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Hernando County's first Smart car grabs lots of attention

HERNANDO BEACH — Richard Doyle exudes a salesman's gift of lighthearted gab. He likes to smile, and he likes to make others do the same.

He's been doing much of both in the last month.

In March, Doyle, 51, became the owner of the first Smart Fortwo car in Hernando County.

The two-passenger auto manufactured in France by Mercedes-Benz — "about the size of a golf cart," he says — suggests such descriptions as geegaw, backyard toy and midget. Indeed, looking on the sunflower-yellow, seemingly miniscule vehicle makes one smile.

During a recent demonstration, he pointed to a viewer's grin, saying, "Everyone does that."

Doyle joined in.

"People drive by and give me a thumbs up," he said.

When he stops, onlookers gather. A woman got out of her car in a Wal-Mart parking lot and applauded him.

A biker riding a big custom job pulled off Shoal Line Boulevard, where Doyle had parked at his place of business, Hernando Beach Realty. The biker edged really close to the Smart, disembarked from his hog, walked backward to survey the tail ends of each, and took a photo. Doyle stepped out of the office. The motorcycle was longer than the car, the biker said with amazement.

Indeed, the Smart Fortwo measures 106.1 inches in length, 61.4 inches in width and 60.7 inches in height.

With the engine beneath and behind the passenger compartment, there's no front end.

Yet it's spacious inside, with plenty of leg room and a bin in the back that easily holds the real estate agent's laptop and notebooks. It's also large enough to contain his grocery shopping, he said. The load capacity is listed as 800 pounds.

The vehicle has so many operational and safety features, it's almost an understatement to call it "smart."

• The 8.72-gallon gas tank will be fillable for about $35 when gasoline reaches $4 a gallon, he has computed. The cost figures out to 9 to 10 cents a mile driving. That compares with his Chevy Avalanche, an SUV, that takes $90 for a tank fillup and runs at a cost of 25 cents a mile.

• The car's exterior is built around a crash cage. "It's engineered like NASCAR," said Doyle, who did his research before submitting an order a year ago. "The car can be smashed all around. It ran into concrete barriers at 70 mph, and the doors still opened. It just crumbles up to the windshield."

• It is equipped with four airbags and a computerized seat belt that eases in small shifts if a crash occurs, so as not to cause constrictive bodily damage.

• The windshield is sized to that of a compact car, and the floor is higher than that of a compact so one doesn't have to fold up and slide in downward. Doyle should know: He's 5-foot-11 and, reluctant to give his weight, admitted, "I'm a big guy."

• The roof is glass, adding a sense of openness to the interior. The car is constructed of plastic panels around the steel frame, all recyclable materials.

• The 1-liter, three-cycle engine with five gears runs on synthetic oil, "just like a full-sized Mercedes," Doyle said.

Cost: $16,500, including tax, tags and title, he said, purchased at Lokey Automotive's Smart Center in Clearwater.

The dealership has sold some 300 since the first shipment in January, said a spokeswoman. They are available only on order. Just 25,000 units are expected to be shipped to the United States this year. The car's introduction into the U.S. market had been stalled until this year because earlier models did not meet U.S. emissions standards.

The car is available in a half-dozen colors. Doyle originally ordered navy blue, then switched to the bright yellow, a bit concerned that other drivers might not see such a small vehicle.

But his fears have been allayed. No problem, he said, adding that he formerly taught defensive driving.

Doyle said he's as much of an environmentalist as he can be — one reason he sprang for the car.

He's "not really" a car buff, but added, "I'm always reaching for that future car."

Beth Gray can be reached at

By the numbers

40 miles per gallon, during Doyle's breaking-in period

35 miles per gallon rating for city driving

60.7 inches in height

1-liter, three-cycle engine with five gears

$16,500: cost of the car, including tax, tags and title

300 sold since Lokey's shipment arrived in January

25,000: number of Smart Fortwos expected to be shipped to the United States this year

Hernando County's first Smart car grabs lots of attention 04/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2008 5:06pm]
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