Let’s be Smart
Pricing: From R174 900 I recently ran over 30 minutes late for an important meeting, circling the inner CBD of Cape Town in a bulky SUV, looking for parking. My desperate whatsapps of “give me 5, just parking” to a potential employer who I’d been hoping to bowl over with my impeccable time-keeping, were less than convincing. By the time I sat down for the meeting, the preordered coffee was as cold as his frustrated scowl. Needless to say, I didn’t get the contract.
As cities get more crowded, I have become somewhat obsessed with traffic. While some people watch animal clips on YouTube, I regularly find myself streaming traffic jams. My most viewed one took place in China back in 2010, lasting a brain-numbing 12 days along the BeijingTibet highways where commuters experienced a 99km back-up.
I’m not the only one obsessed. Locally, parking and traffic congestion have become the bane of many South Africans. According to the Numbeo’s Traffic Index 2016, South Africa is now the fifth most traffic-congested country in the world, with commuters living in Joburg, Cape Town and PE wasting an average of 43 minutes because of traffic, going one way.
So when the Smart Fortwo and Smart Forfour were recently launched by Mercedes-Benz in Cape Town, I was all ears. Touted by its manufacturer as the wunderkind of urban mobility, the minuscule Smart is designed to slip into tight parking spaces and weave through traffic, while other bulkier rides get left behind. There’s no doubt that when it comes to looks, the latest 2.69m Smart Fortwo and 3.49m Smart Forfour are funky to the core. Combining eye-catching colours and compact, expressive design, aesthetically the Smart is in the league of the trendy Citroën DS 3 and Fiat 500. Inside, it’s all clean lines, with surfaces covered by highquality fabrics, while the centre console and instrument cluster, with their 8.9cm screen, are impressively functional. Comfort-wise the two-tone seats are surprisingly high and offer ample support.
But are chic looks enough to make one invest in these tiny wheels? To be honest, I was always a bit disparaging about the previous-generation Smart when it came to safety. The almost comically minuscule Smart did not really take off in South Africa, with local drivers probably having the same reservations as I did.
My safety concerns were, however, allayed at the launch by way of a video demo in which the Smart’s cabin stayed intact as it collided head-on with the mighty Mercedes-Benz S-Class. An innovative safety system, by way of a tridion safety cell, has been introduced to the latest-generation Smart. Basically, just like a nut is protected by a hard shell, the tridion safety cell, made from 75% highstrength steel, acts as an effective cage to keep the occupants of the car safe.
Added to that, there are five air bags, ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, and traction and stability control, plus a host of premium Mercedes-Benz options like lane-keeping and forward-collision assist.
But it was when driving through the CBD on to open roads that I truly got the feel of what the new Smart was all about.
Both powered by a 1.0-litre 3-cylinder engine that emits a rather humble 52kW of power and 91Nm of torque, I was surprised at how well the Smart Forfour made its transition out of the city. Overtaking was easy and, despite windy conditions, the Smart Forfour handled well.
On the open road, I was less impressed with the Smart Fortwo, which really is a tiny tot and didn’t handle the wind as well as its big brother. It’s in the city that the Smart Fortwo shines, transforming into a master of manoeuvring with its turning circle of just 6.95m.
Price-wise, Mercedes has come in at a very competitive R174 900 for the Smart Fortwo, and the cars come standard with a three-year/60 000km service plan.
You’ll be smart to consider this baby.
WUNDERKIND There’s no doubt that the latest Smart cars have funky looks