Did you hear the one about the two dogs that walked into a Las Vegas wedding chapel? One was a Great Dane, the other a Chihuahua. We’d tell you the rest but our family-friendly reputation would be toast. The point is they’re both canines who happen to be the results of some mighty strange selective breeding by Homo sapiens. Great Danes were bred as bear hunters and warrior hounds in ancient Europe, while Chihuahuas were created to star in Taco Bell commercials.
It’s really not that different when it comes to cars and trucks. Like man’s numero uno amigo they come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes to meet every conceivable type of automotive urge - except cars and trucks don’t elope to Vegas, and, uh, neither do dogs for that matter.
While attending the 2007 Clean Diesel Technology Tour in Sacramento, California, we played with two very different breeds of vehicle from the species ‘Petroleo combustus waytbetterthanaprius’, Latin for clean burning diesels.
The Cummins diesel powered Dodge Ram 2500 Mega Cab 4x4 and Brabus buffed Smart Fortwo CDI are as different from each other as a Great Dane is from a Chihuahua but they’re distant cousins in DaimlerChrysler’s extended family and virtually identical when it comes to the compression burning genes in their stop-and-go DNA.
According to a recent poll conducted by the Diesel Technology Forum, a non-profit group of diesel vehicle and engine makers, components manufacturers, and fuel providers, when Californians think of ‘diesel’, 61 percent think of heavy-duty trucks, like pickups and semis. It’s not hard to find that number credible when you see a new 2007 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty with a 6.7-liter Cummins mill under its hood. The Ram is the poster-child for diesel driven haulers with its big rig looks, beefy footprint, and 6.25-ton towing capacity.
In Europe though, the perception of diesel is almost the exact opposite. Across the pond oil burners make up over half the passenger cars sold versus about 1% of new car sales stateside. Why? Because of economics and environmentalism. Over there fuel is taxed to outrageous heights but government subsidies knock diesel costs down to less than gasoline prices. Diesel also contains more energy per gallon of fuel compared to gas, which means up to 30% better mileage and lower amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, like CO2.
One of Europe’s favorite diesel-driven rides is the inline-3 (not a typo), 0.8-liter (not a typo) Smart Fortwo CDI two-person passenger car, which is also available in Canada. Next year the Smart Fortwo will come to America, but only with a gas engine.
Europeans have a fetish with small cars. It has to do with the reasons mentioned above and tightly packed cities with narrow streets dating back to feudal times, when ox carts were the primary mode of conveyance. The rear engine Smart Fortwo takes this micro-auto obsession to an extreme. With a length of only 106-inches, it’s like an extended cab pickup without the front engine compartment or cargo box. And it’s about as useful.
We’ve read gushing reviews from the European press about the Smart Fortwo. How it gets a combined 56-mpg in city and highway driving and helps avoid parallel parking with its ability to place itself tangentially between two cars.
Top Gear commentator and occasional Motor Trend contributor Paul Horrell, from the U.K., describes the Fortwo as, “a jewel where the average American car is a big ugly boulder.” With all due respect Mr. Horrell, I was always taught that no matter how much you polish a turd it’s never going to be a diamond, and when it comes to cars the Fortwo is a tiny little rabbit pellet that’s about as useful as one to most drivers here in the good ole U.S. of A.
In Canada the CDI Smart Fortwo Brabus Nightrun Coupe we drove costs $26,000 CDN, or about $23,000 Washingtons. Hmmm. Half a vehicle at a full vehicle price. It only fits two people with room for a laptop in the cargo area behind its seats. Such a deal! We’ll give it a few points though ‘cause it’s got a tailgate.
Now before Mister Horrell or other Smart-lovers get their knickers twisted in a bunch, we happen to be big fans of many small Euro cars, particularly their diesels. In addition to owning and driving all sorts of trucks and SUVs, this writer also owns a Volkswagen Jetta TDI. A small car for sure next to the 2007 Chevrolet Silverado Crew Cab 1500 we’re currently testing but nearly as capable when it comes to daily driving needs that don’t require 10K-lbs of towing ability or hauling more than five bags of fertilizer home from the local gardening center. The diesel Jetta averages combined city and highway mileage of 38-mpg, fits four people comfortably plus a week’s worth of groceries in its spacious boot. All this for $25K USD brand new. Now that’s a European small car worth bragging about.