The Smart is a Marmite kind of car — you either love it or loathe it. I like my cars a little different to the norm so I’ve always had a soft spot for the little city car, although its diminutive size has always had me wondering whether it could work out of town.
It does — to a degree. If you have never driven one I’d suggest getting behind the wheel, as the lofty driving position elevates you above many other drivers and almost has the feel of a 4×4. The view ahead is superb and you’ll be surprised at how much cabin space there is, with the base of the windscreen far enough forward in front of you to convince you that you’re in a much bigger car. The clear roof ensures the cabin is always bright and helps add to the feeling of spaciousness you get. Until you look over to the passenger door, which is closer than you’d think; or look in the rear view mirror for a shocking reminder of just how close the rear wiper is to your spine. Unsurprisingly, boot space is limited — hardly enough for a weekly shop, due to the tiny three cylinder 999cc petrol turbo sitting under the floor.
From that imperious driving position you’ll find that the little Smart ForTwo will happily keep up with motorway traffic and the auto gearbox should help ensure you’re always in the right gear to make best use of the modest power — just 84bhp from the top powered Passion variant. I say “should” because as the gearbox shifts between ratios — this car also came with steering wheel mounted paddles for manual control — it’s accompanied by a hesitation that would be quite comical if it didn’t sometimes leave you just languishing between lanes; the wait for a gear and for drive to return to the wheels can literally leave you stranded during overtaking. Manual shifts using the wheel or floor mounted lever don’t speed up the changes either. It’s best to take the delay into account when looking to increase your pace — judge the speed of cars looming in the outside lane carefully and make sure the space you give them is plenty.
It’s a shame the auto box is such a let down as driving the Smart is otherwise a hoot. It can be hustled along country lanes in a way that puts a huge smile on your face. Yes, it’s not fast but provides fun at much lower speeds than you otherwise might be used to. That’s no bad thing. The ride can be a little choppy due the cars lack of weight and the tiny wheelbase, neither being conducive to effective counter of ridges or undulations.
But it’s in town that the Smart excels. It’s a cinch to weave through traffic and parking it is a delight, which is something we have to face at the end of every journey of course. This Second Generation model is longer than the original Smart which was launched in 1998 as the City Coupe, so no more can it be parked nose or tail to the curb. But it will still squeeze into spaces other motorists ignore. There’s always somewhere to park with a Smart.
I’d hesitate to recommend it as an only car, unless you’re single and you never leave town, but it’s potentially a great second car that you wouldn’t need to leave at home if you had to take a trip up the motorway or into the shires.
Although the price is a big issue for a second car of this type. At £10,500 for the model I drove — the ForTwo range starts at £9,700 — there are city cars around which meet a similar brief for much less dough. For example, the ForTwo Passion 84 we drove does 57.6mpg, with CO2 levels of 115g/km, whereas a roomier Fiat Panda Active will do exactly the same fuel consumption, has better CO2 levels at 113g/km, is also fun to drive and we found one new for £5,895.
That’s a big difference to have to justify. But if you’re one of those who love the Smart, it’s quite possible nothing else will do.