Long live smart.
The relaunched smart
fourtwo has more
room, more luggage
space, more power,
a new automated
and improved drive-
FOLLOWING SOME REALLY SMART MOVES by its Daimler-Benz parent company, smart
has been refinanced and re-
organised. It has also been refocused on its model line-up. Gone are the forfour hatchback and roadster models and what's left is a much, much smarter smarty!
Now smart is using the 'green' bandwagon as the platform to launch its all-new fortwo models in the UK (on 15 September) with prices starting from £6,900 for coupé versions and £9,240 for cabrio variants.
Prices announced this week for the higher performance Brabus versions which won't be on sale until the first quarter of 2008 see the coupé at £13,520 and the cabrio at £15,470. Further fortwo variants with a low 88g/km CO2 and 85.7mpg diesel engine, 71bhp petrol Stop-Start power unit and an all-electric version are also being added from 2008 onwards.
Mercedes-Benz had developed their first two-seat city car in the 1980s but it wasn't until 1994 that they decided to establish the 'smart' brand, having also taken over the Swatch micro-car project. The smart city-car/fortwo became the core product and the vehicle went on
sale in 1998. At that time 'the environment' was a low priority issue in the minds of their customers. People bought the fortwo because of its style rather than its 'green' credentials.
Ian Dutfield, marketing director for the Mercedes Car Group in the UK, said yesterday at the media launch of the new smart fortwo coupé and cabrio models; "If we hadn't already invented smart, we would have had to invent it today.
"We see the present day going down in history as a 'tipping point', as
a 'green tipping point' a point in time where there has been a sig-nificant rise in customers who want to lead energy conscious lifestyles without sacrificing individuality, mobility, comfort and safety. Driving with fun and painlessly green is the central theme here."
After its launch in 1998, the fortwo was joined by the forfour and the roadster sports car as the smart brand grew. Unfortunately it failed to make a profit or find enough customers willing to buy smart as a life-style vehicle. Eventually, the forfour hatchback and roadster ranges were deleted from the line-up, which brings us back to the present and the smart brand being re-launched with a brand new fortwo range.
The smart operation will now focus on coupé and cabrio models, and there are no plans to expand the model range further because smart is back to the market as it was originally intended: a city car. Only now thanks to the input of Mercedes-Benz it is greatly improved and dovetails neatly into the Mercedes brand of models.
Smart in the UK will be sold through 34 market areas using 160 retail sites. Additionally, a younger audience for smart is emerging with the internet bringing in customers young through to old. The majority of smart fortwo users are predominately women; although men are the principal buyers of the higher performance Brabus version.
"With smart," says Dutfield, "the customer's view is 'I want one
I must have one', so it's all about style and the unique two-seater design and compactness. If people want more than two seats they
will buy something else, but due to congestion and 'green' issues
the marketplace is moving towards cars of this nature.
"Because the residual values of the new generation fortwo models will improve, like-for-like they have more space, improved specification, better performance and a low group one insurance rating, so the new cars are a much better proposition than previous smarts. Ownership costs will be less despite there being a small price increase 1 to 3 per cent. This allows us to look at introducing for customers a total ownership financial package which will include the initial purchase price, road tax, insurance and servicing costs."
The new smart fortwo models are still three-cylinder petrol engined two-seaters but with more occupant room, more luggage space, more power, a new automated manual transmission and improved driveability.
"The world has changed now," said Andrew Gellatly, product executive for smart in the UK, "and small cars are the smart option. This sector
of the UK market has grown by 33 per cent this year. Like-for-like the new smart models are cheaper than the ones they replace although they offer more in every area. The three-cylinder 660cc petrol engine has been enlarged to 999cc and it will be available with 61, 71, 84 and 98bhp power outputs."
He added that of the 770,000 smart fortwo models sold worldwide since its launch, "50,000 have been sold in the UK. Sales began with left-hand drive only versions in 2000 and the best year for sales in the UK was 2003, when 8,500 were sold. This year around 2,000 of the current model will have been sold prior to the new and slightly larger second-generation versions going on sale."
Mercedes will never talk about advance sales projections but it is thought that the new fortwo models should return better annual
sales than the 3,600 registrations achieved in 2006. The UK is, how-ever, the largest market for sales of Brabus models, which traditionally account for around two per cent of total fortwo registrations.
Smart say 80 per cent of UK sales will be to private buyers although there is increasing interest from the business community who need fuel-efficient, easy to park city cars. The majority of drivers are female, covering all age groups. The most popular engine size will be the 71bhp unit and the best selling specification is expected to be 'Passion' with around 60 per cent of buyers opting for coupé hardtop models, most with a sunroof.
The UK is the fourth largest market after Germany, Italy and France for fortwo and Britain also has the largest smart Owners Club in the world.
It may be marginally longer, wider and with wider front and rear tracks but the two door coupé and cabrio models are unmistakably smarts. The bodyshell retains the immensely rigid Tridion safety cell and the innovative plastic bodypanels which make this car not only unique in style but pretty safe too.
There are Pure, Pulse, Passion and Brabus levels of specification depending on which engine option is chosen, and there is also a wide range of extra-cost options so the cars can be tailored to customer's requirements. However, the seemingly well-priced new generation smarts will end up with a hefty price tag if owners dip too heavily into the options pot. Power steering, for instance, is an option for all models and will add £310 to the final price. This really should be a standard fit item because for a city car the steering can be pretty heavy, especially when parking. The options list includes numerous items, even a locking glovebox which costs £20.
However, the all important aid to handling and safety the electronic stability programme is included as standard on all models.
Items such as electrically-operated windows become available as stan-dard for models above the base Pure specification, and air-conditioning is standard for Passion specification and above. Alloy road wheels are standard on all models other than Pure.
My test car, the most likely best selling model, the 71bhp fortwo coupé Passion, costs £8,450 still pretty steep for a two-seater car. Add
in a few options such as head and thorax side airbags, lockable glove compartment, heated leather seats and the final on-the-road price is
a hefty £9,225 much more, for instance, than a four-seater Peugeot 107 or Fiat Panda city car but then you pay for iconic styling.
Both the passenger and driver will appreciate the increased interior space and the vastly improved quality and design of the interior trim, instruments and controls. The cabrio version's neat electrically-operated roof can be operated whilst the car is on the move.
The unloved jerky automated manual transmission has been redesigned and now has five gears, making it smother in operation thanks in part to having a more powerful and flexible engine. The new car is more comfortable, safer and more ecologically-friendly than its predecessor. The overall length has been increased by seven inches, providing more interior space as well as improved front- and rear-end crash protect-ion. The wider front and rear tracks and longer wheelbase also make the car more stable and sure-footed on the road.
Whilst it remains a nippy city car (its core function), smart can now be used with more confidence on the open road. Long motorway journeys are still not to be recommended; it can be noisy and the high but relatively narrow body still induces some body roll and is prone to side wind gusting on exposed roads and motorways.
The larger 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, 71bhp Mitsubishi-sourced engine is much more capable of maintaining legal motorway cruising speeds, and the acceleration can keep you up with most other family hatchbacks. Top speed is 90mph with 0-62mph accomplished in 13.3 seconds.
But what many buyers will like best of all is the 60.1mpg average fuel consumption and the low CO2 emissions at 112g/km, smart will only cost you £35 a year in road tax. And, of course, it should be Congest-ion Charge-free if the below-120g/km level is approved by London's modern day Dick Turpin Ken Livingstone.
For the record, I also had the opportunity to drive the new Brabus version at the UK launch of the new fortwo. This model uses the same three-cylinder petrol engine but fitted with a turbocharger, so the power output is increased to 98bhp (30 per cent more than its predecessor). Top speed is 92mph, 0-62mph takes 9.9 seconds and the average fuel consumption is said to be 54.3mpg with the CO2 emissions of 124g/km which means the road tax jumps from £35 to £115. So it doesn't make much financial sense, does it, over the 71bhp models! But style and must-have status often rule the head (and wallet) so enjoy the much firmer ride, the great exhaust note and be prepared for an exciting ride.
Overall, the smarter fortwo looks better, the engine has more power and torque, the transmission is also much improved and the quality of the interior looks better able to compete against 'cult' cars such as the MINI. There is also more luggage room but the comfort of ride and handling, although better, is still poor relative to a conventional small city car.
To sum up smartly: plus points include iconic styling, fun city car size that makes it easy to drive in traffic and to park and, of course, the low emissions and road tax. Against? As already mentioned, the ride quality and road holding still don't match other conventional city cars and prices for must-have and some essential options power steering, for example bump up the price. David Miles
smart fourtwo coupé Passion | £8,540
Maximum speed: 90mph | 0-62mph: 13.3 seconds
Overall test MPG: 60.1mpg | Power: 71bhp | Torque: 68lb ft
CO2 112g/km | VED Band B £35 | Insurance group 3
Visit smart's website