The Smart ForTwo has always been in a class of its own. Now there’s a new model with a new diesel engine, and its makers boast it’s the world’s most economical production car, ever. Danny Cobbs is normally behind the wheel of 4x4s, so we thought it would be a challenge for him to drive something a little smaller…
Whenever we’re invited to the launch of a new car, the driving normally requires us to test the new vehicle under real-world conditions. There’s very little point trying to take a sports car for a spot of off-roading. Likewise, there’s not much to gain from trashing a large SUV around a racetrack. Mostly, we get given a set route, which encompasses motorways, city roads, and country lanes.
The idea is that we can then correlate the handing characteristics and performance, and give an overall and informative judgement. Recently, Smart decided that a 120km route around Madrid’s ring road would be the perfect way to get us acclimatised to their all new ForTwo – this, you might remember, was the original, microscopic, two-seater city car. And if this were any other car, I’d agree that a relaxing saunter along a major arterial route would be of benefit. However, the ForTwo has always been designed primarily to tackle the congestion of the metropolis. Bobbing and weaving its way through urban traffic is its greatest – and some might say, only – party trick.
Even with the modifications made to this latest generation, after just a couple of miles or so of being buffeted from the vacuum left by overtaking juggernauts, it soon became abundantly clear that motorway driving is still not its forte. This car was never intended to break any speed or performance records. Nor was the ForTwo designed for a long haul. A short urban hop to the shops, or a quick jaunt to the theatre is what it’s really good at. Buffeted on motorways, or driving on country roads, it just doesn’t feel comfortable. Indeed, it was only when it was let loose in the snarling Spanish traffic that it came into its own.
For the first time Smart is fitting the ForTwo with a 799cc, 3-cylinder diesel engine. So long as it doesn’t leave the city limits, this is more than adequate for the job in hand. In this urban environment, it really doesn’t matter that it takes a sedentary 19.8seconds to reach 62mph. What really counts is how much the running costs will be. Unbelievably, it will average over 80 miles to the gallon, and will only drain the tank every 800 miles or so, making it the most economical production car in the world, its makers claim.
This might be the first outing for a Smart with a pot-burner secreted away under the plastic shell, but it really lends itself well to diesel. The torque is delivered evenly and without too much fuss. The semi-automatic gearbox still retains the inherent lag between changes if left in manual mode, but it has been improved, if only marginally. Having the wheels firmly planted at each corner also gives a feeling of sure-footing, although it still doesn’t instill the confidence to take a corner with too much fervour. Smart has increased the overall length by all of three inches, which still keeps it well within the ‘park-nose-first’ parameters.
The interior, which could never be called dull and still remains as funky as ever, has extra leg space and more elbow room. Magically, even without the sliding roof fully extended, it never feels claustrophobic. The ambiance inside is one of spaciousness, with plenty of cubbyholes and storage compartments. All this from a car that measures less in length than the width of an Orang-utan’s outstretched arms. So far, so good then? Not quite. When the Smart was first launched, it was hailed as the first true city car: cheap to buy; and cheap to maintain.
Now things are a little different. It is still relatively inexpensive to keep on the road, but the initial outlay, even for the petrol version, is pressing towards the seven grand bracket. Choose the diesel and that figure rises to eight thousand pounds, and then some if you add on a few extras. For a lot less money it’s possible to buy a car not much bigger with four seats and a half-decent boot. The ForTwo will be on sale in Europe in the middle part of the year, although Smart has yet to confirm if a right hand drive version of the diesel will be produced. Because of its diminutive stature, it really doesn’t matter if they don’t swap sides for the steering wheel – stretching over to take a ticket at the NCP is not exactly a chore. Take the ForTwo for what it is: an economical, chic, city car, and it won’t lead to disappointment. Elevate it to something much grander and it will never compete.
On sale: Mid 2007 // Price from: £7,990 Alternatives: Citroën C1, Fiat Panda,Toyota Iygo
- Price: £7,990 approx
- Engine: 700cc 3cyl 6 valves Diesel
- Max Power: 45bhp at 388rpm
- Max Torque: 81 lb ft @ 2,000-2,500 rpm
- Combined Consumption:83.4mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 100g/km
- 0-62mph: 19.8secs
- Max speed: 84mph
The most economical car ever: 83 mpg can’t be argued with. Tardis interior, with a funky twist. Excellent for short hops in an urban environment
Really doesn’t feel comfortable anywhere other than in the city. Initial cost is high. Not yet certain to be available as a left-hand-drive diesel…