He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.

Smarty Pants

Whilst away in the U.S., I did a lot of driving - over two thousand miles of it. When the opportunity allows, I enjoy driving for pleasure. Whilst we all have to perform the perfunctory daily commute, there's nothing more enjoyable than just going wherever the hell you like. There's much to be said for having complete freedom and the experiences from that fortnight reminded me that I'll definitely have to do it again. When I go on holiday, freedom, independence and solitude are what I seek, unsociable bugger that I am.

As you might have seen from my previous posts, I drove a convertible vehicle. Initially, I did this because it was recommended to me as the only way to see America. However, whilst driving through the Blue Ridge mountains, I had something of an epiphany, a moment of clarity. This was because it wasn't the first time I'd driven a soft-top vehicle and was finally experiencing driving euphoria again.


My first car - a rusty black Citroen Dyane.

In the twelve months that I owned this vehicle, I drove 24,000 miles - and it taught me how to really drive. I drove without brakes, I drove without a handbrake. Hell, even the steering failed. In the event of a mechanical failure, me or my father would usually get the thing going again by randomly smacking it with a wrench. It's uncomplicated - there isn't an intelligent driving system in sight. I've often thought they should be brought back into production for newly-qualified drivers to cut their driving-teeth with. Once you've done 0 - 60 in 33 seconds a few times, you'll truly appreciate the power under the bonnet of your new-fangled ride when you finally have it. With a retractable roof it was cheap, fun driving.

After my Saxo had been broken into last-year, I'd already made a conscious decision to change my car soon. Whilst the damaged bodywork was repaired, it was only a matter of time before evidence of the break-in showed again and corrosion started around the door. Combined with the bodywork repairs needed after the accident just two weeks into my poor VTR's tenure and I really was starting to think that the car was a bit doomed. Oh and did I mention the leak, problems with the wheel-arches and head-gasket issues?

When I got back from my holiday, I decided it was time to trade in my poor old VTR. Potential issues and large repair-bills loomed on the horizon. I do a round trip of about 200 miles per week just commuting and whilst public transport continues to be a joke in my area, I really can't afford to have an unreliable vehicle.

This led me to start narrowing down my shortlist for my next ride. My criteria were:

  • Economical.
  • Fun to drive.
  • Cheap to insure/tax.
  • Enough boot-space to put the shopping in...

...and finally, something I could put the roof down on. I wanted to get back to fun driving again.

This led me off into a distinct vehicle category - two seater roadsters, although many vehicles were eliminated from consideration:

- The Toyota MR2 has no boot-space whatsoever.
- Neither the Mazda MX-5, 206cc or Beetle have particularly good fuel economy.

This narrowed my list down to the Daihatsu Copen or the Smart Roadster, with me eventually deciding on the Roadster. What swung me were the rave reviews from other owners and almost cult-like fanaticism with which their owners love them.

Here's mine.

Smart Roadster Shots

Response so far have been mixed...

"It's a bit gay, isn't it?"
"Really cool."
"A bit plasticy."
"The front looks like a Lotus Elise"

...a bit like asking people opinions on Marmite. One thing's for sure, though - kids seem to love it. I've lost count of the amount of children who have pointed from a distance, or who have shouted, "cool car!".

Without a doubt, the Roadster is distinctive - there's not many on the roads (production was ceased in 2006). Just like the Toyota MR2, they're now an endangered species.

When you mention the specs of the vehicle to people who inevitably ask, they raise their eyebrows and question your sanity. 698cc Hardly sounds like the stuff of sports-cars - I'm about 96cc away from my Citroen Dyane days again. However, with a turbo fitted, 0 - 60 in just under eleven seconds seems a lot more reasonable. In reality it doesn't really matter, because when you're driving it just feels fast - I guess that the close proximity to the road probably has something to do with it. With the roof back and the paddle-shift gear-change,it's all the more fun - I'm continually driving with a big grin on my face.

Best. Car. Ever.

More importantly though, I'm getting at least 50 to the gallon. Naturally, you'll get less if you drive it like a go-cart, but as petrol prices increase, demand for small cars such as this will too. After having the vehicle for three weeks, I've now sussed out how to use the boost-gauge to better manage my fuel economy - I'm up to 53mpg so far - and that's hardly driving at a crawl. I'm aiming for sixty - and with a six-speed gearbox such as this, I think it's possible.

Whilst I've rambled on about advantages, there's a few disadvantages. With a small vehicle such as this, that's low to the ground, many people don't see you - or pretend they don't. It's interesting how road users will bully smaller vehicles to get where they want, cut you off or pull-out straight in front of you. To get around this, I drive quite aggressively and with my headlights permanently on - this further removes the excuses for not seeing me. You also get attitude from other drivers because you're driving a soft-top, something that other drivers traditionally hate - especially in good weather. "Everyone hates you so much, that it's like you eat babies and still have a half-chewed leg stuck in your teeth.", said a recent passenger. Indeed.

I learnt this that after an idiot reversed into me, having only had the car for two hours - a good start.

Whilst many have cited leaks as a problem (common amongst all Roadsters, not just the Smart), mine has (thankfully) stayed completely dry in the wet. That's probably not going to stop me considering some sort of weather cover for the winter months as extra insurance, though. A slow gearbox has been mentioned too, but I'm figuring that my engine management system has been upgraded, because I don't seem to have any trouble.

As a semi-automatic, my left leg has now been made redundant, but I'm sure it'll live.

In summary, like many others may have said, if you want cheap, fun driving - with a tiny hint of practicality (the boot in the front adequately carries my groceries), then I can only recommend it - unless you've got a family of four and a dog, of course

If you want to see what it's like, click here....