If anyone’s car choice is driven by real ecological concern, rather than the fact that they simply must have the same colour Toyota Prius as Cameron Diaz, then everyone should be heading towards their local Smart dealer.
Because the tiny German car has just been launched with a diesel engine for the first time, and the economy and pollution figures are simply staggering. Whereas the Prius makes do with 104g/km and 65.7mpg, the Smart will waft you around on 88g/km and an average of 85.6mpg. Even if you do most of your driving in town (and let’s face it, this is a Smart) that will only drop to 83.1mpg.
Those are some mighty impressive figures, and make this the cleanest car on sale in the UK by some margin. But it’s not all good news, because the execution of the diesel Smart isn’t quite as good as the theory.
For starters, the engine isn’t the smoothest out there. At idle, there’s quite a lot of vibration that filters through to the cabin from the three-cylinder motor, and the noise insulation isn’t spectacular – the petrol Smart is hardly the quietest car, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that this is no better.
Equally, being caught for speeding isn’t something that you should worry about. 0-62mph happens in 19.8 seconds, courtesy of the 45bhp turbo-charged diesel. But around town, you don’t really notice this sort of thing, as the acceleration to 30mph is fine. What is weaker is 50–70mph, mainly because fifth gear is incredibly long. The engine really bogs down below the turbo entry point of about 2,000rpm, so you need to constantly pull down to fourth when you’re on the motorway. The petrol Smart still isn’t great here, so if you need a Smart for that sort of work, the Brabus is the only one to go for.
But the semi-automatic gearbox works much more in tune with the whole package in the CDI. It’s still got those infernal pauses as it changes gear, but because the diesel isn’t as zippy as the petrol, it doesn’t faze you as much.
To a certain extent, all this is academic, though. Those figures are reason enough to buy this car, even if you ignore the fact that the CDI is slightly more expensive than the cheapest petrol, the Mild Hybrid Drive. That’s slightly offset because you don’t pay any VED tax on the diesel, though. But the ForTwo is about more than tax – it’s about what is possible without digging up half the planet in search of precious metals for batteries.