We’ve had a total of four Smarts in our family in the past two decades – all Fortwo models – so you might expect me to express a modicum of regret that the company chief of the past eight years, Annette Winkler, is stepping down as the company begins a transition to making all-electric cars.
But the only regret I honestly feel is for some of the decisions the company’s top management, led by Winkler, has made in recent times. I regret the most recent 'potato' restyling job, and I especially regret the rebirth of the ugly and not very capable Smart Forfour (closely related to the equally lacklustre Renault Twingo), surely one of Europe’s crummier cars.
The plan to re-establish Smart as a specialist electric car marque, in the hands of a new management, sounds like a decent way out of some thorny problems, given that the two iterations of battery Smart we’ve had so far (the first engineered in the UK) were among the most interesting and logical of the breed so far. Another, the Roadster, died far too soon back in the mid-2000s.
Smarts have big advantages for the future. Their compactness, cabin space efficiency, Mercedes quality, fantastic turning circle and high seating position all combine brilliantly with the increasingly obvious advantages of electric propulsion – a compact powertrain, near-equal weight distribution front to rear, a low centre of gravity, exceptional torque, smoothness and quietness, plus perfect step-off from rest – to make an ideal battery-powered urban car.
Bring it on, say I, as long as you allow Renault’s last act in this dubious alliance to be to let its brilliant design chief, Lawrence van den Acker, oversee the creation of a brand new Smart look as fresh and appealing as his other small creations, which include the Clio and Captur. Then we’d have something truly worthy of the fascinating 2020s that are almost upon us.
Why, you may ask, did I repeatedly spend money on Smarts if I now feel so lukewarm about them? The first came because I’m sentimental about cars. I loved the initial mid-1990s concept of a 'Swatch car' – complete with the involvement of Swatch’s Nicholas Hayek – and impetuously bought an early model straight off the motor show stand. It worked okay, especially after the several software upgrades Mercedes-Benz provided gratis, even for us grey market buyers.