Smart way to

The Smart is a space-saver that’s great for stop-start traf­fic, writes KEVIN HEP­WORTH

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page -

THE world’s new­est hy­brid car is hardly a hy­brid at all. The Smart MHD has no elec­tric motors to help it slip qui­etly away in the morn­ings, and no bat­tery packs soak­ing up re­gen­er­a­tive power from the brakes or pour­ing ad­di­tional urge to wheels as the work­load in­creases.

What it does have is a but­ton marked Eco and a green light on the dash to make driv­ers feel good about their ef­forts to save the planet.

And it’s a case of horses for cour­ses. The three-bar heater that seems in­dis­pens­able in Nome, Alaska, will sim­ply gather dust in a shop win­dow in Bangkok.

The Smart Fortwo is crazy clever in the al­ley­ways of Rome or the back­streets of Paris, but the lit­tle two-seater mi­cro-car is far less pop­u­lar in our wide brown land.

It is not that the Smart idea is any less clever or any less el­e­gant, just that there is less op­por­tu­nity to be struck by them.

I have long been a closet fan of the Smart con­cept — without re­ally want­ing to do it my­self — which made the en­counter with the Eco but­ton an in­ter­est­ing one.

The Eco but­ton’s func­tion is to en­gage the stop-start ca­pa­bil­ity in the Smart.

Sim­i­lar sys­tems are com­ing on ev­ery­thing from the Land Rover Free­lander II to the full fam­ily of Volvos. The Smart’s uses a dualmode starter/gen­er­a­tor and bat­tery to shut down the three-cylin­der, 1-litre, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gine when the car is braked to a halt, and restart it when the foot is lifted off the brake pedal.

What the off-again, on-again en­gine means is a claimed en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit. Smart says fuel use is down six per cent to 4.7 litres for 100km on a com­bined cy­cle. Emis­sion sav­ings are 112gm of CO2 a kilo­me­tre.

For a petrol car th­ese are pretty im­pres­sive fig­ures— un­til you re­mem­ber that to move the num­ber of peo­ple held by any small sedan, you’d need twice as many cars.

That is prob­a­bly what makes the Smart such a niche ve­hi­cle. It is a selfish car.

Off for a game of golf? It’s just you and your golf bag on the passenger seat.

Go­ing shop­ping? Don’t take a passenger be­cause they’ll have to walk home. An av­er­age fam­ily shop fills the Smart to over­flow­ing.

The Smart is about sat­is­fy­ing very par­tic­u­lar per­sonal needs. There is no ar­gu­ing the car’s 2.7m opens up never-be­fore ex­plored spa­ces for park­ing, and its fuel econ­omy is easy on the wal­let.

It is also one of the eas­i­est cars to get in and out of. The upright body makes the seat height/ hip re­la­tion­ship very suit­able for joints that may not move as well as they once did.

In­te­rior space is also good. Head and shoul­der room on the passenger side is gen­er­ous.

There is noth­ing flash about the in­te­rior. There’s a small dash dis­play for the speedo, a clock and ta­cho in two pods on top of the dash, and ma­te­ri­als that are tac­tile and pleas­ing.

The sup­port­ive seats move enough for the driver to find a de­cent po­si­tion in re­la­tion to the fixed steer­ing wheel.

The big­gest sur­prise is the per­for­mance. With only 52kW and a mea­gre 92Nm, it would be fair to as­sume the city car would strug­gle.

It doesn’t. A 13.3-sec­ond 0-100km/h is not ex­cit­ing, but the com­bi­na­tion of the en­gine and five-speed au­to­mated man­ual trans­mis­sion han­dles most needs that arise in city traf­fic.

The changes aren’t overly smooth, es­pe­cially if the man­ual mode is used, and peak per­for­mance is reached about 5000 revs.

Ride qual­ity on the 15-inch wheels is rea­son­ably well con­trolled, but can­not com­pletely iso­late the tall body, short wheel­base and nar­row track from the laws of physics.

On the open road the claimed max­i­mum top speed of 145km/h is not some­thing a sane per­son would want, but the car will cruise quite com­fort­ably at the speed limit.

How­ever, get­ting away for the week­end has its prob­lems. With two peo­ple on board the lug­gage space is re­stricted.

There is a nar­row bin be­hind the seats into which you could squeeze a soft sports bag and suit­bag, or a cou­ple of brief­cases.

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