looks absolutely delicious in its orange livery that was what first appeared as an Ultimate 112. That only 105 of these have been ordered to date says more about the typical price than the quality of the conversion, because it is by most accounts a rather thrilling little car to drive.

I lolled a while longer over the BRABUS stand, taking photos of the other BRABUS conversions, most of which were much more tasteful than the exterior of the Ultimate R. We then had some free snacks and some coffee, and went on to other show adventures.

Other show notes

A highlight of the show for me was the Peugeot RCZ sports GT car.....I fit well inside of it and the double-bubble roof à la FIAT Abarth Zagato circa 1959 did a good job of staying clear of my head once I was in the tidy cockpit. The one to buy for sure is the 163 HP HDI diesel that boasts 340 Nm of torque at 2000 RPM, a top speed of 216 km/h, 0-100 km/h in 8.7 seconds and an NEDC fuel consumption rating of only 5.3 L/100 km overall (that would be in the low 4s on the highway). Our own rental car was sort of the little brother of this new model, with the 1.6 L version of the HDI, and it too was a fabulous car, so much so that my buddy remarked that if the 207 CC diesel was sold in Canada he would get one to replace his almost new Mazdaspeed 3 with 265 HP. We drove that car as hard as we could over ten days and it returned 5.8 L/100 km over 4060 km between traffic jams at 0 km/h and Autobahn runs on the A 81 at 205 km/h. Peugeot also had a 4WD version of the RCZ on display as a show car.....with the hybrid drivetrain, it would get smart cdi fuel economy while providing a sports car driving experience, literally at the same time.

We also took the opportunity to test drive the larger sibling of our rental car, the Peugeot 308 CC, with the 163 HP diesel mated to a slick 6 speed manual transaxle. This hefty and robust car seats four, even with the roof up and with mixed weather in evidence we dropped the top anyway and did forty something km around downtown Frankfurt.

What really stood out for me at the show was the huge range of cars that are systematically denied to North American buyers. We are being screwed, folks. There is a huge range of REALLY good automobiles out there that we will not be able to buy, ever. Many of these brilliant cars are diesels. The 207 CC we rented was so clean that I sniffed the exhaust when the car was first started from cold at the airport (before I knew which engine it has) and I could not tell whether it was a gas or diesel engine! This was thanks to the particle filter. These cars are not like the relatively crude smart cdi that was sold in Canada for two years......please don't try the sniff test on a 2005/06 cdi when it is cold!

Writer's note: I'd just had a large glass of Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier (it's GOOD) before writing this, plus it's early AM where I was Monday, so if there are spelling errors etc in here please be understanding!

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Edited by Mike T

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Schembri spoke of the Tailor Made option coming to model year 2010 smarts at the Out Smarting the Dragon dinner. And hinted at a green color. I wonder if thats the green he was talking about?

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There is a huge range of REALLY good automobiles out there that we will not be able to buy, ever. Many of these brilliant cars are diesels.

I almost hate to be reminded of this!!!! :banghead: That Peugeot RCZ sounds (and looks) great ---- a modern-day, high-performance Karmann Ghia. So does the 207 that you had. Peugeot needs a North American distributor. WE need them to have one.Mike, anything else catch your eye besides the smarts and Peugeots?

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Well sure.The Fiat 500 Abarth was quite nice, especially the "cup" version.The Renault Scénic was a nice car in the B Class vein (the first Scénic pre-dated the B by several years), and the Renault Clio Sport and Twingo Sport were cool too.The Citroën C6, C5 and C 5 Picasso were all nice, as was the new C3 and DS3 series. The new Mercedes left me a bit cold, especially the new SLS gullwing, which looks like a cheap kit car to be honest.Hmmm, the Alfa Mito and some of the larger ones were nice too, even the new VW Scirocco was sort of neat in a squashed Golf style.It was too much to take in during one day so I will be regurgitating the memories for some time and maybe come up with a few more highlights as time goes on. And now the jet lag is screaming at me to go to bed. Good night and see you tomorrow!

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Bring me next time! No seriously, I would love to go! Smart Electric Drive...drool....Brabus Electric Drive....drool....Are those glow in the dark panels on the Brabus E-Drive??? (Would love to get them for my car!!!!)Also, are those LED Driving lights...droool....Great review! If you have more pics of the Brabus E-Drive I'd love to see them and could PM my e-mail. Cheers,Mike

Edited by VRsyncro

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I just found some trivia that I had written down on a business car at the time of the IAA: the VIN of the USA/CDN model smart ED (electric drive).

It was WMEEK91X09K270896

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