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Having done quite some kilometers with most of the Smarts, I think I can tell you something about the product range and which model is the most interesting. As I canít write an op about ďthe Smart in generalĒ I have chosen to write about the model I haven driven most: the CDI.
SMALL ON THE OUTSIDEÖ Everyone by now knows what a smart looks like: very short, high, and perhaps a little ugly. The fact that itís so short has some major advantages: First of all, and most obvious, parking your car in a big city is no longer a hopeless seek for a free space. You can get the Smart almost in every free space, and often you even overestimate the length of the Smart. Second, you can also park the Smart sideways, if the free space is wide enough that is. Having to work now and then in Brussels, I can tell you the Smart saves you a lot of time: - the time you need to find a parking space - the distance to cover from the parking youíve finally found to place where you really have to beÖ especially when it rains!
ÖBIG ON THE INSIDE Oh big surprise when you enter a Smart: itís spacious! Itís even more spacious than the average family car. You have the impression youíre sitting in a MPV, considering the leg room you have. Of course, this space has a price: no back seats and a tiny boot. Actually you can hardly call it a boot, itís more like a backpack. Personally, I always use the passenger seat as boot: much bigger and much more practical!
TRANSMISSION All of these little cars come with an good* automatic transmission (or a semi-automatic in the more expensive models). Personally, I donít like automatic transmissions, but this is a city car, and in the city youíre often in traffic-jams. I can tell you itís a real improvement if you donít have declutch every 20 seconds to go 10 meters forward. By the way, Iíve used both the automatic and the semi-automatic (called Soft Touch) transmission, and I do recommend the Soft Touch. Itís so much more fun to drive if you have control over the gears. One disadvantage about the gearbox: itís sometimes hard to get started. You need to follow a certain procedure to start the car, and when you donít follow it, nothing will happen. Every time I have to drive a Smart I forget how it worksÖ not very ergonomical if you ask me.
* I am aware that some reviews arenít too positive about the transmission. Personally I am quite satisfied about it, I never had any problems with: it chooses the right gears, and itís not too the brutal. Perhaps itís a little slow though.
ROAD HOLDING Everyone knows the story behind the road holding. Since it failed the dreaded moose-test, the engineers had to adjust its road holding, and I have to say they did very well. The Smart always feels safe, does never anything unexpected. It may sound a little daft, but when you turn you never get the impression you will ďfall overĒ. However there is a place where I prefer to slow down comparing to regular cars, and that is on slip roads. I canít tell you where the limit is, and I have no ambition to find out this timeÖ I have noticed a slight understeering though.
But this good road holding has of course a price. To attain such a result, the engineers had to harden the suspension. Especially at low speeds, the Smart has the tendency to bump over irregularities. Speed ramps especially can be very uncomfortable. But the higher the speed, the better it gets. Iíd say from 50mph on gets comfortable, although it stays harder than the average car.
BREAKING This baby brakes like a Porsche! You have to be very gentle with the brakes, or you end up crushing your nose against the windscreen. At first, you really have to get used to it, but once you got it, youíll be able to brake comfortable under normal circumstances, and very hard when in emergencies.
QUALITY & FINISHING In general, you can see that the Smart is in fact a little Mercedes. The quality of most materials is really excellent and all accessories are very strong. In my experience rent cars suffer a lot, so most cars I lay my hands on have everywhere scratches, broken plastic, and all other little damages. Nothing like this in the Smarts Iíve driven, the materials doesnít seem to have suffered. The finishing is also typically German: almost flawless, every detail has been thoroughly studied and checked. I said almost flawless, because unfortunately there are two things that spoil the look of the dashboard: the ridiculous revolution counter and the ditto watch. It makes me think of my Play Mobil when I was little.
ENGINE Personally, I hate the diesel version, although it has one big advantage: itís very sober. Actually, I donít think Iíve ever driven a car that uses less fuel than this one. However, this canít compensate the disadvantages: - The diesel has absolutely no power. This car doesnít accelerate at all, and you can completely forget about overtaking. The top speed is 87mph, which can be reached without forcing the engineÖ and a lot of patience. - Now if youíre a very calm driver you wonít mind this perhaps, but there is something else wrong: the noise the engine makes. You almost need earplugs! If you drive more than 50 miles, itís almost unbearable. It speaks for itself that listening to the radio is out of the question. The engine makes even more noise on the inside than the convertible!
CONCLUSION Advantages: - small - sober - semi-automatic transmission - strongly built
Good review, but I have to disagree with you completely on the diesel. Having just driven to Smartbeat and home again in mine I didnt have any issues with the engine noise. Its a fab car! A little further point, mine is a 2000 model, with 63000 miles on the clock, so is old enough to be included within... its not the new type.
glidercwh 08.03.2003 19:57
Great op! I love the smart personally and it makes a great city car. It is not good on old country roads though, believe me! G.
BNibbles 19.01.2003 18:32
I agree - we've got a petrol-powered Passion (diesels are still only left-hand drive in the UK), and despite what some people say, I like the 6-speed auto option. It feels and sounds like a manual car with someone else changing gear for you! I think it will always be dangerous to criticise the styling as there will be people that like/hate them, but at least they provoke a reaction, which is good in this conforming world. I tried to make mine slide and skid in a snow-covered car-park last week but the TRUST system works very well, and controls the power so you only get a tiny bit of wheel-spin.