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smart fortwo coupé passion mhd

Click to view picture galleryStrictly for two, smarts latest fortwo
  coupé passion mhd offers eco-
  minded drivers 65mpg and a paltry
  £35 annual road tax bill all wrapped
  up in a chic bodyshell that you can
  easily park just about anywhere

MOST CAR MANUFACTURERS ALREADY HAVE 'ECO' or stop/start fuel-efficient models in their line-up. And now so too does the iconic smart. Powered by 999cc, three-cylinder (60 and 70bhp) petrol engines, the two seater smart is available in a new guise fortwo mhd with an automatic stop/start micro hybrid drive system as standard.

This reduces fuel consumption of the two naturally-aspirated engines by an average of 9%. And in city traffic, fuel savings of up to 24% are possible. The micro hybrid variant is available as a coupé and a cabrio in all three trim lines: pure, pulse and passion. Prices range from £7,060 to £10,650.

Currently, the smart fortwo range is very much on a high for sales in the UK as customers downsize for commuting with registrations up by 51 per cent for the first 10 months of this year. Over one million have been sold in 37 countries to date.

In a test drive of the new mhd stop/start 999cc petrol model around the traffic congested roads of outer West London last week, it was noticeable just how many smart fortwos there are now on the road as commuters made their way into Windsor, Slough and London. All the drivers seem to acknowledge each other with a wave or flash of the headlights. It seems we have a smart motoring community in the making!

My test car was the likely best selling version, the 70bhp fortwo coupé passion mhd (micro-hybrid drive). This costs £8,700 on the road although the price could be adjusted if, as predicted, the VAT rate is lowered this week (November 2008).

Like all smart fortwos, the name tells you all you need to know: seating is 'for two' people. It has two passenger doors and a load access tailgate to 220-litres of space (or 340-litres if the car is loaded to the roof). The overall length is just 2,695mm so parking is really easy — even nose to the kerb if space is limited.

All smarts now have ESP, electronic control stability, as standard so the handling is safe and secure but the ride is as bouncy as ever and made worse by the short wheelbase. Other items of standard specification for the passion model include, alloy wheels, electric front windows, air conditioning, ABS braking, panoramic roof and central locking.

The three-cylinder, 999cc petrol engine revs freely, has a sporty exhaust note but the automated five-speed manual clutchless transmission with a kick-down function (as fitted to my test model) is now much smoother to use. With 70bhp on tap and 68lb ft of torque from 4,500rpm, the performance is 'spirited' and should you be brave enough on the open road the top speed is said to be 90mph with 0-62mph taking a nifty 13.3 seconds.

Ideal, in fact, for nipping around the back streets trying to avoid gridlocked city traffic. The average fuel economy is officially 65.7mpg and the CO2 emissions are 103g/km, so you have to pay £35 road tax. It just misses the sub-100g/km mark, which is free of VED.

The main point of these new models is the stop/start micro-hybrid drive. Not a true hybrid with petrol/diesel engines coupled with an electric motor, but a combined starter motor/alternator that, at speeds below 5mph, allows the engine to cut out when the footbrake is applied and then instantly restart when the driver releases the brake pedal. This stop/start function is claimed to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 8-13% in urban traffic.

Once the driver is used to a stop/start system, and there are numerous models with it these days, actual driving is not an issue: you brake it stops; you accelerate it starts — easy. If the driver prefers not to use the micro hybrid drive system, it can be deactivated via a switch on the centre console until the next time the car is started.

However, saving fuel and reducing emissions is not cheap in a smart fortwo mhd — at close to £9,000 there are four-seater city cars on the market that offer more comfort and useable space but perhaps not quite as much 'must-have' eco appeal. What you may not like is the really firm ride, it's noisy and it struggles for composure on open roads. It's also expensive. What you will like is the desirable image and the compact city car footprint that makes it very easy to park. It's also easy to drive and the stop/start fuel and CO2 saving technology will be a big eco feather in your cap! — David Miles

smart fortwo coupé passion mhd
| £8,700
Maximum speed: 90mph | 0-62mph: 13.3 seconds
Overall test MPG: 65.7mpg | Power: 70bhp | Torque: 68lb ft
CO2 103g/km | VED Band B £35 | Insurance group 3