NEW FOR 2008:

– Redesigned model

For 2008, the diminutive Smart returns with a redesign; it was temporarily discontinued for 2007, with only 2006 models sold during that calendar year. The new model is available in both coupe and convertible, but the three trim lines previously offered have been pared to two: the coupe is sold in Pure or Passion trim, while the convertible is Passion only.

The Smart is still a three-cylinder, but unlike the previous diesel, it’s now a 1.0-litre gasoline engine, making 70 hp to the diesel’s 40 hp, and mated to an automated five-speed transmission with automatic gear program. Maximum speed is now 145 km/h, and acceleration is zero to 100 km/h in 13.3 seconds. The new model is slightly larger than the one it replaces, with a longer wheelbase.

Features on the Pure coupe include 15-inch steel wheels, black body shell, head/thorax side airbag, locking glove compartment, power windows, tire pressure monitoring system, power locks with keyless entry, CD stereo, and leather-wrapped wheel. Available options include panoramic glass roof with sunscreen, air conditioning, heated seats, power mirrors, fog lamps, alarm system, electric power steering, clock and tachometer.

The Passion coupe adds 15-inch alloy wheels, silver body shell, air conditioning with automatic temperature control, six-CD/MP3 stereo, panorama glass roof with sunscreen, wheel-mounted gearshift paddles, cargo cover, electric power steering, heated electric mirrors, and heated seats. Available options include alarm system, fog lamps, leather seats, clock and tachometer.

The Passion Cabriolet is equipped similarly to the coupe, but includes an automatic fabric roof with glass rear window and detachable roof bars.

The Smart is a quirky inner-city runabout that’s much roomier than its tiny envelope suggests; thanks to its tall roof and sloping toeboard, even those over six feet tall will probably be comfortable in it. However, it’s strictly a two-seater. The rear cargo area will easily take the average couple’s weekly groceries, and the passenger seat can be folded for more storage space if necessary.

It’s marketed under its own brand name by Mercedes-Benz, but is sold through that company’s dealerships.

The Smart’s new gasoline engine will make it easier for those deep in the city, where diesel can be difficult to find, and the new transmission is a considerable improvement over the neck-snapping shifts of the old one. When fitted with winter tires, it does better in inclement weather than expected, handling more like a compact car. Its electronic stability control can’t be disabled; parents should be aware that its front airbag cannot be switched off either, and it’s not intended to carry small children in infant seats.

The cabriolet features a soft top that can be peeled back at the touch of a button; the side rails can also be removed and stored in a special area inside the trunk to turn it into a convertible. While not as easy as a conventional one-button top, it only takes a couple of minutes to open completely, and it’s easy to do. It’s definitely high on the "cool" list, and starting with the redesigned 2008 version, Smart is finally available to buyers in the U.S. as well as in Canada.

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