Smart car turns heads

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By Jenny Hartley

Although gas has dropped below $2 a gallon again in some places, the Zarrellis are still in love with their little yellow car.

It's not a hybrid, and it requires premium gasoline, but Lois and Neal Zarrelli love the gas mileage their Smart car gets – 33 miles per gallon in the city, and 41 on the highway, according to www.smartusa.com.

The Smart company says its car is the most fuel-efficient, non-hybrid gas powered vehicle in the United States. The company subtly emphasizes the compact size of the car with its name – a smart fortwo coupe. Notice there is no big, or capital, letter in its name.

The Zarrellis saw the cars during a visit to Italy in 2005.

But the car couldn't make its debut in the United States until January 2008, after emissions adjustments to meet U.S. standards. More than 1 million smart cars have been sold in 37 countries, with the U.S. becoming the 37th country to start selling the smart fortwo.

The car is truly international. The three-cylinder engine is made in Germany; the transmission is made in Japan. The car is assembled in France.

The cars are available in the United States at Mercedes-Benz dealerships. The Zarrellis bought theirs in Charlotte when gas hit record high levels.

"We just fell in love with it," Lois Zarrelli said.

"First of all, I like the 40 miles per gallon," Neal Zarrelli said. "And to me, it's very comfortable."

The car is 8.8 feet long, 5.1 feet wide and 5.1 feet tall. The cab has plenty of leg room and doesn't feel crowded as one might expect.

Buyers can go online to reserve their smart car and customize it. The Zarrellis picked the cabriolet, which has a soft convertible top, in bright yellow.

"Sunshine," Lois said, with a smile. "I like the yellow."

The Zarrellis, who live in Buford, have driven the little car to New York. They find the vehicle has plenty of room for their luggage or for the couple's dog, Marco, a shepherd mix who has been attending obedience school.

Smart USA boasts that the car has as much head room as most luxury cars.

"It turns on a dime," Lois said. "The only negative thing is if you have a real cross wind, you have to pay attention."

It also has an excellent safety record.

According to Smart USA, the 2008 smart fortwo achieved the highest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for front- and side-crash impacts.

The car, according to the company, has a "safety cell" made from steel, half of which is high-strength material. The reinforced steel and the design of the car, including the wheel bases, allow the distribution of energy during a crash.

The car is as much a conversation piece as it is a gas-saving vehicle. Everywhere the Zarrellis go, people stop them to ask about the smart car.

"Everybody's fascinated by it," Lois said.

For more, go to www.smartusa.com.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151