Having arrived in Canada in 2005, the diminutive Smart moves into 2006 unchanged.
Available as a coupe or cabriolet, the Smart, marketed under its own brand name by Mercedes-Benz (but sold through Mercedes dealerships) is a quirky little inner-city runabout that’s actually much roomier for two passengers than its tiny envelope would suggest. Basketball players and jockeys are equally comfortable in the upright seats, thanks to Smart’s tall configuration and sloping toe boards. The rear cargo area will take the average couple’s weekly groceries, and the passenger seat can be folded for more space if necessary.
The rear-mounted three-cylinder turbo diesel engine is somewhat noisy under acceleration, but delivers impressive fuel economy. A six-speed, clutchless sequential transmission can be optioned up to a “Softouch” that can also be put into automatic mode. Handling certainly isn’t on par with Mercedes’ conventional models, but Smart can spin on its own axis – handy in tight parking spots – and when its standard three-season tires are replaced with winter rubber, it’s actually much better in snow than expected. It handles nasty roads about the same as other small economy cars which, given its tiny footprint, is meant as a compliment. ABS and electronic stability program are standard; since a car with such a small wheelbase can easily spin, the ESP cannot be turned off. Neither can the front passenger airbag: Smart is not intended for the parents of small children.
While it’s intended as a city car, it cruises comfortably on the highway, with 120 km/h presenting no problem. It does take some getting used to having the back window right behind one’s head; vehicles that stop a safe distance back still look like they’re an inch away. When parking at the mall, it’s best to stay at the front of the spot, lest other drivers swoop in thinking it’s empty. Finding diesel can be a problem in some downtown areas, although Smart doesn’t need filling very often.
The cabriolet features a “Tritop” that opens three ways. The power canvas roof peels back; unlock the latch, and it drops down to open the rear. The side rails can be removed and stowed in a special storage area inside the trunk lid to turn the Smart into a convertible that’s surprisingly sturdy, with no cowl shake. While it’s not as simple as a conventional one-button power convertible top, it only takes a couple of minutes and is easy to do.
Both the coupe and cabriolet come in three trim lines. The base Pure comes with 15-inch steel wheels, central locking with remote, CD player, storage box in the doors, power windows, and intermittent rear wiper (on the coupe).
The mid-line Pulse adds 15-inch alloy wheels, three-spoke leather-wrapped wheel with gearshift paddles, clock, tachometer, glass roof with sunscreen (on the coupe), and silver-painted grille.
The top-line Passion adds air conditioning, Softouch gear program, heated power mirrors, cargo cover and storage nets in the doors.
Features on the upper-line models can be optioned to the lower lines; as well, such things as heated seats, leather upholstery, six-CD changer and a single cupholder (an odd $56 option in a car that comes standard with an ashtray) can also be purchased.
As tiny cars go, Smart is relatively expensive for its size. It’s not the most sophisticated ride – it snaps you forward in your seat when it shifts – and there are numerous compacts on the market that offer more seats, more power and more features for less money. But it’s got an unmistakable cool factor, it’ll go 300 km and give you change back from a twenty when you fill it, and you never have to worry about back-seat drivers.