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Smart ForTwo Pulse MHD 999cc review
- Model: Smart ForTwo Pulse MHD 999cc
- Bodystyle: Two-door coupe
- Engine: 999cc three-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: Five-speed automated, rear-wheel drive
What is it?
Shocking to think the Smart has now been with us for over 10 years - nine in the UK - and yet still remains as distinctive and quirky as it ever was. The brand has experimented with five-door 'conventional' hatchbacks with the ForFour and lightweight sports versions with the ahead of their time Roadster and Roadster coupe.
But both were commercial failures and it rests on the ForTwo - now in its second generation - to carry the Smart philosophy forwards. And at last the market seems to be coming to Smart as people rush to go green and downsize. And, let's face it, the nothing lets you take that idea to extremes more than the Smart.
Where does it fit?
OK, so we know the Smart is tiny. But green? Check the 'MHD' initials after this car's name - they stand for Mild Hybrid Drive. Here Smart is being a bit cheeky, because it's not a hybrid in the conventional sense that it also runs on electric power, rather a fuel and CO2 saving start-stop system.
Smarts all used to be turbocharged but the second-gen model has a larger capacity 999cc engine also available in 61hp and 71hp normally aspirated tune. These models gain the MHD system as standard, our test car a 71hp Pulse model with paddle shifters, electric windows and alloy wheels. It costs £8,272 in coupe form and £10,181 for the cabrio.
Is it for you?
We'll assume you don't want to carry more than one passenger - the clue to the Smart's seating arrangement being in its name. And we'll also take it as read that you don't mind standing out somewhat, Smart ownership still by its nature being one of the more extrovert ways of getting about.
Clearly the Smart is best suited to life in the city, where it's claimed the MHD system can reduce fuel use by up to 24% in heavy start-stop traffic. It's also a doddle to thread through gaps and park, although if you spend your time doing a lot of the latter you'll want the optional power steering.
What does it do well?
Smarts have always been curiously fun to drive, despite some fairly fundamental dynamic flaws such as a propensity to stubborn understeer and an almost comedically jostly ride. But the cheeky nature wins through and the tall driving position and top-heavy stance mean even relatively low speeds feel thrillingly fun.
The rorty three-cylinder engine sounds faster than it is and the Pulse-spec paddle shifters really suit the driving style. The automated gearbox has come in for a lot of stick over the years but once you learn its quirks it actually works pretty well. Heavy at low speed, the non-assisted steering is direct and feelsome at speed too.
What doesn't it do well?
There are some fairly fundamental ergonomic problems with the Smart's cabin, at least for taller drivers. The non-adjustable wheel is too far away and the dash too close, resulting in your arms being stretched out but your legs scrunched up and pressing against the centre console. At least it's padded.
The rear-view mirror is also directly in your line of sight and can obstruct your visibility at times. And there's no escaping the Smart's diminutive size or lack of grunt on the motorway. It's OK if the traffic is flowing you'll feel out of your depth dicing with the turbodiesel fastlane bullies.
What's it like to live with?
Surprisingly useful, assuming the two-seat format isn't too limiting. The 220-litre boot is, for instance, just 20 litres down on what a Toyota iQ can manage with its rear seats folded - thereby also making it a two-seater. And, intrusive dash aside, there's actually plenty of leg and headroom in the Smart and the tall seating position makes it feel deceptively spacious.
The MHD start-stop system works well too, although you have to hold it on the brake pedal to make it work, thereby keeping your brake lights blazing and annoying those behind you. And though pretty bouncy the damping is actually pretty impressive, the ESP cutting in long before you sense the chassis even gets near its limits.
How green is it?
The MHD system really makes its presence felt when it comes to emissions and fuel consumption, CO2 falling from 112g/km to 103g/km on the coupe and 116g/km to 105g/km on the cabrio. On paper the official fuel consumption climbs from 60.1 to 65.7mpg and from 57.6mpg to 64.2mpg on the cabrio.
In traffic Smart reckons the benefits are even more significant and even driven unsympathetically on rural roads we saw 45mpg. Impressive numbers but if you're really looking to cut your consumption and emissions you need to consider the diesel, which is dog slow but returns a claimed 85.6mpg and emits CO2 of just 88g/km.
Would we buy it?
We'd certainly considered it if the bulk of our driving was within city limits, although the Smart faces more intense competition than ever. The Aygo/C1/107 triumvirate offer nominal four-seat accommodation and comparably compact dimensions, the Toyota iQ really going for the Smart's jugular with its super clever packaging.
In this company the Smart is the old stager but it retains its unique character and experience means it knows how to play to its strengths. It's cheaper than the iQ and comes with a city-friendly clutchless gearbox as standard. It's a very polished product too and even its flaws manage to come across as charismatic.
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