James on urban cars
Let's imagine, for a moment, you were charged with designing a deadly serious car; let's say a new V8 mid-engined Ferrari.
Would you sculpt its flanks, taper its nose, allow its body to undulate so that it appeared to be hanging from its wheels rather than sitting on them, and put a transparent cover over the engine bay? Probably. And would you then give it an idiotic, gormless face? Thought not.
Proper cars are never oochy-coochy-coo, and that's a fact. Name me one. You can't, see? Rolls does not make a cute Phantom and when BMW launches a new sports car it does not tell its draughtsmen that they can do anything they want as long as it's a real sweetie.
This brings me to the Riversimple Urban Car. Stupid name, but I quite like the look of it. You may not have come across it, so here's a picture.
There's a lot I like about this. It's a fuel-cell car for a start, and I think fuel cells are, in effect, the future batteries of electric cars. It has a motor in each wheel, regenerative braking to save pad wear, capacitors to store excess electricity for rapid acceleration and so on.
So the top speed is only 50mph, but hang on a minute. Clever people know that, in the real world, small cars are more fun more of the time, and this is especially true around town. The Riversimple weighs just 350kg, so it should be very chuckable. It's short, too, and the Lancia Stratos showed that shortness is good for handling. The cockpit looks very cosy, I bet the view out is good, and when you run out of hydrogen you can at least exit your stranded sustainable energy statement with dignity, through the scissor doors. I would almost go as far as to say it looks great, but not quite. At the last minute they buggered it up by giving it a nice-but-dim physog.
Now there are certain restraints imposed upon the designers of very small cars by, ironically enough, their owners. The car might be one quarter scale, but the driver will still be full size. People don't shrink just because they're driving an eco car to the shops.
"Proper cars are never oochy-coochy-coo. When BMW launches a new car it does not tell its draughtsmen to design anything they want as long as it's a real sweetie"
So a truly small car always tends to end up being disproportionately tall compared with a real car. This makes them appear a bit dumpy, and dumpiness, if we're not careful, can quickly lend an air of bless its little cotton socks. This is to be avoided. It certainly shouldn't be encouraged, as it has been here, with Thomas the Tank Engine's gob.
This sort of thing - styling a small car so it looks like an apology for being one - really annoys me, as it did on the Smart Forpetessake and the Citroen C1. It's as if the designers lost their bottle at the last minute and cracked a crap joke in the hope of being more popular. The Riversimple seems to be saying, ‘Hey, look, I know I'm not like a grown-up car but I'm only trying to be environmental, honest. And look at my cheeky little face. I'm dead happy me. How could you not love me? That would be like kicking a spaniel.'
And the tragedy is that sorting it out is a job I could do. In fact I will do it, now. At present, the Riversimple's mouth is turned up and chirpy, and 'tis the portrait of a blinking idiot.* Intelligent people don't go around grinning all the time, because it makes them look stupid and will eventually earn them a punch in the face. People who smile constantly are not afforded respect in society, and the same is surely true for cars.
But simply turn that innocuous slot up the other way and this irritating prankster of a small city runabout instantly becomes rather menacing. The same basic shape is this way up on the front of an Aston Martin for the same reason: because an Aston does not want to look like a cheesy-faced berk. And that really is all it takes to transform this comedic fashion accessory into a genuinely great-looking car.
Put it this way. As it stands, with the doors open, it looks like Mickey Mouse's head. But turn the grille up the other way and it will look like a demented fruit bat, and that's better.
Sort it out.
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I cannot disagree more with James on this one. I think the Fortwo is one of the most innovative car of the century. It broke down the status-quo on what a city car should be: four sits (even if most jap cars don't have sits big enough for me and im 5'6"); a big-ass engine (don't forget the smart predated the prius and the oil price spike); high-tech looking dials and dashboard. It is unapologetic in what it is - a city car that is different, pure in its objective. My '03 brabus gave me so much fun and i cannot bear thought of parting with it one day. It never breaks down and the small engine and turbo produces this lovely tone. Smart drivers are fun and nice much as beemers drivers are cock. Small wonder, because those who would buy a seemingly overpriced little car has clear objectives when they choose a car, they all possesses a similar confidence. Perhaps this is the reason why smart fortwo owner's club is the best car club i have been in.
Surely, it is no gentlemen?s car. James would be embarrassed to be seen in one and I understand. Even I was left a bit red faced when I have to borrow my friend?s car to pick up my girlfriend?s parents to dinner. And SUVs and big Merc drivers around me got that smirk whenever I stopped next to them at the lights. But when I ease past the evening traffic better than anything on four wheels, that feeling is priceless.
For my college years, this car gave me priceless memories and was present at many highs and lows. The one which I try to snuggle with my lady friend with no back sit is definitely one to remember. The design of the car might look strange and un-proportionate now. But it is only because it is a 15 year old design. From concept to production, all the essentials are still there. Sure, it might not be the best looking design, but it will surely remains a memorable shape to us petrolheads for many decades to come. The arched wheels, the shining panels, that wacky air-con, the jerky gears. This will all goes well in the history books, as one of the true breakthrough of the car industry. As an innovator, and an icon. I thought I read from topgear.com a few years back that it was James who enjoyed riding in the Fortwo so much he went and changed the internal panels. Maybe I was wrong.
yes, spot on mr.may ! Most citycars are indeed a bit spas..due to purpose and functionality? resembling wheelchairs for siamese twins with a splash of plastic bublee by studs from looney toons to protect the nice and fun people from rain and snow,wich in the case of most smarts will inevitably find its way into the pit for cocks turning the citycar into a parade of electric frenzy.This all in the name of whizzing by traffic and saving the planet..Well in some cases I suppose it's the thought that counts... Or maybe i'm just a fun and nice cock.. If owing both a bimmer and a smart actually translate to that..The smart roadster coupe is however one of the most fun cars I've ever had the pleasure of driving.It's is just spot on..So before we condemn all small and querky let's hold a moment of silence for the greatest city car ever made.. shed a tear for it's short lived success and ponder why urban cars of today are all things the roadster is not...
The Smart car rocks!! Especialy The forfour! The roadster is pure class and the fortwo is a cult icon in it's own right. Urban micro compact cars are the future and smart have it right... Although smart had it very wrong when they scrapped the forfour, a serious econimical hot hatch (the brabus has a 0-62 time of around 6.4 secs)and the roadster, seriously cool image. These cars are the most fun you could ever have driving. I wouldn't change to another make of car. Btw Jame may, Your my hero!