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I bought my Smart Passion in 1999, before it was available in right-hand drive. I reluctantly sold it at the end of last year after six years of sterling service, which I thought I would share.
WHY A SMART?
Back in 1999, everyone from North East London seemed to want to park in my road. I would return from a trip and find I was parking half-a-mile away. I was worried I would forget where I had left the car and spend weeks hunting for it. Then I read about the Smart car and began to see Smart-sized gaps just outside my house (particularly where the people a few doors down had two cars and would deliberately manoeuvre the second one whenever they went away to leave a space which was too small for a normal-sized car).
In those days you could only get Smarts imported in left-hand drive and I was a little nervous about going for something so out of the ordinary and unusual. But people told me about seeing them in cities on the continent and I got so frustrated with the parking situation that I eventually just went for it.
I bought the car through an importer: KSB in Chiswick. This was probably the worst part of owning the Smart, and one which anyone buying one now would not have to go through. The conversion to UK spec was not done terribly well. The back lights shorted because they had hacked the coloured plastic covers and they let the rain in. It also cost me a lot to get the front headlights sorted out when they finally failed the MOT for shining too much at the oncoming traffic.
However, such are the perils of being an early adopter, and at least I could specify the car I wanted. I went for what seemed then like the incredibly outrageous option of bright orange seats which (I thought) looked great with the black panels and silver tridion frame. Also the (then optional) rev counter and clock - ensuring I had one of the most expensive Swatches available.
THE GOOD THINGS
In 1999 everyone looked at a Smart car. You would wave at the drivers of the few other Smarts on the road. People would ask if it was electric! Everyone wanted to have a lift in it. Nowadays they are more common, but still quirky enough to get noticed. Everyone smiles at a Smart car.
When you sit in a Smart car it feels like you are in something really large and solid. It is very easy to get in and out (I've had more problems with friends' BMWs) and the driving position is quite high and upright, which I like. Driving along you only remember how short the car is when you look in the rear-view mirror and see the back window just behind your head, or when you see other Smart cars and realise that the driver is sitting more than half-way back. Everything feels within reach - my current car, which seats seven, has a lot less storage within easy reach of the driver.
The engine is really economical - I even measured the fuel consumption at over 52mpg averaged over the six years I owned the car (yes, I am that sad!). On the other hand, if you work at it, the performance can be surprisingly good and you can usually overtake other cars if you need to (unless they suffer from small car syndrome and feel they have to speed up when being overtaken by a small car).
You can park in small spaces, although you sometimes have to work at it to get in, so it is great when visiting friends who live in the centre of a town, or travelling anywhere popular.
The luggage space is surprisingly large. Plenty of room for a fortnightly shop at the supermarket or even (from experience) a ten-day camping holiday for two with a palatial 8-person tent. It really helps that the engine is hidden away beneath the luggage compartment. You do occasionally have to rethink the packing to get everything in, but it is never impossible.
You don't have to give everyone a lift home from a party because you only have two seats. Just choose the person you want to be nicest to!
People who own Smart cars are (usually) nice people. I gave a friend a test drive in mine, she went out and got her own, joined a Smart club, and eventually ended up with a Smart-owning husband.
THE BAD THINGS
Road humps. Despite being a city car it does not cope with road humps very well. It is too narrow at the front to be able to take road cushions where bigger cars can let the wheels go either side, and it is so short that the back goes up as the front comes down. The light weight means that the suspension has to be a lot firmer as well.
You do need the air-conditioning. Because of the glass roof and the overall visibility the car can get very hot on a sunny day. Frequent long trips: I was quite happy doing the occasional 300-mile round trip. However, my job meant more driving long distances, often coming back 200 miles late at night after a day's work. I eventually found that it was a bit tiring because of the constant road noise and the gear changes which would not be required in a larger car. Also, it was not ideal to stop and have a sleep for a couple of hours before travelling onwards as the seats have a limited reclining ability.
Very occasionally in wet weather the narrow tyres at the front do not give as good a grip as one would like. The car is very light and trying to brake on a wet metal cover in the road gives one a brief moment of concern until the ABS kicks in.
The semi-automatic gearbox changes down as you approach a junction. This can leave you in neutral if you try to accelerate into a gap on a roundabout. This is scary! Apparently this has got better on more recent models, but is the one major change one has to make to how one might drive a manual car. But you get used to it.
Servicing costs are quite high, but it is a Mercedes and it is matched with great reliability (at least in my case). The only time I had a problem with reliability was when I left the interior light on for a week and came back to a flat battery.
Eventually the council introduced controlled parking and everyone in North East London decided to park their cars elsewhere. I had a job which involved a lot of travelling with groups of people, many of whom needed lifts, and also meant coming back late at night when a bit of space to sleep for a couple of hours would be useful.
So, after six years, I had sadly to say goodbye to the Smart. I couldn't afford to keep her and another car, however hard I tried to do the sums. So I replaced her with a Vauxhall Zafira and instead of everyone asking why my car was so small, now everyone asks why it is so big.
In summary, I really felt that that I got my money's worth over six years of ownership. I would certainly buy another Smart if I stopped driving such long distances or could afford a second car. And I feel a slight pang every time I see one on the road.
Not big enough for my family but an ideal car for London and its lack of parking spaces. xx
js2ht2andl 24.04.2006 13:58
This was really helpful for me because i considered a Smart car, decided against it after seeing it road tested on Top Gear, the scene on the motorway put me off cause the car rattled a little when overtaking a lorry. Plus there's no way I could cope with maintenance so i will cross this vehicle off my list. x