I'm sure that there is no need to describe what a smart fortwo (by the way, the small 's' in smart is deliberate, not a spelling mistake) looks like - you're sure to have seen the small, strange looking cars zooming around towns and cities near you. No doubt you'll have looked at them and thought that it is impractical, perhaps unsafe, you may even have laughed at them but I'm also sure you'll have smiled when you first saw them.
smart cars are the result of a collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and Swatch (yes the watch people). The smart fortwo was the first production car made by smart, followed by the smart Roadster (the small, sports car) and the smart forfour (a more normal looking car with room for four passengers). smart have now concentrated their efforts on the fortwo (so called as it is 'for two' people), and have ceased production of the Roadster and forfour.
My first smart car was a Roadster Brabus, best described as a skateboard on wheels, but this review if for my latest smart car, a smart fortwo Brabus.
The car has a 998cc turbo engine, at the rear of the car under the boot. The Brabus version delivers 98bhp, compared to the 74bhp of the standard fortwo. I have the hardtop version with a panoramic glass roof. The car is also available as a soft top where the roof retracts at the touch of a button, and the roof bars can also be detached and stored in the boot.
We have a CD radio with 6 CD slots, and 2 extra speakers. The sound is crystal clear in the car and delivers a great stereo surround sound.
Brabus is a German company that specialises in tuning engines in order to get the maximum power from them. Brabus and Mercedes-Benz have a close working relationship, and Brabus specialise in Merc engines.
The Brabus version comes with upgraded tyres, heated leather seats, and exclusive Brabus trimmings and logos all over the car, from the car mats, the leather dashboard, the petrol cap, etc. The car is also tuned to have a throaty, sports car sound, and delivers more throttle than cars much bigger and more powerful.
The Brabus version is also lower very slightly thanks to the sports suspension.
Now you would be forgiven for looking at the car and wondering how it is safe. At a little over 2.5metres long, there is not much space between the front or back bumpers and the passengers. However, unlike most cars, smart have an innovative Tridon safety cell around the car. This is made from steel, making it very strong but heavy. To balance this, the car panels are made from lightweight plastic.
What's that I hear? Alarm bells ringing? A plastic car? Don't worry, the safety cell is designed to be in any area that another car could hit, such as along the front, the back, beside the driver and passenger seats etc. This steel frame would therefore absorb any shock, protecting the occupants. The plastic panels are then designed to pop back into shape if they are dented, or can be easily replaced if too badly damaged. The occupants seating position is also raised, meaning that they are away from the main impact zones, and greater visibility over other cars.
You may have seen the advert on TV where a smart fortwo is hit by a demolition ball at the front of the car and sustains little damage - this is where the safety cell becomes useful. If you haven't seen the advert, go to www.truthaboutsmart.co.uk
Obviously the car also comes with all the standard safety features such as driver and passenger airbags, ESP, ice warnings etc.
WHAT ITS LIKE TO DRIVE
Despite being small, the car doesn't feel small inside. In fact, it's quite spacious. Having only two seats there is more space per person than in cars such as Micra's, Fiesta's etc. Recent surveys have found that the average car in an urban environment has only 1.2 occupants, so why would you need back seats? And if you take about the back seats, you can give more space to the front occupants.
The car is manual, but also has the ability to switch to an automatic mode, although it is not the manual mode that you will be familiar with. For starters, there is no clutch; only the accelerator and brake. To change gear manually, either push the gear stick forward to move up a gear, or back to move down a gear. The Brabus version also comes with F1 style pads on the steering wheel which can be used to change up and down gears. When you're in manual mode, there is no need to change gear downwards, as this is done automatically, and a small screen on the dashboard will recommend when you should change to a higher gear. Unlike normal manual cars, there is no need to take your foot off the accelerator to change gear.
A quick press of a button on the gear stick and you're in automatic mode. I normally drive in automatic; it works well and increases the fuel efficiency of the car. Gear changes are normally smooth, but it does help if you slightly ease off the accelerator as the gear change is happening.
The boot space is small, but perfectly adequate. Again, smart have been advertising the spaciousness of the car on TV where a tumble drier fits into the boot space. This advert is also available on the website above.
On motorways, I love the kickback feature. Get to about 50mph with a clear stretch of road in front of you, and floor the accelerator - the car drops down a few gears and gives you a burst of energy, propelling you forward. A great feature for overtaking, if a little scary the first few times that you use it.
The hill-start feature is useful if you live or drive in an area with a lot of hills. When you take your foot of the brake, the car holds itself for 2 or 3 seconds to give you time to move your foot from the brake to the accelerator. This can be a little annoying if you're trying to reverse down a hill, but a gentle touch on the accelerator is enough to release the car. It is however very handy when you're at traffic lights on a steep hill.
And of course, once you reach your destination, it's easy to park as the smart can easily fit into even the smallest of spaces!
The smart boasts great fuel efficiency. A full tank of petrol can hold 33 litres, which cost about £35 as at today's prices (20 Sept 2008). Smart boasts that this is enough to travel the 415 miles from Edinburgh to London on one tank of fuel. And unlike most car manufacturers claims, it really is true! As the car is so light, it is far more efficient than standard cars.
The smart Brabus has higher emissions that standard fortwo cars. The Brabus has 124g/km3 of emissions, whereas standard fortwo's have 112g/km3 of emission, therefore 12 months road tax costs £130 a year for the Brabus. I believe that the standard fortwo's cost only £35 for a year's road tax.
So it's great for the environment and great on your wallet!
Despite being a small car, smart's don't necessarily have a small price tag. Expect to pay around £6,500 for a basic fortwo. Our Brabus cost around £14,950, including registration fee, 12 months road tax etc. However as mentioned above, the car is cheap to run, and insure.
The car doesn't need serviced during the first two years, although it does need an oil and filter change after one year, and this needs to be carried out at a smart garage.
Used smart cars hold their value quite well - especially in the current economic climate. At our local smart garage (Glasgow) it is easier to buy a new smart than a used one, as used cars are being sold as soon as they reach the forecourt. As a result of this, prices of used smart's are quite high.
Smart is not only a great car, it's a way of life. When you drive a smart, people stop and stare, and they are great talking points. Drive down a motorway in one, and other smart cars will wave at you or flash their lights as they go past. There are smart meetings for smart car enthusiastic throughout the country, as well as our own website for smart car owners and a smart magazine.
Smart cars really are smart; from their design, to their efficiency, everything is well designed and well thought out.
A highly recommended car.