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smart roadster

Smart

Review

It has the 1960s feel of a small lightweight sportscar, seems to be made entirely of bright plastic (like Tracy), and has something of the comic book about it.

You'll find it hard not to succumb to a grin after a short spell in a smart roadster. It's automotive Prozac.

Its uplifting quality is principally down to it not being very fast. It looks like a Lotus Elise made by McDonalds for a Happy Meal box. But its grown-up handling is not far off an Elise and it is much more accessible at lower speeds. I've driven plenty of cars with brake horsepower to blast free of the earth's gravitational pull, but often they become frustrating.

Breathe on the accelerator pedal and you're breaking the law. Add other drivers' incompetence and the unpredictability of what could leap out in front of you and driving sports cars becomes an exercise in risk management. The smart lets you have fun at legal speeds – a bonus on our strangulated roads.

It is very light at 790kg but doesn't have much power – 80bhp – although it has a decent power-to-weight ratio of 101bhp per tonne.

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Getting in and out of the smart is a comical process. Because the steering wheel doesn't adjust and there isn't much space behind the pedals to slide my feet in, it's a little bit like pushing a jack back in its box. After a Lotus Exige and a NASCAR where the doors are welded shut, it's the most awkward car I've ever got into.

Once in, it's very comfortable and the steering wheel doesn't sit as awkwardly as in the bigger Mazda MX5 or MGTF. Everything is snug and although some of the plastic wouldn't last five minutes in a pre-school toybox, it is funky. The soft top also retracts and stores away quickly.

Blast the roadster into life and the exhaust does as good an impression of sporty woof'ing as three cylinders and a turbo will let it.

But it picks up speed quickly, the sensation helped by the fact your head is about three feet off the ground and your bottom much less so.

The sequential auto gearbox is the roadster's biggest problem to overcome, as can be with other smarts. It takes a while to work out how to drive through the slow action and lurching changes, but I figured that not lifting off the accelerator smoothed out downshifts, which is fine unless you are braking too.

The speed at which the little turbo drops off boost is one of the main culprits for lurching. It needs some management via the throttle. Lifting off just before you shift up, using the semi-automatic function, then flooring it to kick the turbo back in was the best for smoothing out upshifts.

There's also a lot of wind and engine noise at motorway speeds and there's luggage space for a family of church mice, but who cares? It's not a car with any concessions to practicality and is better for it.

As a second car for a couple, the roadster is worth a look. It would cost only £67 a month in BIK tax, even for a 40% taxpayer, while fuel consumption will reach the mid 50s if driven right. CAP also reckons it will be worth a useful 38% after three years/60,000 miles.

Verdict

The roadster will not be everybody's choice because of its practical limitations, but anyone thinking about having a two-seat sportscar as a company vehicle should give it a look.

It's great fun, individual, and will leave a smile on the face of its owner for months after picking it up.

Model: smart roadster
Engine (cc): 698 turbo
Max power (bhp/rpm): 80/5,250
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 110/3,000
Max speed (mph): 109
0-62mph (secs): 10.9
Fuel consumption (mpg): 55.4
CO2 emissions (g/km): 121
Fuel tank capacity (litres): 35
Transmission: sequential automated six-speed
Price: £13,513

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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