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BBC Bristol Online > Features

Wednesday 3rd October 2001, 0900 BST
Driving smartly about town
by Andy Macrow
smart cars parked along a road.
You cannot ignore a smart car on the road as it stands out from the crowd with its cheeky approach and nimble manoeuvering.

Like many others, I was familiar with the car and had often peered curiously into its interior when I came across one parked up.

It was with a little apprehension then, that I approached the test car, it looked almost too small to be taken seriously on today's busy roads.

However despite its small size, it feels like a people-carrier when you sit inside it.

It took a moment to readjust to its left hand drive layout - right hand drive models are to appear in November - the controls fell easily to hand.

smart dashboard
Although right hand drive models are coming out in November, left hand drive cars do not leave you at that much of a disadvantage in city traffic.

The narrow width the car and close proximity of the rear window meant you had very few blind spots despite the steering wheel being on the 'wrong side'.

The raised driving position gives a commanding view of the traffic, instilling confidence and dispelling any fears of being bullied by fellow motorists.

Starting up the rear mounted engine was quiet enough with only a slight exhaust boom detectable when accelerating away in traffic.

The car had a rather handy "clutchless six-speed sequential gearbox" with a "fully automatic override button"
which means you can drive in full automatic mode, letting the car chose its own gears or you can nudge the gearstick up or down to hurry its progress along.

The ride was good considering how short the wheel base is and didn't seem too unsettled by the poor quality of most of the city's roads.

Moving along in the traffic was almost a pleasure with the car's agile steering and dramatic turning circle - it is 8.7m if you have to know. With a claimed top speed of 84 mph it seemed agile enough to cope with any road system.

I have passed smart cars on the busy M4 motorway, the drivers did not appear too ashen-faced or white-knuckled, so I assume they behave OK on those roads - good luck to you if you fancy trying it!

Parking is the smart car's trump card. I was able to pick any number of spots that even the smallest super-mini would avoid and drive right in, front bumper towards the kerb, in effortless smugness.

If things do go horribly wrong and you bend the car's bodywork, all the thermoplastic panels can be replaced in just over an hour.

As Swatch the watchmakers also had a hand in the design you can buy different colour panels and change the look of the car completely if you wish.

smart car with its doors open

Space in the back for shopping but don't expect to take the kids with you, with no spare wheel provided, that trip to the shops might take a bit longer than expected if you get a puncture.

There are a couple of negative points though.

Its main drawback to me is that it's only a two-seater, so if ferrying friends or children about is something you do regularly then this is not the car for you .

When you buy a smart you do not have a spare wheel included - at all.

You either have to buy an extra one and carry it around in the back sacrificing the already small boot space or carry around a can of self-inflating tyre repair.

These points aside I felt the car was a brave step forward in addressing the problem of too many cars, too little space. In its urban environment the smart excels, and to be fair, its prime role is to provide cheap, practical fun motoring for the commuter.

There are plans to build a four seat, five door model aimed at family motorists.

Although it will address one criticism of the car, it will put the smart head-to-head against its mainstream opposition for the first time.

Time will tell if that proves to be a smart move for the company.

Next smartcar feature
>> Being a smart owner -
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Trying to outsmart city parking

Driving smartly about town

Being a smart owner
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