People are increasingly conscious of the effect their choices have on the environment and as a result there is a surge in small cars on the world’s roads. Even dye in the wool petrolheads are opting for tiny turbocharged Mitsubishi Colts and Suzuki Swift Sports over Evos and STIs.
They’re just as exciting but with a fraction of the running costs. But what if you want a small car and you haven’t the faintest idea what driving dynamics are and think horsepower is a brand of male supplements? How small can you go?
The Smart Fortwo is cartoonishly small and as quirky as they get. The idea was to create a car that could park perpendicularly in a typical parallel parking spot. At 2.6 metres long, two Smarts can comfortably fit in a normal parking spot. So yes, it’s very small, but also defiantly cute.
It ticks the quirky box with a permanent marker and wouldn’t look out of place in the hands of a dishevelled professor on the brink of madness, or a starving artist. Underpinning the 730kg car is a steel frame to which plastic body panels are attached.
As a matter of design, the steel frame, pompously dubbed Tridion Cell, is exposed and painted to contrast with the plastic body panels. It’s a car that makes you smile in appreciation when you see it, full stop. The smallness, cuteness and madness continues on the inside.
The first thing you notice is that the passenger seat is set 15 centimetres behind the driver’s to allow for shoulder room that would otherwise be non-existent.
Apart from that, however, the cabin feels light and airy on account of a huge glassed area. Head and legroom is also generous and my six-foot frame found the little car more than accommodating.
Then there’s everything else that you set your eyes on; like the dash mounted clock and tachometer that look like googly eyes or the speed gauge that looks like it was borrowed from a 90s arcade game, all lending the Smart a playful puppy like personality.
As you can expect of a company owned by Mercedes, the Smart’s interior has plenty of plush materials and soft surfaces to give the impression of luxury.
The smart is powered by a 1.0 litre 3 cylinder good for some 70 horsepower and it simply isn’t enough. Put your foot down and it takes 17 seconds to hit 100kph, which was scary in a car tossed about by crosswinds and speeding buses.
This is strictly meant for city life and you’ll just have to hire a proper car when going upcountry. Instead of coasting when you get off the accelerator, the little car quickly sheds speed and gains it back with an irritating sputter. Even with the semi-automatic transmission set to manual the shifts still feel delayed.
Then there’s the overbearing traction control which like an overprotective mum, won’t let you have any fun. The steering is accurate and responsive but meant for slow speed in-city turning situations where the tight turning circle makes it a nippy runabout.
However, turn the wheel aggressively in a twisty back road and the traction control sternly refuses. The razor thin tyres simply cannot cope and it under-steers to a point only prayer can keep you on the right line.
When I’d first heard that the Smart comes with only two seats, rear mounted engine and rear wheel drive, I thought that the engineers must have given it some sporting potential but alas! The Fortwo is as much fun as knitting a scarf.
This is a clear cut case of advertising being better than the product. The design tugs at the right heartstrings and will get many likes on instagram but is a dog of a car to drive. Sure you get the satisfaction of great mileage, averaging 28 km per litre, but it will scare you to death whenever a speeding bus shakes the little car like a leaf in its wake.
It’s got no luggage room of practical use and even if the dimensions make it easy to park into tight spaces, the steering gains an uncooperative attitude at slow speeds. The man I’d borrowed the 2010 example from had paid 600,000 for his and I thought it too much all things considered.
Then there’s also the little matter of getting anything for the car. The only way to keep a Smart on the road is to import the parts yourself and when there are other, simpler, better equipped and cheaper options, that just seems like an unnecessary hustle.