Product Type: Smart cars
Newest Review: ... suitably large and easily accessible parking space whilst driving previously, but in this smart car I am always confident of finding a spa... more
SMART Comes of Age, But Possibly Loses Something?
Smart ForTwo Passion 71 mhd
Member Name: Nibelung
Smart ForTwo Passion 71 mhd
Advantages: Compact, economical on fuel, zero road tax, escapes London Congestion Charge, fun to drive
Disadvantages: Strictly for two
OK, well, how about something from one of their showrooms then, Lord?
Since buying our original Smart Passion 11 years ago - it was one of the first tranche of right-hand-drive models to hit the streets, a lot has happened to the product line. The 600cc engine became 700cc, the headlight clusters altered shape and various other alterations were made as 'mid-term' updates. To give Smart, a Daimler AG company, their due, they didn't alienate existing customers with anything too outlandish and the basic shape stood for several years, bearing in mind that 'W- and X-reg' left-handers can still be seen in commendably good outward condition although Lord-knows what their little engines are like by now.
Then, the fateful moment came back in 2007 when the original body shape was superseded by what is now know as 'version 451'. This was wider, longer and as a result, smoother riding. The older Smart, being so narrow, short and tall had very stiff suspension to keep down the pitch and roll that such a combination would bring about without it. Furthermore, the 451s had been re-engineered with a 'massive', less frenetic one litre engine without the need for a turbo charger in the case of the 71 bop version, mated to a 5-speed semi- (or fully-) automatic gearbox rather than the previous 6-speed affair which had some interesting little foibles, like leaving you in a 'Smarty-moment' if you tried to change your mind and accelerate whilst slowing for a roundabout. Basically, nothing happened for what appeared to be 2 seconds (a long time to be 'coasting' on any roundabout!)
If I'm honest, you bought a Smart because you'd always wanted one and for no other reason. At 10 and half grand, there's a lot of competition out there.
It's an affair of the heart versus the pocket.
Not only are they quite expensive for the level of practicality, if passenger capacity is your criterion but they're not the most comfortable ride in the world either. But then this possibly applies to every other 'affordable' two-seater. No one, for example buys a Mazda MX-5 for its carrying capacity on the school run. However, for the 1.2 passengers normally carried in a car, it's highly practical.
The irony of it is, that for something that was designed to be a purely city car, with no pretensions to be a Grand Tourer, the old Smarts were excruciatingly uncomfortable to drive over speed bumps, the majority of which exist in urban areas. Conversely, the Smart, having a decent enough power/weight ratio always could hold its own at motorway speeds.
OUT WITH THE OLD AND IN WITH THE NEW
There are clearly more sensible things to do with a portion of my wife's pension lump sum, and indeed most of it is being put to more prosaic use, but we agreed that buying another new Smart* would be her one major indulgence (that's if you don't count a 60th birthday dinner at Le Gavroche!).
(*Strange how it was me that paid for the meal and how it was my pension lump sum that bought the last Smart!)
Having spoken to the nice man at Mercedes-Benz, Brentford, we deleted all thoughts of buying 'nearly new' since we'd only save about £1000, and that's before you started to factor in special deals like the dealer's contribution towards the deposit on a new one and the 3-years' interest-free credit that was on tap. Sure we had enough to pay for it outright, but if it's not going to cost you anything to borrow it, then might as well take up the offer eh? It was also true that we were then going to be buying the 2012 update of the 451 series, with various styling changes externally. The 'nearly news' were the previous year's variant.
We didn't fancy the current range of metallic colours, the pale blue looking a bit insipid after the much richer affair the old Smartie was sprayed in, so we opted for bright 'Rally Red', this time with black metal work*, not silver as on the old one. This was a no-cost option unlike metallic paint which costs £250.
(* This is the metal safety cage from which all the plastic body parts are hung. It's referred to as 'Tridion' - something to do with being 3-times stronger than normal automotive steel stock IIRC).
Like last time, we were buying the 'Passion' derivative suffixed '71 mhd', which is just about the most well-appointed model before you start delving into special builds and cars 'breathed' on by Brabus Tuning. The 'mhd' stands for micro-hybrid, which it isn't! It does however have the now more common 'stop-start process' to limit fuel consumption in a jam or at lights.
Particularly impressive is the Bosch central console with a touch screen about the size of a respectable tablet PC. This acts as your access to an RDS radio, the sat-nav, a compass, the Bluetooth phone connection, the CD-audio and CD-mp3 player as well as being an iPod dock and SD card reader, and get this, a DVD player! In a car? At the front? Like most in-car stuff these days, it's probably as well to set your phone to Bluetooth, decide what, if anything you want to listen to and then set off, rather than attempt it whilst driving! It turns out that the DVD player is dependant on the application of the handbrake so it's more a like a very British kind of drive-in movie with no need to open a window!
This is standard specification in the Passion version.
"DISROBING IN A SMART CAR ISN'T EASY, HAVE YOU TRIED?"
The cabin is misleadingly spacious as long as you accept that it's strictly a two seat affair, but as Fascinating Aida recently pointed out in a song called 'Dogging' (!?), 'Disrobing in a Smart car isn't easy.........have you tried?' There are door-pockets and a proper glove box in this model. Even the lower half of the two-part tailgate is hollow and can be used for tool storage, warning triangles etc. The overall poly-carbonate sun-roof has a sliding internal panel to keep the sun off your head. Smart have obviously learned from their experience of exploding safety-glass roofs in early Mark 1s.
The seats, which wouldn't disgrace a 'pimped ride', are quite bucket-like with backs that run all the way to the top of the headrests as one steel pan, like a rally car seat and quite comfortable even on a long run. However, anyone who...shall we say has trouble fitting in a standard airline seat (ahem, and you know who you are) might want to take the seats for a long 'test-sit'.
As the car now had appreciably wider (155) front wheels, we opted for power steering as the only paid-for extra, which bumped the on-the-road price up to £10,276. The previous model (*mercifully still worth £1300 as a trade-in) had very narrow front wheels, but was still surprisingly heavy to park. Smarts still don't carry a spare, but having acquired an even narrower one off the front of a Mark 1 diesel a while back, I'm hanging on to it as a 'space-saver' - the wheel fittings and circumferences are the same. It certainly makes sense to pack it if making a long journey away from home turf. I never did like Smart's solution to a puncture - an aerosol of gunge and an electric pump. However, in the meantime, many more mainstream makers like BMW have followed suit along with most cars that have had an LPG conversion using the spare wheel aperture for their extra donut-shaped tank.
(*Not bad for a car that cost £8600 11 years ago - that's £664 depreciation p.a.).
The Passion versions both old and new have always included the automatic gearbox option of two pedal driving, but one press of a button gives you sequential manual (or annual, in my case) control of all gears - it's just that there's no clutch pedal. They have also always included air-conditioning, this now having almost made the grade to be classed as 'climate control', rather than a single button giving two different lengths of icicle on your extremities! I say 'almost' , because it will maintain a set temperature but isn't clever enough to switch over to using the heater should the outside temperature plummet.
MY FRIENDS ALL DRIVE PORSCHES, I MUST MAKE AMENDS, aka RUNNING COSTS
The official test-bed figures, which we all know are a fudge, but serve as a useful comparison with all the other 'fudged' figures out there, show an urban cycle fuel consumption of 61.4 mpg, extra-urban of 70.6 and combined cycle figures of 64.2, there being precious little between these figures and those for the semi-auto-only versions. To be fair, on a tank-to-tank check (the best kind of mpg measure) following a long journey in the old one, I did actually improve (slightly) on the official extra-urban figure, so you see; it can be done (at the expense of all the cars behind you on a narrow stretch of the A11!)
More significantly, from the running cost point of view, this one scrapes into the £0.00 VED bracket (98g/km CO2) and is therefore exempt from the London Congestion Charge which goes some way to explaining the number of estate agents using them around here. Me, I just steer clear of the place and anyway, with a Freedom Pass in my wallet, why bother?
Insurance companies take a similar view, grading it group 3 or 4 but don't expect rock-bottom rates. On hearing that we were about to trade in 'Old Blue', a few people asked us to give them first refusal, as they 'wanted it for their son to learn on'. Wrong! Young learner drivers should avoid these like the plague for their lessons and test, as they'll only come away certified to drive an automatic - even the 'manual' versions are strictly two-pedal affairs.
I've locked down my servicing costs by paying £20 month for the next 4 years - therefore, no matter how much labour rates and part prices go up, I'm assured of constant costs, well, for the first 48 months at least.
Well of course, Smart lovers would argue that there isn't any, my wife falling into this category.
Me, I don't mind them (who was it said that you either luv 'em or hate 'em like Marmite?), but there are plenty of 4-seat small cars you could buy new for £10,300, some of them very well appointed, the new model Kia Picanto for example, which comes in its highest specification for around that price. Of course, any automatic option is likely to be a fuel- and performance-sapping torque-converter 'lump', unlike that in the Smart which carries no such penalties by retaining a friction clutch. I can almost hear Richada saying "The tyres, man, the tyres!"
Yes, let's not forget the Korean car's God-awful tyres which would immediately cost you a few hundred more to change to something you've heard of! Smarts come shod in a nice set of 'Contis'.
The nearest opposition in concept really comes from the cute little Toyota iQ, billed as the world's shortest 4-seater and looking not unlike a closer-to-the-ground Smart. This however, is priced 'from' £10,995, so yet another example of something that will only sell to those who have always wanted one since first clapping eyes on one.
Mitsubishi, a long-time collaborator with Smart, their 5-door hatches (Smart ForFour and Mitsubishi Colt being basically the same car underneath) even have what you might say looks just like a four-door version of a Mark 1 Smart, called the 'i'. I'm none too sure if this is still part of their petrol-range as it appears to be currently re-inventing itself as an electric version (the i-Miev) and not just for themselves - I believe Citroen are re-badging it too as the 'C-Zero'.
By the way, be prepared to provoke some really bad behaviour from those that 'hate them'. My wife is forever complaining of some bloody Beemer or Merc driver overtaking at some inopportune moment because they clearly regard you as some kind of 'untermensch' to be cleared out of their way at all costs. It's almost like being on a push-bike without the opportunity to drive on pavements and go through red lights. (Why, do cyclists do that then Chris?)
Strange really, because the Smart has a perfectly adequate power/weight ratio and whilst its 0-60 mph figures are pretty laughable by 'GTi standards' (13 seconds) it's really more relevant to look at its 0-30 times. It certainly feels like it's holding its own in the 'traffic light Grand Prix', and let's face it, this was the rough and tumble it was designed for. A top speed of 90mph is well in excess of the UK limit so (lawful) motorway cruising is perfectly practicable.
Handling is still fairly edgy, as the car is quite tall for its width, although the wider front tyres do give the impression of being less susceptible to understeer in the wet (that's running wide) and give you the confidence that you're not braking hard on front wheels that previously appeared to have been nicked off a moped.
The power steering seems to be speed-related, giving maximum help when parking and tailing off completely at speed.
Amongst its cohort of very small cars, the Smart stands out as being rear-wheel-drive, which, as many BMW drivers found out after driving on snow for the first time two Christmases ago, does have its disadvantages. However, what weight the Smart does have is at least over the driven wheels. The traction control system is a 'proper' one like F1 drivers used to be allowed to use, rather than something that just prevents one driven wheel from going a lot faster than the other. Try to accelerate hard on ice in one of these and you'll almost sense the car telling you not to be so silly, as it matches power to levels of grip.
The automatic gear change is much improved, and let's face it, with 5 gears, not 6 there's one less change to do now. The point at which they change seems better chosen than before and no more 'coasting onto roundabouts' praying that it will kick in any moment now.
If I'm honest, the way the "MHD" stop-start is configured seems all wrong. It seems it can hardly wait to turn the engine off. You only have to pause on a Give Way line for a split second and it all goes ominously quiet. Mercifully this only happens if you keep your foot on the foot brake - whatever happened to it being against the Highway Code to blind the driver behind you when stationary? As soon as you lift your tootsie to transfer it to the go-juice pedal it starts before you can get it there. It wouldn't have done any harm to build in a 5 second delay so that it cuts out slightly less often. To its credit the system doesn't work till the engine is fully warm and so doesn't put undue strain on the starter or the battery. Thank goodness you can turn the feature off but it always defaults to "on" when starting again.
Strangely enough, having the green 'ECO ready' light come is the only indication that your car is warmed up, the dashboard having been 'dumbed-down' to exclude even the '4 blobs' of a thermometer in the last one.
CREATURE COMFORTS - NIGGLES
Fortunately, this list isn't as long as it was last time!
I still have an issue with the ergonomics. For one thing, the steering wheel is neither adjustable for rake or distance.
The seats are not height adjustable in the accepted sense although their runners are ramped, so that the nearer to the wheel you sit, the higher you are which seems a sensible compromise. At least this time, the passenger seat enjoys the same rake-adjustment of the driver's side - previously, you were stuck at how the factory set it as, being staggered slightly behind the driver, maximising elbow room and visibility for the driver, there was no room behind the seat for such luxuries. Now there is.
The intermittent wipers have two settings - once every 12 seconds when standing still which alters to every 5 seconds on the move. Again, clever, but some gradations in between would have been useful.
CREATURE COMFORTS - IMPROVEMENTS
Changing headlight bulbs no longer requires a) very thin deft wrists, or b) removal of the entire front 'nose-cone' just to change a bulb (honest!). The 451 series has a proper, if tiny bonnet lid to get at fluids and change bulbs.
As I've already hinted, the a/v console thingy is a vast improvement over the cassette-playing FM radio we had last, and in fact its instruction manual competes with that of the car itself for size!
The whole driving environment is now much quieter on the inside and the engine itself is commendably hushed.
Gear changes, whilst not up to the standard of a torque-converter auto box are a vast improvement, with not an ill-chosen change interval or jerk in sight. It's very nearly as good as the DSG box in my Seat Leon which has two clutches to achieve the same degree of smoothness.
There's now a hill-assist facility which gives you one second to shift your foot from the brake to the gas pedal before drifting backwards down a slope of a crowded multi-storey car park! By this time, with any luck, the engine will also have restarted!
WILL IT FIT YOUR GARAGE?
Yes - unless it's Barbie's or Ken's.
(Sorry Richada, couldn't resist it!)
Actually, it's 2.7 metres long, which in some places allows for it to be parked end-on to the kerb, but watch out for jobs-worth parking wardens - a centimetre over the bay width marker and you're toast.
As for width, at 1.75 metres over mirrors, it will even fit into a 1930's semi's garage better suited to an Austin 'Chummy' Seven!
Surprisingly, despite its diminutive size, it still weighs 0.85 tonnes, which hints at that extra strong steel cage I guess.
Carrying capacity allows for two adults of indeterminate porkiness and 50 kilograms of luggage, but since you'd have trouble getting more than one large suitcase in the back, this is not likely to be exceeded.
Going from our previous experience, it's worth keeping an eye on your tyres. Not because the Smart is harsh on them, far from it, they seemingly go on for ever, but this then raises the spectre of how old should you let a tyre get. One of our rear tyres on the old Smart literally fell apart, fortunately at low speed with tens of thousands on miles of tread left on it. When we checked, we realised that it was 6 years old with signs of shoulder cracking that had somehow sneaked through the previous MOT. This highlights the problem with buying cars that are probably going to be used as a shopping trolley. In 11 years our old one had only covered 38,000 miles.
The solution is to use it more, now that it's a much better long-distance prospect and I can see a few more of our visits to the in-laws in Norfolk being done in the Smart.
Smart's two-year warranty does by modern standards look, well, niggardly, especially as the old one came with 3 years-worth. Having said that our old one let us down twice, at 5 year intervals and both times it was the same electronic component that failed. Neither time were we stranded, just inconvenienced (and poorer at the end of it). It was the 'yaw sensor' which tells the stability programme when you are tail-sliding and cuts the power back to minimum - there is a way to cut out the stability package so keep a paper clip handy!
Now to bust a few urban myths from 'first time around'. They do NOT crumple disastrously when hit by another car, and in fact get a good NCAP rating. They do NOT fall over backwards if you brake hard reversing down a hill (they might LOOK like they do, but they don't). The glass roof does NOT, in my experience, explode. I think this happened to a few early models where the roof was glued into place whilst under stress.
The Smart - The "Swatch Mercedes Art Car" has come quite a long way since its first launch. I don't suppose they've 'taken off' in the way that the parent company Daimler AG would have wished but they do at least seem to be attracting customers from outside of the 'Marmite' brigade now, and zero VED plus escaping the London Congestion charge can't do it any harm. Being able to have some fun and still get near to 60 mpg might also be something to do with it.
Whether we'll feel as fond of the new Smart as we were of the old Smartie remains to be seen. The latter was my wife's first new car so it'll always hold some kind of place in her heart that no other vehicle can. Likewise, in 'civilising' the newer Smart, ironing out a few of its idiosyncrasies and making it more comfortable and more of a 'mainstream' experience, you wonder whether we're not going to feel a little like a Citroen 2CV owner who's just realised that his next car is definitely not going to be another one, and will not be having seats that can be taken out and used at picnics.
Time will tell.
p.s. This IS the other car I said was a Mercedes!
Summary: Two seat city car