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Safety. Narrow front tires have a tendency to induce understeer during sharp maneuvers at speed. Automakers and safety experts believe that it is easier to recover from an emergency where the front end plows forward, as opposed to oversteer, where the rear end kicks out.

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So the story goes, back in 1998 it was discovered that the original 450s could roll during an emergency maneuver. The Mercedes-Benz A-Class, a car developed alongside the 450, experienced a rollover during the infamous "moose test." Smart's engineers fixed this by lowering the vehicle's center of gravity, widening the track, changing the steering, and stiffening the suspension. Further, stability control and the narrow tires keeps things on the ground and controllable.

The 451 is wider and longer than the 450 (and the 453 wider than the 451) so the risk of rollover is low in the newer cars. But keeping the staggered setup still ensures that in an emergency, you get predictable understeer.
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