While nippy in the city, and economical, early versions were criticised for harsh ride and understeer, as well as the idiosyncratic semi-automatic gearshift.
However, smart has now introduced a series of safety and power improvements to its city-coupe and cabrio ranges, two years after the cars were officially launched in the UK.
The principal improvement to the smart offering is the inclusion of Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) as standard - a first in this segment.
The ESP system brakes individual wheels and can disengage the clutch to ensure the car stays in the direction you want it to go when accelerating or braking.
In addition, the second generation smart city-coupe and cabrio now come with a series of other active safety features which the firm claims address key areas of criticism.
The addition of ESP comes with a number of other driving enhancements. They include Hydraulic Brake Assist, which senses when the driver carries out an emergency stop and automatically applies maximum braking control, stopping the car four smart lengths sooner than the previous model.
There is also Cornering Brake Control, which senses which wheels are likely to have the most grip in braking on a corner and applies most braking to that wheel.
Hill Start Assist, designed to cure the problem smarts have of rolling backwards once the brake is released, applies braking pressure momentarily after the driver takes his or her foot off the brake. Finally Acceleration Skid Control is a form of traction control.
Jeremy Simpson, head of smart UK, said: 'While customers love the cars, we have been stung by press criticism of a number of driving characteristics of the cars and have tackled them emphatically with a series of improvements.'
Prices across the two ranges have been increased slightly, from between £30 for the cabrio pulse 61bhp which now retails for £9,995 on-the-road, to £295 for the entry model city-coupe pure 50bhp, now costing £6,560.
The improvements, Simpson claims, have been made possible by the surge in vehicle output from parent company DaimlerChrysler.
'At the time smart was introduced DaimlerChrysler was producing about one million vehicles a year. It is now producing more than four million cars and trucks, allowing us the economy of scale to introduce technology that has until now been the preserve of Mercedes-Benz and which breaks the mould for the A-segment, particularly for cars under £7,000.'
The turbocharged engine in the city-coupe and cabrio has also been redesigned to give more power and torque.It also complies with Euro IV exhaust standards set to become law in January 2006.
The cars are available with two power ratings from the 698cc engine, 50bhp and 61bhp (cabrio only) instead of the previous 44bhp, 54bhp and 61bhp.
Carbon dioxide emissions remain at 113g/km. Such a low figures means a key selling point for fleet business is the ability to claim back enhanced capital allowances on 'clean' vehicles. Until March 31, 2008 all businesses can claim a first year allowance of 100% (enhanced capital allowances) on the operation of business cars which emit not more than 120g/km of CO2.
Capital allowances give tax relief for the depreciation in the value of an asset, spread over a number of years - typically 25% a year on a reducing-balance basis. However, the special concession for low-emission cars is designed to boost the fleet take-up of 'clean' cars such as the smart.
behind the wheel
STEPPING behind the wheel of the second-generation city-coupe with Jeremy Simpson, the UK head of smart, next to you, as I did on the press launch, provides an ideal test of the car's new technologies.
'Floor it', he insisted and the buzz of the rear-mounted engine demonstrated clearly the additional power.
In the micro environment of the smart interior it is possible to feel the thrill of something close to sports car performance, even though it takes up to 18 seconds to reach 62mph from standstill. But while the engine note as the rev counter reads 6,000rpm-plus is impressive, it won't push you back in your seat.
More to the point is the confidence the car demonstrates on corners at high speed, providing the kind of security you expect from much larger cars. It stays firmly on track, all four wheels planted to the road and with only a slight amount of body roll.
The gearbox been revised to include kickdown in automatic ('softouch') mode using the accelerator pedal. The driver can change down a maximum of two gears using a mechanical pressure point or kickdown switch before the end of the pedal travel.
Specification has been boosted in the second generation smarts. Standard equipment now includes a service indicator showing the miles left until a service is due or oil levels need checking, automatic headlights off function, touch sensitive indicators that can flash three times only for lane changes, automatic hazard warning lights and interior light activation in an accident.
New optional extras include electric power steering, cruise control and speed limiter, steering wheel-mounted paddle gearshift and alloy wheels in the pulse and passion range.
The cabrio range is also now topped with a 74bhp sporty Brabus model featuring 16-inch alloys, heated leather sports seats, paddle gearshift as standard and twin exhaust pipes.
If you appreciate the smart city-coupe and cabrio, be prepared to swoon once more. Increases in engine power and the safety credentials gives the smart much greater appeal. For a maximum of £295 increase in price (for the entry level city-coupe 50bhp pure) the smart remains both fun and affordable.
And, fact fans, drive one of these and you'll be sharing a driving experience with Gary Numan, Joanna Lumley and Halle Berry, who are all smart owners.
smart FACT FILE
Model: smart city-coupe and cabrio
Engine (cc): 698 698
Max power (bhp/rpm): 50/5,250 61/5,250
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 59/1,800 70/2,000
Max speed (mph): 84 84
0-62mph (secs): 18.3 15.5
Fuel consumption (mpg): 60.1 60.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 113 113
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 33/7.3. Transmission: 6-sp sequential
On sale: Now. Prices (OTR): £6,560 – £14,210