Smart have always been loved by city folk everywhere, the first city car solution when it came to market, it began an epidemic for the motoring scene that now sees small cars everywhere. In between the giant ML's and sophisticated 7 Series are lively KA's, nippy Corsa's and of course the biggest rival for the smart, the agile Toyota iQ. Since then of course, the recession has hit, and everyone is looking to downgrade or buy smaller cars that are capable of doing everything their previous car could.
So, hearing that Smarts new 800cc 45bhp diesel could, theoretically, make a journey from London to Paris and back on a tank of fuel, Rich and I decided to put the theory to the test and travel from our hometown in Cheltenham, to the beautiful French seaside town of Boulogne Sur Mer and back, on just £30 of fuel. That's a 387.4 mile journey which, for the new Smart CDI Diesel, should have left us with 298.2 miles left. Now of course there were not only two of us in the car, but a boot full of luggage that we took with us. This in turn meant that the claimed 85.7mpg was not going to be achieved; however, we left in high spirits and an optimistic outlook on our trip.
Let's just talk about the Smart for a minute. Smarts new diesel is certainly true to its predecessor, apart from an improved and bigger boot and overall appearance. It looks a lot more decent than the previous shape and seems better screwed together. The 0-62mph time is a yawning-slow 20 seconds, which makes it one of the slowest cars on the road (only just beating Milk Floats) and it's definitely something that you feel when you're on the motorway. I can only imagine that most people who buy this car only travel long distance if they can't avoid it.
Now this is a double-pronged test of course,
1) Will the smart car get us to Boulogne and back on one tank?
2) Can the smallest car you could possibly downgrade to, be able to get two people away for a weekend and keep it cheap for a recession busting getaway?
Of course (because myself and Rich aren't the greatest of mathematicians) having not worked out the maths on whether we were able to do it, we clocked up a lot more mileage and managed a lot less mpg, aforementioned luggage and added weight being the cause of this, us being the other! We made the 172.8 mile journey from Cheltenham to Folkestone into a 181.3 mile journey (damn the M25!). What a long journey it was, 4 hours it took (damn the M3 and its stationary traffic, which as we were on an Eco-test , it probably would have helped if we'd turned the engine off, rather than sitting there blissfully unaware of the fact the engine was running and wasting our precious fuel!).
The whole way there involved panicking if we saw a lorry, and worrying that a bird passing wind would probably blow the car into the hard shoulder. I don't like to put down the smart, as it's great in towns and cities; however I think all the plastic panels (including the sunroof) just make it too light for motorway driving.
Back onto the drive, the lovely people at Euro Tunnel had booked us an 11.30pm car-train to Calais, and as we reached and parked on the M3 it seemed like we weren't even going to make the journey to the station. Half a tank of fuel later and doubts that we were getting home without running dry first started to set in. We finally arrived at Euro Tunnel 20mins before we were due to leave, whoops! After a really easy check in, handled by some lovely ladies, we made our way to duty free and relaxed for exactly 3mins before we had to drive onto the train.
Call us naïve, but Rich and I have never taken the Euro Tunnel before, and since this trip, it's definitely our chosen method of travel to the continent, call us complete converts. Similar to a ferry crossing, you wait in line to be called on, but that's really where the similarity ends. One by one you drive onto the platform, and into the train. Park it, sit back, relax and about half an hour later, you're in Calais! The train is a great way to travel, check-in is easy, and if you arrive early they will do their best to get you on an earlier crossing if you wish. There's no painstaking wait, and no waiting for ground control to clear the runway to leave. In our experience, the train leaves on time, every time, if not earlier. And it's a dirt cheap way and very comfortable way to travel, from £44 for a car and its 4 occupants, it's the perfect way to travel to Europe.
So fast-forward 30mins and we arrive in France, still on half a tank of fuel and still panicking about failing dismally, we headed to Beirut to stay in an Etap hotel. Let's just say the whole Etap experience wasn't a particularly nice one, from the hair-blocked shower tray to the carrot chunks in the sink, we can only look back on the Etap as a bed for the night and nothing else, certainly nowhere we'd stay again.
The next morning was phenomenal weather! The sun was shining brightly through the 'black-out' blind by 7.30am and we set off early to begin the drive down to Boulogne Sur Mer. The Smart coped well with the French roads, and happily sat doing 60-65 down to the coast. Arriving in the town we parked up and went shopping in the busy French market, to buy lunch to have a picnic on the beach.
Again, the Smart coped well with the cobbled streets and cityscape of Boulogne, only really failing when it came to parking. Unfortunately the power steering seems to totally disappear under 20mph, making it heavier than Chris Moyles after his breakfast. This in turn makes the car really quite difficult to park in tight spaces, which is such a shame for it's main selling feature being its size and practical parking.
After spending the day in 30° temperatures and not a cloud in the sky, we headed back for Calais, and amazingly got on an earlier train (3hrs earlier than we'd booked) back to the UK. At this point we were now beginning to feel quite uncomfortable. The problem being that in a Smart you are incredibly restricted when it comes to leg room and seat adjustment.
By the time we reached the M4 we were down to our last gallon of fuel plus the reserve tank. Panic had been replaced by pessimism and we were sure we'd be calling a tow truck with half an hour. About 15 miles from Swindon, devastation struck, the fuel gauge reported we'd reached the dregs of fuel and had just the emergency reserve tank of 5 litres to get us the 60 miles left to get home. So with that, Rich adjusted his driving to get the most out of what we had left, and after a tense 60 miles and 45mins (including making an emergency plan involving flash lights, blanket and an exposed knee to hitchhike home), we rolled onto the drive with an amazing 3.5 litres of fuel left. Tired and feeling quite sick from the amount of cheese we ate, we stumbled through the door for a muted celebration, collapsing on the sofa, dead to the world.
As much as the 13hr drive of the journey was by no means comfortable, neither was it that pleasurable to drive, the Smart had indeed done it! To Boulogne Sur Mer, France, and back to Cheltenham, UK, truly a feat for the two seater city car, and we managed on the route home not only our luggage, which would make a donkey refuse to walk, but also added prezzies and wheels of cheese to take back home with us. For just one person travelling the smart has a load flat passenger seat and load through boot to maximise space. So all in all I must say I am impressed with this little wonderment, uncomfortable? Yes. Is it practical? In a matter of ways I would say yes! After calculating our mileage, we averaged out at around 60mpg and did 418.1 miles from start to finish. Of course cost was our other aim, finding that we achieved our recession busting getaway to France for a total of £131.45 the most expensive cost being the rubbish and filthy flea-pit Etap hotel at £57.45
In conclusion, we found a soft spot for the little smart diesel here at Top Gayer. We would recommend it, for not only city drivers, but also for those of you looking to downgrade during the recession. You'll also be doing your own little bit to save the planet. Alternatively, if you're looking for an alternative to the smart, but sill want practical parking, with the added bonus of 4 seats and some luggage space, opt for the iQ or KA.