2008 smart cars ready to hit U.S.

Tiny two-seaters will be affordable and fuel-efficient.

2008 smart fortwo smart USA

Pricing is out for the new, admittedly odd-looking smart fortwo. The compact vehicle, manufactured by Mercedes, features a 1-liter, 3-cylinder engine that puts out a maximum of 71 horsepower. Cars are expected to ship the first quarter of 2008.

The base model starts at $11,590 and includes a 5-speed transmission that switches from automatic to manual mode with the touch of a button. The "passion coupe," which includes features found in more expensive luxury cars like a panorama roof, alloy wheels, paddle shifters and heated side mirrors, starts at $13,590. The convertible will be $16,590 and up, with an optional premium sound system that includes an in-dash MP3 compatible 6-CD changer. Smart claims its cabriolet will be the lowest priced convertible offered in the U.S.

Smart is hinging much of its sales on fuel efficiency numbers. The fortwos can achieve more than 40 miles per gallon under normal driving conditions.

Smart executives earlier this year hinted at plans to open several smart car dealerships across the country; many will be attached to Mercedes-Benz dealerships, much the way Mini Coopers are sold at dealerships alongside BMWs. The smart dealer network will be officially announced this fall. Smart cars are currently sold in 36 countries, and more than 800,000 smart fortwos have been sold since 1998.

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