Smart money goes on small wonder
The decidedly unconventional Smart Roadster and Roadster Coupe offer a hefty dose of fun and a real sense of occasion at affordable prices.
The Roadster and Roadster-Coupe models differ largely in the way they lose their heads. The roadster features an electrically powered soft top along the lines of the Smart Fortwo Cabrio, although a matt hardtop can also be specified. This model has a notchback boot, in contrast to the roadster-coupe that boasts a high-gloss hardtop with a soft top as an option.
In spite of their size, the Roadster Coupes are pretty versatile although luggage room isn't so generous in the Roadster.
The passenger seat folds flat and incorporates a cup holder on the back.
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Optional colours included champagne remix, star blue or glance grey. The interior trim was offered in scribble black or scribble red and black leather was available if buyers had the funds. The Smart's three-spoke wheels hint that the mid-nineties never really went away, but manage to look good at the same time. They also look very large, despite being a "mere" 16in. Put that down to the height of the car – less than 48in. Add a set of tyres and the wheel and tyre combination approach half the height of the car – something of a sports car designer's Holy Grail.
Prices open at £8,800 for an 03 plated Roadster with the more desirable Roadster Coupes starting at £9,125. The Brabus and Light models are still finding their feet on the used market.
The first thing to ensure is that the car is what it purports to be. Some unscrupulous owners will put alloy wheels on a Roadster Light and attempt to pass it off as a Roadster while others will opt for the Brabus monoblock alloy wheels on their Roadster Coupe, for instance, and claim it's the more expensive model. Check the V5 registration document carefully in this instance.
There are quite a few Euro imports knocking about and if you see a car advertised extremely cheaply, it may well have its steering wheel on the wrong side.
Smart Roadsters can be susceptible to electronics gremlins, especially in very wet weather.
Motive power comes from a familiar source, namely the three-cylinder turbocharged 698cc engine found in the Smart Fortwo Coupe, although in this instance it has been boosted to produce 80bhp.
They'll accelerate to 60mph in 10.7 seconds and will top out at 109mph. With 101bhp the Brabus models are faster still boasting a 120bhp per tonne power to weight ratio and a 122mph top speed.
With ESP stability control to save you from the potential embarrassment of planting a 700cc car into the scenery, you soon build confidence in this tiny roadster. The engine whooshes, wheezes and pops behind your left ear and you'll need to work the gear lever (or, if you specify them, shift paddles) in order to keep it in that fun zone between 3,000 and 6,000rpm. Smart have managed to engineer out much of the ponderous understeer that affects the city coupe quite so drastically, instead concentrating on a more enthusiast-focused set up.
Perhaps the only fault is that it's too good. So intuitive does it feel and so confidence inspiring is the chassis set up that you soon begin to yearn for more power.
There's much to recommend the Smart Roadster and Roadster Coupe models. If you want a car that serves up thrills without threatening your licence, both fit the bill perfectly.
There aren't too many rear wheel drive sportsters this new and this cheap.If you can't get an Elise, here's where the Smart money goes.