Cars were initially left-hand drive, with ABS, clock, rev counter, radio cassette and electric windows. Right-hand drive models were launched in November 2001. The cabriolet followed in May 2002, and there were significant changes to the entire range, which included a larger fuel tank, double ellipse headlamps and optional electric sunroof.
All Smarts have interchangeable coloured body panels. Early left-handers can be picked up for less than £3,000, but right-hand drive cars are more desirable and command higher prices. Prices start at around £3,500 for an 01/51.
There is a small number of Crossblades: left-hand-drive Smarts with no roof, windscreen or doors and a waterproof interior. Demand is limited and there are just a few hundred on the road.
Smarts are simple and enjoyable to drive with light, accurate steering and good brakes, which is ideal for town driving. The ride is good on most surfaces, but there’s lots of bodyroll into corners. All cars have a fully or semi-automatic gearbox; these were jerky, with slow changes early on, but revised and improved from 2002.
Smart drivers like the high driving position and good all-round visibility. The cabin is funky and functional: everything is within easy reach of the driver and the instrument ‘pods’ can be turned to be in better view of the driver.
There’s plenty of room for the passenger, with supportive seats and lots of legroom. Luggage space is tight – just enough for a couple of shopping bags in the coupe and even less in the cabriolet.
The engine line-up is slightly confusing with six variations of two basic turbocharged three-cylinder engines: a 599cc and 699cc. All cars originally had the 599cc unit with 45 or 54 bhp (uprated to 61 bhp in 2001).
The 45bhp is painfully slow and only suitable for town driving; 54 bhp is better, but only the 61 bhp unit has enough push for the motorway. The 698cc engine arrived in 2003 with 50, 61 or –in Brabus tune – 74 bhp. All are far nippier and capable on the motorway.
A four-star Euro NCAP rating, strong safety cell, ABS, twin front airbags and stability control are standard. You need to have your foot on the brake to engage reverse and the keys can only be removed when the car is in neutral – two quirky built-in safety features.
All cars have immobiliser and central locking; alarm is optional.
Parker's buyers' lines
“Great in town with its tight turning circle.”
“Thrown around in heavy winds.”
“Costly to buy, but holds its value well.”