When Marnie Russ scoots around in her Smart ForTwo compact car, she gets stares and the thumbs up sign in support of her revolutionary venture into the future, away from gas guzzling SUVs that crowd the streets of Alexandria.
Russ said she feels like a goodwill ambassador of things to come in the transportation world.
Its really cute, I saw it first in Europe, she said.
Russ just bought her Smart ForTwo car from the Smart Center in Alexandria last Tuesday, and is amazed how easy it is to drive and park in her urban surroundings. You could fit four of these in my garage, she said.
The Smart Center in Alexandria is one of two dealerships in the area that sells this sub compact car built by Mercedes Benz.
Not only does this mini car boast a 1 liter, three cylinder engine that gets over 40 miles per gallon, it has many other features that may become the norm in cars of the future. The five-speed automated manual transmission shifts like a standard shift car but theres no four-on-the-floor or a clutch.
The spacious interior is really a tridion safety cell, of reinforced steel that will hold together in a collision, and is intended to bounce clear during an impact, similar to a the driving compartment in a rail dragster. There are four air bags for front and head protection.
The Smart ForTwo is built in a factory in Hambach, France, also known as Smartville, that conjures images of Willy Wonkas chocolate factory. Smartville does not pollute the environment any more than a town with 50 inhabitants, they claim.
Much of the car is recyclable, including the inner fenders and underbody trays that are made from renewable raw materials and recycled plastic. It gets 6.5 miles per gallon less than the Prius, said Smart Car sales rep Ken Farris.
And like the Toyota Prius, when the Smart showroom opened last month, many were ready to abandon their SUVs. Their first shipment of 60 Smart cars were scooped up in days and the waiting list has already started. Were getting more orders than theyre producing, Farris said.
There are three models available, though they all look similar to the naked eye. The Smart ForTwo Pure Coupe, the Passion Coupe, and the Passion Cabriolet convertible. Russ paid just over $18,000 for her Pure Coupe, fully loaded.
The main purpose is for people that didnt want to drive a 6,000-pound. SUV to work every day, Farris said.
If the Smart ForTwo had a theme song, it might be Bob Dylans Times They are a Changing.
With gas prices out of sight and the world getting smaller every day, the Smart ForTwo could be the forefront of a movement to small, fuel efficient cars.
This is the beginning, Farris said.