Posts

These are the last ever petrol-powered Smart cars

Smart Final 21

Smart is killing off its petrol cars, signing off with a series of Final #21 Edition models.

There will be 21, obviously,  before the company takes the bold step of going fully electric.

Smart Final 21

The final 21 are numbered to represent 21 years of the Smart brand. And you won’t mistake a Final #21 for anything else. With design by acclaimed artist Konstantin Grcic, this is a striking car.

Mixing an original shade – ‘Hello Yellow’ – and black, there’s a ‘tearing’ effect between the two hues. That’s a tribute to a stunt from the original Smart launch, involving a car driving out of a tunnel as a bucket of paint is poured onto it. Oh, how ‘outside the box’ we were in the 1990s…

Smart Final 21

Inside, the yellow and black mix-and-match continues. Although it’s all a little bit, er, cheesy, we like that petrol isn’t being sent off with a ‘good riddance’.

“Smart remains much more than a car – it represents the grand vision of a new form of urban mobility,” said Daniel Lescow, head of brand at Smart.

Smart Final 21

“As such, the ground-breaking decision to switch the entire range to electric drives only as of 2020 is a perfectly logical step.”

“For us, the Final Collector’s Edition marks both the end of an era and a new beginning as a significant milestone in the history of Smart and towards a future horizon.”

Smart ForTwo EQ

Opinion: I challenge anyone to drive an EV and not enjoy it

Smart ForTwo EQ EV

Range anxiety and infrastructure woes notwithstanding, I challenge anyone to drive an electric car and not enjoy it. 

Enjoying a car can mean different things, of course. It’s not like the Smart Fortwo EQ, the car via which I re-acquainted myself with electric power, is a scintillating B-road ripper. Nor is it a cosseting limousine, pleasantly devoid of the agricultural clatter of internal combustion. It’s just a car, a Smart, with batteries and electric motors where an engine used to be.

That may sound entirely unremarkable, but even the little Smart with its relatively tiny range speaks of a better future. Here’s why…

Instant response

In my opinion, one of the most important things to have in any car is enough puff beneath your right shoe. That doesn’t mean mega-horsepower, just a good amount available as and when you need it. Motorway on-ramps, dicey junctions and other such split-second challenges faced by motorists make a bit of get-up-and-go an absolute essential.

In an EV, immediate electric torque is par for the course. Even if the figure it boasts is relatively meagre, all of the little Smart’s oomph is available the instant I touch the throttle. That’s response and instant punch a Ferrari 812 Superfast or Lamborghini Aventador SVJ can only dream of. 

Smart ForTwo EQ EV

Low EV running costs

It’s the well-trodden path of the EV fanboy, but the numbers are undeniable. It would cost our camera jockey Bradley more than £10 to put 100 miles-worth of fuel in his 1.4-litre Vauxhall Corsa. To top-up the little Smart, you’re looking at pennies.

We could talk about the consumables in Bradley’s Corsa, too, but that wouldn’t register on a first drive. Plus, we don’t want to upset him.

Ease of use

I love swapping cogs as much as the next car enthusiast, but you’ve got to revel in the turnkey-go feeling of the Smart EQ. Put it in Eco mode and the regenerative brake effect is such that you needn’t touch the middle pedal. Press the accelerator to go, lift off to slow down – it’s as simple as that.

I miss the minutiae of matching revs, and making the best of my Renaultsport Clio’s notchy shift, yet the ease of the sweet little Smart is infectious. Unless you’re carving up the Highlands, easing the chore of everyday driving is no bad thing.

Smart ForTwo EQ EV

Electric cars are inexplicably relaxing to drive

Maybe it’s the lack of noise, the less metered inputs, or the fewer inputs as a whole. We can’t put our fingers on it, but electric cars are so effortless, so relaxing to drive. You’ll just need to experience one for yourself to see what we mean.

Smart Fortwo EQ: verdict

The little Smart is a long way from perfect, as are many current EVs and the infrastructure in which we’re supposed to run them. You’ll struggle to match its quoted 100-mile range in normal driving. It’s a city EV and not much more. The charging infrastructure, while improving every day, isn’t what it needs to be. Battery tech needs to get better: more power and less weight is a must. These cars need to get cheaper, too: the Fortwo in this Brabus-styled spec is £22,580 – and that’s after the Government’s Plug-In Car Grant.   

We’re not ignorant of these problems. The point of this piece was to call out the detractors – there’s much to love about electric cars. We challenge you to drive one and disagree.

Read more:

Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

Star quality: Mercedes-Benz’s incredible car collection

Mercedes-Benz World at BrooklandsMercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Porsche, BMW… most of the German brands have huge car collections housed in extravagant museums – usually free-of-charge to visit. However, Mercedes is the only marque to have opened such a showcase in the UK. Welcome to Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands, Surrey.

Mercedes-Benz 190 SLMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

Taking centre-stage in the foyer of Mercedes-Benz World is this 1960 190 SL, owned by British model, David Gandy. Previous celebrity 190 SL owners include Alfred Hitchcock and The King himself: Elvis Presley.

Powered by a 122hp 1.9-litre in-line four, the 190 SL had a top speed of 120mph. It cost £2,600 when launched in 1955 – the equivalent of more than £100,000 today.

Mercedes-Benz 190 E Brabus 3.6SMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

Coolest car at Mercedes-Benz World? We think so. Owned by Brabus PR manager, Sven Gramm, this red hot 190 E is actually a replica of a 1988 Brabus 3.6S demo car that never made production.

With no rear seats or air-con, the 268hp 3.6S could hit 62mph in 6.3 seconds and a VMAX of 162mph. That makes it faster than the factory 2.5-16 Evo II – “effectively a 190 E Clubsport”, says Mercedes.

Mercedes-Benz 280 SLMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

The W113 SL earned the nickname ‘Pagoda’ because of its curvaceous hard-top roof and is still one of the most beautiful cars ever made. This particular SL was driven by Jodie Kidd in the opening sequence to The Classic Car Show.

The Pagoda began life in 1963 as the 2.3-litre 230 SL. The 2.8-litre 280 SL seen here didn’t arrive until 1967, boasting 170hp and 0-62mph in 9.0 seconds. Power steering and servo assisted brakes make it an easy car to drive – even by modern standards.

Mercedes-AMG G 63Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

The Mercedes G-Class is a classic of sorts, having remained in production since 1979. The testosterone-pumped AMG versions have become the car of choice for wealthy urbanites – albeit usually in black, rather than the ‘Solar Beam’ yellow seen here.

This V8-engined G 63 makes 571hp and blasts to 62mph in 5.4 seconds. With a modest £4,750-worth of options, it would set you back £152,377. We’ll spend the cash on a Pagoda SL and an old G-Wagen for winter, thanks.

The very first carMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

Lest we forget, the very first car was a Mercedes-Benz. This is a faithful replica of the Benz Patent Motor Car, complete with a 954cc single-cylinder engine, solid wheels, leather brakes and a tiller for steering.

In 1888, Bertha Benz and her sons drove 121 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back in the ‘Motorwagen’. They bought fuel from chemists and used Bertha’s hatpin to clear a carburettor blockage. It was the first long journey ever undertaken in a car.

Smart CrossbladeMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

The first owner of this Smart Crossblade was chirpy British pop star, Robbie Williams. Supposedly, Robbie remarked: “Wow, I just love this car. It’s innovative and unconventional, the two qualities I look for in new projects”. Hmm.

The Crossblade was a special edition of the Smart City Cabriolet without a windscreen, roof or conventional doors. Its Brabus-tuned engine developed 71hp for a (very windy) top speed of 83mph.

Mercedes-AMG GT SMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

You can buy a car at Mercedes-Benz World – indeed, a large part of the complex is taken up by Mercedes’ Brooklands dealership. This used AMG GT S caught our eye, although it’s slightly beyond our budget…

There’s a near-identical GT S displayed inside, too. Vital stats for this 911 Turbo-rival are 510hp and 0-62mph in just 3.8 seconds. Oh, and that Solar Beam paint option? A mere £10,695.

Mercedes-Benz F200 Imagination conceptMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

This radical concept car was based on a 1996 Mercedes S-Class. Active suspension uses sensors operating hydraulic cylinders for each wheel, keeping the car level – even when cornering.

However, the F200’s interior is where things really get radical. Two ‘fly by wire’ joysticks take the place of a steering wheel. The driver pushes forwards to accelerate, pulls back to brake and moves the sticks left or right to steer. Sounds mildly terrifying.

Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 CosworthMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

If your budget won’t stretch to that one-of-a-kind Brabus, this 190 E 2.5-16 is the next best thing. A homologation special built for the German Touring Car Championship (DTM), the 190’s 2.5-litre 16v engine was tuned by British engineering specialists, Cosworth.

If this car looks a little tattier than the MB-World norm, that’s because it was owned by the late Mike Hall, chief designer at Cosworth. Hall designed both 2.3-16 and 2.5-16 engines for the 190 E in 1984.

Mercedes-Benz 280 SE CabrioletMercedes-Benz World at Brooklands

We finish with this glorious 280 SE Cabriolet: predecessor to the modern S-Class. A 160hp 2.8-litre straight-six wafts it to 112mph, although the later 300 SEL 6.3 is the one we really want.

In fact, the 300 SEL 6.3 was the car that made AMG’s name. In 1971, the tuning company bored-out the big Merc’s engine to 6.8 litres and took victory in the Spa 24-Hour race. AMG would eventually become part of Mercedes, and the S-Class the definitive luxury car.

Smart City Coupe

Smart City Coupe review: Retro Road Test

01_smart-newRemember the first time you saw a Smart parked at 90 degrees to the kerb? It’s easy to forget just how radical this tiny two-seater looked back in 1998. While BMW turned to the past with its retro-remake MINI, arch-rival Mercedes-Benz was forging into the future. The City Coupe broke the mould, both in how it was engineered and marketed. And sometimes even how it was parked.

Our Retro Road Test car is an immaculate 2001 Smart Pulse with just 7,400 miles on the clock. It’s the latest addition to Mercedes-Benz UK’s heritage fleet: a mark of the Smart’s emerging cult status.

What are its rivals?02_smart

Unless you count horrible quadricycles like the G-Wiz and French Aixam models, the Smart had no direct rivals. Eighteen years later, it still doesn’t: the Toyota iQ tried and failed, while the electric Renault Twizy is a far less practical proposition.

If you’re in the market for a fashionable city car, obvious alternatives include the Fiat 500, Renault Twingo and Volkswagen Up – the latter our top choice in this class. All are fully-fledged superminis that accommodate four people and more luggage than the Smart. None, however, can park perpendicularly.

Which engines does it use?03_smart

The City Coupe was offered in three specifications: Pure, Pulse and Passion. Our mid-range Pulse has a 55hp 599cc petrol engine that gets it to 62mph, well… eventually (OK, 17.2 seconds). Top speed is 84mph. Smart also sold 45hp and 62hp versions of this engine, along with a 41hp 0.8 CDi diesel.

All models use a six-speed semi-automatic gearbox, which allows sequential manual shifts by simply pushing the lever back or forth. A bit like a racing car then? Er, not exactly…

What’s it like to drive?04_smart

Mention the City Coupe in conversation and talk of that gearbox is never far away. Slow, jerky and unintuitive, it’s the car’s Achilles’ heel.

To give you an impression of how if feels to drive, imagine you are pulling away briskly from the traffic lights. The process goes something like this: accelerate – lurch forwards – pause – pause a bit longer – lurch backwards – accelerate – repeat until nauseous. Making smooth progress is nigh-on impossible, even if you swap cogs yourself. And while the Smart is far more civilised at slow speeds around town, it’s difficult to believe Mercedes-Benz signed-off such a flawed drivetrain.

Despite this rather large caveat, we all enjoyed the City Coupe. Its unassisted steering provides more feedback than a modern ForTwo and the buzzy three-cylinder engine is eager to rev. And driving such a small car simply makes sense in traffic-choked south-east England. The joy of nipping into motorcycle-sized gaps, U-turning in a narrow road or parking in places others can’t should not be underestimated.

Reliability and running costs05_smart

The City Coupe is economical (57.6mpg) and cheap to tax (118g/km CO2). However, awkward engine access means maintenance costs aren’t as low as you’d hope, particularly at Mercedes-Benz dealers.

We suggest using the network of Smart specialists, who offer much lower labour rates – and joining the very active owners’ club for discounted parts and insurance. Search for ‘The Smart Club’ online.

Could I drive it every day?06_smart

The City Coupe is more practical than it looks. Granted, the boot is barely big enough for a weekly shop, but drivers under 5ft 10in will find additional stowage behind the seats. There’s also a usefully large shelf atop the dashboard.

The high-set seat and fixed steering wheel make for a very upright driving position – you’re sitting on top of the engine, remember? – which gets wearing on longer journeys. However, all-round visibility is good and there’s no shortage of space for driver and passenger. You might want to upgrade the cassette player fitted here, though – our crackly copy of Rave ’92 also got wearing on those longer journeys…

How much should I pay?07_smart

There are plenty of first-generation Smarts (initially named City Coupe, later ForTwo) in the classifieds. Prices start from as little as £800, but we’d spend at least twice that for something that isn’t on the verge of an engine rebuild.

Early, left-hand-drive cars like this one are the most collectable (RHD didn’t arrive until autumn 2001), while quicker Brabus models – and the related 2003-2006 Smart Roadster – also command a premium. Expect to pay around £4,000 for a tidy, low-mileage City Coupe that could appreciate in value if used sparingly.

What should I look out for?08_smart

Smarts tend to cover relatively small mileages, but reports of replacement engines aren’t uncommon. The culprit is gunked-up piston rings allowing oil into the engine, causing misfires and a lack of compression. Over time, the problem can destroy the valves, necessitating a complete rebuild or new engine. Check the oil level and condition, and look for blue smoke from the exhaust. And as with all used cars, don’t buy without a comprehensive service history.

Should I buy one?09_smart

Traditional petrolheads will scoff, but an early Smart isn’t without appeal. Its funky, Swatch-inspired design still looks fresh, and its city-centric character is more relevant than ever. There’s no excuse for that gearbox, but think of the City Coupe as a quirky and innovative transport solution, rather than a driving machine per se, and suddenly it makes sense. Particularly if you live in a city.

The original Smart’s place in automotive history is assured. It wasn’t a runaway success like the MINI, but it marked the reinvention of the microcar for the modern age. And in a world where cars grow bigger and more bloated with every successive generation, that’s an achievement worth recognising.

Pub fact10_smart

We’d love to tell you this Japanese vending machine dispenses Smart cars. In fact, it’s a neat marketing ploy – offering free brochures rolled up in tubes. Still, let’s face it, you’d need an awful lot of spare change for the real thing.

Smart Fortwo 'Forcops'

Smart Forcops! NYPD replaces motorbikes with Smarts

Smart Fortwo 'Forcops'Smart has delivered the first 100 Fortwo city cars ordered in an innovative piece of thinking by the New York City Police Department – and the new micro-motors are already being dubbed ‘Smart Forcops’.

Replacing the city’s old three-wheel motorcycles (not dissimilar to the machine driven by Officer Judy Hopps in the animated film Zootopia), they’ve been chosen because they’re more spacious and practical than the old motorcycles, but almost as agile and, it is hoped, considerably more reliable.

They also have air conditioning – which Deputy Commissioner Robert S. Martinez believes will be a real boon to city cops during the stifling New York summers.

Forming part of the 9,000-vehicle NYPD fleet, cops have ordered 250 Smart Fortwos in total, all finished in white and blue  and fitted with a blue revolving police light on the roof. The interior is also decked out in radio equipment.

One of the first NYPD cops to drive the new Smart Fortwo ‘Forcops’ is officer Ralph Jefferson, whose beat is in Chinatown.

“The smart is spacious and agile and makes my job much easier,” he said.

“Many people say that the little patrol cars are really cute, too.” We think that’s perhaps not a look cops might be completely thrilled with, but hey – if it’s good for community relations, who are we to argue?

In pictures: Smart Fortwo ‘Forcops’

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Smart Fortwo Cabriolet

Smart Fortwo Cabriolet to debut at 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show

Smart Fortwo CabrioletThe new Smart Fortwo Cabriolet has been revealed ahead of its world debut at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show on September 15.

As before, the Fortwo Cabriolet has a three-stage roof, dubbed tritop: the soft-top section electrically turns from closed to open by sliding fully rearwards to sit just above the rear tail lights…

… But the side roof bars can also be removed and stowed in a special section in the flip-down bootlid, creating what Smart calls the only true cabriolet in the sector.

Smart Fortwo Cabriolet

The roof, which opens in 12 seconds, comes in red, black or an interesting-sounding blue denim.

Using a key on the remote keyfob, it can also be operated from outside.

Smart Fortwo Cabriolet

Smart says the roof is 4% larger than the old car, of which an impressive 220,000 were sold. It’s also been tested to the same standards used by Mercedes-Benz cars.

The firm proudly points to some of the tests it’s undertaken:

  • 20,000-cycle endurance test for opening and closing the roof
  • Functionality between -15 and +80 degrees C proven
  • Abuse test: opening a fully-iced roof at -40 degrees C
  • 500-cycle anti-leak car wash test

The new Smart Fortwo Cabriolet will initially be offered with either the 1.0-litre or 0.9-litre turbo engines from the coupe: a diesel version will follow later.

Following the car’s launch at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, ordering will open towards the end of the year and deliveries will begin in February 2016.

Smarttrain

Smart goes off the rails

 Is it a car? Is it a train? Actually, just tell us… what on earth IS it?

Smarttrain

Micro city car maker Smart has turned its Forfour supermini into a ‘fully certified’ miniature train. That’s ‘fully certified’ as in ‘running on an actual railway’. Honestly, we kid you not.

Track day Smart

Smarttrain

The ‘Forrail’ took to the tracks on the Bluebell Railway, completing the 10-mile stretch through the Sussex countryside.

Can I buy one?

Smarttrain

Sadly it won’t be available to the public – the project was part of a one-off PR stunt.

Inspired by Top Gear?

Smarttrain

It follows in the tracks of the Top Gear trio, who had a crack at making their own car-derived trains in 2011.

Or even James Bond?

Smarttrain

Turning a car into a train isn’t a new idea though. It was back in 1983 when Roger Moore took his Mercedes-Benz 250 SE to the rails in Octopussy.

Pulls like a train

Smarttrain

Designed over six months by train engineering firm Interfleet, the 1.0-litre, one-tonne Smart made a change from the 16-litre, 70-tonne diesel locomotives it normally works with.

Gaining traction

Smarttrain

The normal wheels were replaced with 22-inch items, each weighing 80kg, to provide it with enough traction on the rails.

Handles like it’s on rails

Smarttrain

The steering had to be disconnected to allow it to drive on rails. Aluminium supports were welded between the axles meaning the wheels are locked in position.

End of the line

Smarttrain

After the experiment, the ‘Forrail’ will be reverted back to a road-going Forfour.

Cheaper than a train ticket

Smarttrain

According to Smart, the (road-going) Forfour can drive the 540-mile journey from London to Aberdeen non-stop for £39, making it cheaper than a train ticket.

Drivers still confused about smart motorways

Smart-motorway-cropped

The smart motorway is celebrating its first birthday, yet evidence suggests drivers are confused about how to use them.

Smart motorways allow drivers to use the hard shoulder during busy periods. Electronic signs on the overhead gantries are used to warn of incidents ahead, plus there are refuge areas for emergencies.

However, a survey from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) found 71% per cent of drivers feel less safe on a motorway with no hard shoulder.

Equally, 40% were concerned about the ability of monitoring systems, such as traffic detectors and CCTV, to protect them if they needed to pull over and stop.

England’s first ‘all-lane running’ motorway was a stretch of the M25 between junctions 23 and 25, opened on 14 April 2014. Similar schemes are now in operation on the M1, M4, M5, M6, M42 and M62.

IAM chief exec, Sarah Sillars, said: “Some are still confused and nervous about using smart motorways – if they are aware of them at all.” The organisation has produced a set of tips explaining what the electronic signs mean on smart motorways:

  • Red cross without flashing beacons: hard shoulder only for use in an emergency or breakdown
  • Speed limit inside a red circle: a mandatory limit that may have cameras enforcing it
  • Blank signal: usual motorway rules apply
  • White arrow with flashing beacons: applies to all lanes and means you should move into the lane that the arrow points to
  • Red cross with flashing beacons: You should not continue to use the lane
  • National speed limit sign is shown: 70mph maximum speed limit, which applies to all lanes apart from the hard shoulder

According to Sillars, the best way to raise awareness of smart motorways is “to allow learner drivers to use motorways under expert supervision.”

Smart Fortwo 2015 review

Smart Fortwo review: 2015 first drive

Smart Fortwo 2015 reviewSmart at last; the most distinctive of all city cars has been transformed Read more

Smart crashes new Fortwo into Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Mercedes-Benz S-Class v Smart Fortwo 001Smart has proven the integrity of its new Fortwo with a bold crash test between the new city car and a 2308kg Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Read more