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Short and squatty savers: Smart Cars driving into the state

They’re short and squatty, and always grab second looks when people see them drive down the road. But they are fuel efficient and comfortable, making them the smartest cars on the road, according to their biggest fans.

The Smart Car has actually been on the road for more than a decade in Europe, according to Thomas Townsend of Higginbotham Automobiles, LLC. The dealership offers new and pre-owned Mercedes-Benz cars, and will now serve as a delivery point for the new Smart Car. “I’ve been driving one in Jackson for three years and I absolutely love it.”

Townsend said that the first question he always gets before gas mileage and price is about safety. “People ask me what would happen if it gets hits by an 18-wheeler. The thing is, I wouldn’t want to get hit by an 18-wheeler even if I was driving a big SUV. If that’s something you’re worried about, you need to operate under a whole new set of rules.”

But the reality is that the Smart Cars were recently rated by the National Highway Safety Institute, and received a four and five-star safety rating.

“The only thing higher is a five and five-star rating,” said Townsend. The cars are equipped with air bags and anti-lock steering and brakes, “something that is standard on all Mercedes. The thing about the Smart Cars is that the manufacturer won’t make consumers pay extra for safety features they think all consumers deserve.”

Making a Smart Car purchase is different from most new car purchases. There is no lot or showroom in the area at this time.

“It’s an online reservation process,” explained Townsend. “You simply go to the Smart Car USA website and reserve your car. There is a $99 refundable deposit to start the process. Once you pay that, you can follow the directions on the website to basically custom design your own car. When the car is complete, it will be sent to us for delivery to the customer.”

Townsend said the dealership eventually hopes to have a lot where they stock the cars. “It will be awhile, because they need to get ahead of production demands first.” When that happens, the lot will be on the first block south of Cedars of Lebanon on the Frontage Road, just south of the current Higginbotham dealership.

“You’re going to be seeing many more of these Smart Cars on the road real soon,” predicted Townsend.

Townsend explained that the Smart Car has been re-worked for 2008 to meet American standards, and that is now the standard for the cars worldwide. “The engine is now a little bigger.”

So what kind of gas mileage can consumers expect from a Smart Car?

“About 40 miles per gallon,” said Townsend. “We had a couple come in the other day who asked that question. They were upset, because they expected more like 70 miles per gallon. I told them they needed to go look at scooters.”

The base price of the vehicle is roughly $11,000, but with all the bells and whistles, the cost can go up to a little more than $16,000 — still a bargain for many buyers in today’s auto market.

Contact MBJ contributing writer S.J. Anderson at andersonwrites@yahoo.com .

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