Fleet News

Smart Right Hand Drive

Smart

Review

WHY, you might ask, would any fleet manager offer his or her drivers a Smart car?

With just two seats and little storage space, many fleet decision-makers and high mileage drivers would consider the car impractical and unable to meet their needs.

But Walter Scherg, Smart's general manager, is convinced that company car drivers choosing to downsize to one of the smallest cars on the road today will be doing wonders for both their own image and that of their company.

He said: 'Drivers and companies will be seen as environmentally friendly and ready to tackle modern society's mobility problems.'

And with the launch of a new right-hand drive Smart, the company is set to launch a major bid for fleet business.

The right-drive version boasts more than 400 component changes including alterations to dashboards and seats as well as the air conditioning.

The only right-hand drive model currently available is the luxurious Smart & Passion, which costs £7,995. Prices for the entry-level Smart & Pure start from £6,295 on-the-road, while the sportier Smart & Pulse costs £7,295. The Smart City Cabrio costs £9,995.

But drivers are paying a premium for the Smart's quirky appeal in right-hand drive mode. In the same price bracket as the Smart & Pulse is the Fiat Seicento 1.1SX, which costs £6,214 or £7,473 with ABS and air conditioning. A Citroen Saxo 1.1i Forte costs £6,940 and like the Smart has electric windows, while a Ford Ka Collection costs £8,060 and comes with air conditioning, electric windows and a radio cassette but not ABS.

On paper, there is a strong case for offering Smart as a company vehicle - these micro cars have already become a common sight in full corporate liveries, buzzing around city streets like miniature advertising billboards.

The Smart also makes a solid benefit-in-kind tax case as a company car, emitting just 118g/km of carbon dioxide in manual mode and 122g/km in automatic. This means that under the new emissions-based company car tax regime it will fall in to the 15 per cent tax band for at least the next three years. And low CO2 figures mean that the Smart qualifies for the full VED discount, putting the bill at £100 a year.

Fleet managers who have discouraged drivers from opting for a 'clutchless' car because automatics tend to produce higher CO2 emissions should find the Smart's choice of six-speed sequential or automatic gearbox a more attractive proposition. The automatic sequential six-speed gearbox with Smart's Softip shifting means there is no need for a clutch.

And the Softouch automatic allows drivers to switch from manual to automatic shift mode. Softouch is available as standard on the Smart & Passion and as an option on the Smart & Pure and the Smart & Pulse. Three engine variations developing 54bhp, 61bhp and 44bhp offer excellent fuel consumption figures for petrol cars.

All three models have a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 55.4mpg for the Softouch automatic option and 57.6mpg for the Softip gear change. The Smart also comes with a long list of standard equipment including ABS, traction control, electric windows, radio and both driver and passenger airbags. The top of the range Smart & Passion comes with side airbags and air conditioning as standard.

Ambitious, single, perk drivers might be persuaded to step in to the pint-sized two-seater, but high-mileage drivers might find the prospect of two seats and little luggage space unappealing.

But this no-nonsense city car has already made a case for itself within the fleet industry. Internet-based estate agency Ownhome has taken on a fleet of 10 Smart city coupes to be used by its field force while Phoenix Car Company, the Glasgow-based multi-franchise dealership, runs a courtesy car fleet of 12 Smart cars.

IN theory, the case for the Smart is strong. Low carbon dioxide emissions, bags of standard equipment and competitive fuel consumption figures would surely qualify this vehicle for a place on any fleet choice list.

The Smart boasts one of the most revolutionary designs seen in recent years. It's cheeky character and x-factor are reminiscent of the original Mini or even Herbie, the madcap Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own.

A striking range of colours and a radical design make this car the centre of attention, so that rather than feeling vulnerable in a car practically half the size of a normal car Smart drivers stand out.

Inside, an array of plastics and 'funky' styling confront the driver. The rev counter is round, chunky and sturdy to the point of looking like a child's toy.

Interior aside, the car is great fun to drive and you can turn it on a sixpence. The engine is peppy rather than powerful but still nips comfortably through the city streets.

And it's on the streets that the absence of a clutch becomes a real advantage, especially for those times when town traffic is gridlocked and there is nothing to do but crawl along with the rest of the pack.

In sequential mode, the gear ratios are close and geared towards driving in the suburban jungle. In automatic mode however, there is a dramatic pause between gears as the car searches for the next step forward.

Out of its natural environment on Britain's busy motorways the Smart's ride quality is hampered by the car's lightness, which calls for endless steering corrections. Accompanying the ride is the sound of the engine striving to reach its top speed of 85mph while it strains to keep up with the rest of the traffic.

But as urban transport, the Smart proves fun to drive, cheap to run and guaranteed to get you noticed. Taking a Smart car on your fleet could prove to be a smart move.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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