SMART MONEY; TEST DRIVE SMART & P ASSION.
IT HAS its shortcomings (quite literally), but the Smart is the cheapest way to buy a new car and indulge in turning heads.
This tiny car is designed for life in big cities where you may get glances of admiration.
Elsewhere, you need to get used to smirks or worse. In central London, the Smart is largely ignored because so many were bought in mainland Europe before official imports began.
Some owners are amused by parking it nose-in to the kerb because it is so short (a mere 2.5m). But Smart's shortcomings confront you on the city streets where it should make most sense.
Its ultra-short wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) means a rough ride over the badlymaintained streets which are a disgrace to many British cities.
The makers never said Smart's forte was motorway travel. It's shaped like a bubble, and weighs little more, so it's vulnerable to sidewinds and the slipstreams of trucks which tower above you.
This distinctive little car is happiest on an A or B road with a good-quality surface.
The 600cc engine punches above its weight and produces 54bhp in the Passion (44bhp in the Pure, 61bhp in the turbo-charged Pulse).
Smart is all about image rather than common sense.
There are various superminis giving you space for four people and some luggage at around pounds 7,200, the asking price for the Smart & Passion.
That's not the point, of course. Drive a Smart, and you're different - so far they're all left-hand drive, but right-hand drive versions arrive in the autumn.
Smart's smallness and jewelled appearance make it just the thing for people who don't want a car which rolls off an assembly line in its hundreds of thousands.
The interior is smartly turned out, with lots of modern curves and different textures. The rev counter and clock project above the facia on stalks and can be twisted round to face the windscreen.
All Smarts have anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution and traction/stability, twin airbags, remote central locking and electric windows.
Passion derivatives have air conditioning, a leathertrimmed steering wheel and gear lever, a glass roof with sunblind, radio/cassette and front fog lights.
THE LOWDOWN Smart & Passion: pounds 7,200. Smart: from pounds 5,700 Pure to pounds 9,360 City cabriolet. Bodyshell /drive train: 2.5m by 1.515m 2dr; 599cc, 54bhp, threecylinder, six-valve engine drives rear wheels through six-speed manual/clutchless transmission. Performance / economy: top speed 85mph ("electronically regulated"), 062mph in 17.2 seconds (Smart data). Official fuel figures: city 46.1mpg, country 65.4mpg, combined 57.4mpg. Fuel tank: 22 litres. Insurance: group 2. Warranty: three years/25,000 miles.
SMART OF GOLD: The new Smart and Passion in the rather groovy numeric blue - a small car for the big city