Test Driving A Roller Skate

I confess that I have never been a big fan of small cars, so when the Smart car appeared a few years ago, I rather dismissed it as a motorised “roller skate”. Certainly I would never have dreamed that I would, one day, be driving one and even discussing how we might be able to buy one.

It took a casual encounter in Nottingham’s Victoria Centre a few weeks ago where an outrageous claim on one of those pull-up banners stopped me in my tracks.

It said 88 mpg.

The banner was next to a diesel Smart For2 car – one of those squat little things with only two seats and, so I thought, space for one Tesco carrier bag as luggage.

That 88 mpg claim made me look a little more closely, otherwise I am sure that I would have walked straight past the company’s display stand.

I actually sat in one and discovered that it very surprisingly roomy and when I opened the boot (for I was getting into the spirit if things by then) I was amazed at the amount of space. I later learned, enough space to fit a tumble drier.

A fat bloke in a small car

A fat bloke in a small car

I’m not sure whether you have to supply your own tumble drier to verify this claim.

Another of my preconceptions was that the Smart is a purely city car – incapable of venturing beyond 30mph signs. I was assured that this was another error in my education and that it could hold its own in the motorway grand prix.

With no opportunity to actually drive the thing around the shopping centre, we settled for giving our address and other details with a promise that we would be sent a brochure and be contacted to arrange a test drive.

Sure enough, the brochure pack arrived within a couple of days and after several phone calls from the company HQ and from the local dealer, our test drive was arranged for last Saturday.

Along the way, I also picked up on the fact that the diesel Smart had only been launched a few days before my initial encounter in the shopping centre.

At the appointed hour, Sue and I made our way to the Mercedes-Benz dealership (for Smart is their brand). We walked past all the huge, shiny luxury mercs to the Smart showroom area where we were welcomed with a cup of coffee.

The car that we were to take was out with another customer, so we completed the necessary paperwork while we waited for its return. We were given the car for an hour and a half, the keys were handed over and I was introduced to the slightly alien automatic gearbox.

Our first impressions of the car were quite positive, although the demonstrator had been wrapped in some kind of white vinyl and previous customers had been encouraged to write or draw on it. This was a little strange and certainly drew some glances while we were out.

The Graffitti Special Smart and Chuffing Hog

The Graffiti Special Smart and Chuffing Hog

My initial reversing was somewhat tentative, but once on the road, we headed out of Nottingham towards Melton Mowbray. It was while we were on the way out of Nottingham that I spotted that the fuel gauge was showing 3.5 litres of fuel left.

Fair enough, I thought, but when this had dropped to 0.5 litres as we approached Melton Mowbray, about 20 miles from Nottingham, I started to worry a little. So we pulled into a petrol station and put £5 worth of fuel (about 5 litres). We then went out of Melton towards Loughborough and eventually got onto the A46 and headed north as far as Saxondale island at Bingham, before returning to Nottingham along the A52.

This much longer distance was achieved on about 2 litres of fuel and when we got back to the showrooom, we were told that there is a 3 litre reserve once the display hits zero, so we need not have worried. Anyway, they are going to refund our fiver.

The drive itself proved that everything we had been told about the ride, the handling and its ability to cope with dual carriageway and open roads.

The view from the front seat (because there isn't a back seat)

The view from the front seat (because there isn't a back seat)

We both loved the car and on our return to the dealership, we started talking about payment methods and finance deals.

There is no great urgency on our part to get one until towards the end of the year. But we would like to have a more economical vehicle to take me to work in Swadlincote each day. Our Ford Galaxy is rather too big and thirsty to do this in the long term.

Although, I must stop being such a wimp because every time it looks like rain, or Carol Kirkwood forecasts showers across the midlands (most days), the bike stays in the garage and I reach for the Galaxy’s keys.

The Smart has already banished my prejudice about “roller skates” and I reckon it would pay for itself in lower fuel bills.

Ride (or drive) safe


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