I spent a couple of days recently driving a Porsche 911 Turbo and its rivals for the test. And yes, that was just as much fun as it sounds. It was also extremely easy. Easier, in fact, than driving a Smart ForTwo home.
We drove the 911 and its rivals around Wales, down some exceptionally wet and narrow mountain roads, on to some awkward town roads, and then proceeded to Castle Combe race circuit. I drove the Smart down the M3 and round Woking town centre on a normal damp evening, and found that it was harder to drive smoothly than any of the supercars had been.
You can read the first drive here, but in order to get the Smart down the road without it rocking backwards and forwards every time the ‘box changes gear, you have to put it in manual mode, lift off the throttle before you change up and then gently apply throttle just as the gear engages.
This is great fun, but not ideal for a car that is meant to be easy to drive. Equally, setting off from a standstill requires the gentlest throttle application and lots of patience if it is to be done smoothly. Apply a normal amount of throttle and it takes so long for the car to respond that generally you’ve already reacted by inching your right foot further towards the floor, which causes you to leap forward with unexpected verve.
Of course, these are all factors that you find out on the first go behind the wheel and then adjust to from that point on. But still, shouldn’t you be able to stick it in ‘A’ and go?
So, this means that I hate the Smart ForTwo and we should all buy Nissan GT-Rs instead, as they’re easier to drive?
Well, no. Objectively, the Smart CDI is flawed, and that’s before you consider the excellent and vastly more capable Toyota IQ. But actually I really like the Smart. I admire the fact that this is a car designed to be good at being a city car, and nothing else – and it is good, when you’ve thrown out all your preconceptions of how a small automatic city car should be driven.
I like the fact that the narrow body and its dimensions are so easy to judge you can squeeze through gaps generally reserved for motorbikes, and I thoroughly enjoy the fact that this is about as far from conventional as a normal everyday car gets. You can also drive it like you’ve stolen it and it will still return over 60mpg, and that’s the kind of economy that nobody should take for granted.
More than anything, I take a completely irrational delight in the fact that this 83mpg, three-cylinder city car is about the most challenging thing to drive this side of a Lamborghini Murcielago. Yes, the Porsche 911 Turbo and its ilk are easier to drive, but the Smart really does have a charm all of its own