Brace for a Smart attack
THE Smart was so far ahead of the curve it missed the ball-game when it launched here in 2003.
Australians at that time were not prepared to consider a micro car and it did not emulate its European success, where the Mercbuilt model was a popular city commuter. Fast-forward to this year and small cars increasingly are in vogue. So, is the two-seat runabout a smart choice now? VALUE: A $19,990 sticker price does not look like a smart buy in a market where the Holden Barina Spark, Suzuki Alto and Nissan Micra undercut it by $7000 or more. They have back seats and a boot. What the Smart does have is rear-wheeldrive and the best fuel use of a conventional-engined car at 4.4 litres/100km and CO emissions of 100g/km.
The limited edition ‘‘night orange’’ model seen here was a sellout, despite costing an extra $2800. In the UK, Aston Martin cannot make enough of its Toyota iQbased Cygnets, even at $55,000, so there is a market for upmarket city cars. DESIGN: The 999cc threecylinder engine is mounted
three stars $19,990
Three years/ unlimited km
55 per cent 20,000km
4.4 litres/100km (95 RON), 100g/km CO
Four airbags, ABS with EBD, traction control, hill start assist Crash rating: Four stars
1-litre triplecylinder, 52kW/92Nm
Five-speed automated manual Two-door hatch
750kg directly above the rear wheels, so the 200-litre boot is up front. The dash plastics are as good as anything in the class and the overall cabin quality feels better than its rivals, but so it should. The exterior shape is three years old, but still edgier than anything else in this market and is a big part of the reason the Smart appeals to young Europeans, Mercedes says. TECHNOLOGY: The micro car concept is the gamechanger here. Mercedes had no competition when it launched this car in 1998. The de- sign was widened and centre of gravity lowered when the Smart infamously failed a simulated rollover ‘‘moose test’’. It is the only car in this segment using an automated manual transmission but the five-speeder shifts slower than a politician in front of the cameras. SAFETY: There is not much room for crumple zones in the fortwo. Instead, Mercedes developed the tridion safety cell — the black or silver bit that runs from the A pillar to the bottom on the doors. It is a triple-layered steel cell with sliding beams front and rear to absorb small impacts without damaging the cell itself. There also are four airbags and safety software you expect in small cars. EuroNCAP gave it a four star rating. DRIVING: The Smart is great fun driving around town and acceptable on the freeway runs that connect the city to the burbs. Cross winds will push it around, but it is no worse than a high-riding SUV. What does hurt is the auto transmission. Its slow shifts exaggerate the car’s habit of pitching forwards under a gearchange and then back-
Three stars $12,490
1.2-litre fourcylinder, 59kW/107Nm
Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive Three-door hatch 5.6 litres/100km, 128g/km CO2 Good rather than great, but Holden badge is the clincher wards as the drive engages. It is without peer in innercity laneways and the tightest parking spot is yours for the taking, with little fear of door and/or panel damage. VERDICT: The car that started the popular micro car trend is overpriced but a more engaging drive than some of its rivals. It was made for city owners and is an ideal city runabout. The car was conceived by Nicolas Hayek, of Swatch watch fame, as a city car that could be personalised just as his timepieces were. VW teamed up but that partnership fizzled and Mercedes launched the Smart in 1998.
A 2011 New York International Auto Show visitor adjusts her make-up with a mirrored Smart car and, inset, the new Mercedes Benz Smart F-Cell at the IAA Frankfurt Auto Show in Germany last month