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Smart Cabrio & Passion

If you are looking for a car that turns heads, get a Ferrari or Porsche or, for less than R200 000 get a cute, compact smart cabrio.

If you are looking for a car that turns heads, get a Ferrari or Porsche or, for less than R200 000 get a cute, compact smart cabrio. Sure it doesn’t go as fast, doesn’t sound nearly impressive when you floor it to get ahead of the traffic, but when you stop at a robot you’ll definitely see a couple of heads turning your way.

Being an ultra-compact car, the smart has lots going for it. Firstly, it only uses just under 5 litres of petrol per hundred kilometres ‚ and that’s for a combination of town and highway driving. You will be surprised to find that you can still fill the tank and get change for a beer or two from two hundred bucks. Admittedly its tank only holds 35 litres but that is enough to get you two and from Pretoria a couple of times. And should you want to take the car down to Cape Town, you’ll only need to stop twice to refill. Thanks to the five litre reserve and the numerous alarms that sound in the cabin you shouldn’t run out of petrol too easily.

When showing the car off to fellow journalists, family and friends, the first thing they said to us was ‚it doesn’t look safe.‚ Well, let’s just run through the smart’s safety features. Firstly, the basic structure of the smart is called the TRIDION safety cell, with one-third high strength steel content to ensure optimum protection for the passenger cell. Furthermore, various crumple zones, or crumple ‚boxes‚ as smart prefers to call them, are situated all around the car designed to crumple in a collision thereby lessening the forces of the impact. Thirdly, the smart is kitted out with one full-size driver airbag and one full-size passenger airbag, side airbags are available as an optional extra. The smart is also equipped with ABS brakes, BAS (Brake Assist System) with EBD (electronic brake force distribution). smart demonstrates that the assumption of ‚small = unsafe‚ is untrue. Rather, smart shows how the safety standards of far larger vehicles are also attainable in a car half the size.

The smart cabrio has a 699cc three-cylinder engine capable of 45kW at 5 250rpm. It will accelerate from 0-100km/h in a matter of 17,5 seconds and will top out at 135km/h. Top speed is electronically limited so don’t even get any ideas about ‚seeing what this baby is really capable of.’

The cabrio has a rag-top to shield you from the sun and rain, but should you want to be a real sports-car driver, complete with a sports-car tan (a burned forehead), simply press a button and watch the roof fold back. The cabrio offers you two forms of topless driving, the first where the roof merely slides open like a sunroof and the second where the entire roof unclips and folds down, exposing the roll-bar and giving you that wind-in‚your- hair, cabriolet experience.

Now that you know about smart’s safety features and its top speed, lets get to the stuff that really counts, the things that you come into contact with every time you drive the car and that make driving the car an absolute pleasure. Once seated in the smart cabrio you will be astonished at how much space there really is, sure it’s no SUV where you can load your dogs, children and wife in the car, but there is more than enough room for you, your girlfriend and a picnic basket. There are storage compartments situated all around the dash and there is even a lockable glove compartment under the driver seat ‚ very useful for when you’re parked at Sandton City with the roof down. As with most new cars these days, the smart comes standard with central locking, immobiliser and electric windows. An aircon and radio are also standard and the smart uses two Bose tweeters and subwoofer to give you plenty doeff-doeff sound when parked at the robot. However if you want a CD player you are going to have to cough up a couple of more Rands.

One thing that’s bound to confuse you, but more importantly, the next car thief, is the location of the ignition switch. It’s located next to the gear lever and not on the steering column. Make sure you get used to that quickly as there’s nothing more embarrassing then showing off your car, and then climbing in to start it and sticking the key in a non-existent slot in the steering column.

When you finally realise that you need to use the other hand to start the car, the onboard computer kicks into action and does various checks, displays the car’s temperature, odometer reading and selected gear. A button on the side of the instrument cluster lets you check the temperature outside the car, flip between your odometer and trip counter reading and reset your trip counter.

Now its time to put the car into gear. smart is automatic, uses a six-speed sequential gearbox and has the added bonus of a Softtouch gear system that lets you manually shift back and forth between gears. As with other automatics, before you can put the smart into drive or reverse you have to have your foot on the brake. After you’ve got it in gear, just touch the accelerator and listen as smart selects the required gear and starts zooming around.

All in all, we were exceptionally impressed with the smart cabrio. It is definitely aimed at the younger generation with rich daddies and mommies.

The smart car is set to be launched in South Africa in July 2003 and will be available from about R140 000 and upwards.

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