Smart choice for green driversBy Simon Donohue
February 27, 2009
Turn the ignition key on the first diesel smart ForTwo CDi to be officially offered for sale in the UK and you’ll instantly be reminded of oil burning cars of old.
Not only does it sounds a little bit like a ratty-tatty London taxi but the car’s little frame means that you feel virtually every bump and grind of its turbocharged 799cc engine bubbling about.
Set all of that to one side, however, and the CDi actually becomes a very smart proposition indeed.
It should return between 80 and 89 miles on pretty much any journey – making it officially the world’s most fuel efficient production car – and produces so little carbon dioxide that owners won’t have to pay for a tax disc.
The new CDi is about to go on sale in the UK and gains the same styling and mechanical improvements first unveiled when the latest version of the Mercedes Benz-owned smart went on sale last year.
There’s a choice of two trim levels in the CDi and you can also opt for either a fixed or cabriolet roof.
The main difference is under the boot, where you’ll find the engine in a ForTwo.
The CDi’s biggest boast is that it is powered by the smallest direct-injection diesel engine possible – a three cylinder thing which would have been even more unruly had it not been fitted with a few little bits of clever kit.
Much of the car’s exhaust gasses (around 60 per cent) are burnt twice, hence an extremely low level of the nasty nitrogen oxide emissions which gave diesels their dirty reputation in the first place.
I was given a sneak preview of the CDi – albeit in left-hand drive guise.
There’s nothing very difficult about driving the CDi which, like other smart ForTwos, is available only with an automated manual transmission system.
That means it’s never going to be as smooth as a fully automatic car, which uses clever jiggery pokery to manage the variation in engine speeds between gear changes.
In an automatic manual transmission system you still get only two pedals but there’s a discernible jerk between the gears.
The CDi actually uses a slightly different box from to that in the petrol-powered smart and it’s not too bad at all.
I drove the smart around town, which means it’s in its natural urban habitat, with the gearing clearly designed for city streets and traffic light punctuated journeys rather than the long haul.
That’s probably why there’s something a little unusual about CDi’s official consumption figures, which are beyond 80mpg whether you are on a B-road or a motorway.
I’ll be honest and say that I quickly forgot the dieseliness of the car, particularly when I found the button to turn on the smart’s centre console stereo system.
It isn’t quick – an almost mummifying 19.8 seconds to 62mph – but it doesn’t feel sluggish on the roads for which it is intended.
I returned the car back to smart leaving impressed but feeling that the price you pay for such fuel economy and low emissions is reduced refinement.
But hell, no-one buys a smart because they’re looking for luxury.
What they are looking for, however, is economy.
On the face of it, the CDi makes a lot of sense. Before you buy, however, check out the 61 and 71bhp versions of the petrol-powered smart – both now sold with Micro Hybrid Drive ‘stop & start’ system as standard.
MHD offers fuel savings of up to 24 per cent, meaning that people who regularly get trapped on congestion clogged roads could be better sticking with petrol.
This is the greenest smart you’ll be able to get your hands on for the time being, although 100 battery-powered ForTwo cars are currently being trialled by important opinion forming types. Smart is calling it the Electric Drive and have plans for a ‘small production run in 2010’, although how small that will be, its still not saying.
The Smart ForTwo CDI goes
on sale in March with a choice
of three models. The Pure hits
the road at £7,748.50; the Passion at £8,971.91 and the Cabriolet at £10,880.42.
0 to 62mph: 19.8 seconds
Top speed: 85mph