Smart shows light touch

It’s a common misconception that Smart’s brand name was conceived for its brainy connotations; it’s an acronym. The first two letters stand for the companies who set the marque up – Swiss watch maker Swatch and Mercedes-Benz – and the last three for the beautiful works of automotive artifice that would result from their union.

So what? Well, that means Smarts don’t have to be sparklingly ingenious by definition. They’re neither big nor necessarily clever – and no Smart offering has summed that up better than the one you’re looking at: the Roadster Light.

In the main, this is the same car as the £13,513 standard Roadster – and weighs in at the same 790kg. It offers an identitcal rear-mounted Suprex-turbocharged 80 bhp triple, McPherson front struts and DeDion driven rear axle, and six-speed semi-auto gearbox. It offers the same tridion safety cell, as well as full ESP, brake assist and twin airbags. 

With a little option list trickery though, Smart has managed to bring its list price down to below £12k – which is where we’ve always thought this car belongs – and it’s offering a year’s free insurance for over 21s.

As a result, this new range-anchorer comes with a pretty basic spec. Inside, you’re greeted by a more monotone dash and non-sports seats lifted straight out of the Fortwo. The steering wheel is the two-spoker – plastic, but also slightly smaller, thinner, and easier to get on with – and behind it, Smart has done away with the gearchange paddles. There’s no electric rag-top; the Light comes with a removable hard-top.

This makes the car slightly less versatile, but as switching from roof-up to roof-down modes in any of Smart’s Roadsters means stopping and removing roof bars anyway, this isn’t a major bug bear, and it naturally makes high-speed progress much less blustery when installed. The lack of any type of music system as standard might strike customers as one-too-many pennies pinched, although the full radio preparation – the inclusion of wiring and door speakers – means fitting your own shouldn’t be too difficult.

But the biggest difference is the wheels. The Roadster Light wears ordinary 185mm Continental rubber wrapped around 15-inch steel wheels – and they’re the best thing on it. Forget the rumble and fidget of today’s over-wheeled majority; the chunky sidewalls on this Roadster make it the most comfortable cruiser in the range, and the corresponding reduction in unsprung mass ensures that it feels the most wieldy too.

If you want heated seats, air conditioning, electric mirrors and a boost gauge, the Roadster Light will barely even approach your street – but on a car like this, none of those options seem relevant, let alone necessary. If Smart’s brief was to ape classic 60s two-seaters, this Roadster comes closest to the mark, and that’s its cleverest move yet.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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