10:30 Wednesday 01 May 2013

Shining example of a special edition Smart that's cool as ice

Written byGARETH BUTTERFIELD

WHEN you’re driving a Smart and you see another one coming the other way it’s customary to give the owner a wave. It’s called the ‘Smart wave’, I gather, and I think it highlights the sort of people that choose to drive them.

Owners of Smarts are fun-loving, social people that like to be a bit different and appreciate a machine with a bit of character that makes it more than just a vehicle to propel them from A to B.

When the first Smart Fortwo was launched it represented a radical new way of packaging two people and their bits and bobs into a four-wheeled box and, with its quirky styling, turned heads right from the word go.

The current incarnation of the Fortwo is due a replacement soon, but not until Smart’s top brass has treated their popular baby to a stylish Swansong. This special edition, the Iceshine, is their way of giving it a suitably ‘funky’ send-off.

It can be ordered in a bold ‘azure’ blue or a bright white, but it’s at its eyecatching best in the blue with a white Tridion safety cell and white wheels and door mirrors.

Available in Coupe and Cabriolet forms, it’s been treated to some of the best options in the Smart list, including a superb surround-sound stereo and LED daytime running lights.

Inside you’ll find statellite navigation, heated leather seats, paddle-shift gears, a glass roof and bluetooth mobile phone integration. The little baby has grown up.

But with the iceshine, there are still a lot of familiar touches. ‘Retro’ is a word I’ve never been a fan of, but I think it’s fair I give it an outing at this point.

Smart fans of old will remember its three-spoke alloy wheels, for example. And the cute pods on the dashboard, displaying a clock and rev counter are back.

Whether these will make it to the newer model, I’m not sure. I doubt it, sadly.

It’s details like these that make the current Fortwo so quirky and fun.

‘Quirky’ might also be a way to describe its handling and gearbox. It’s been said the Smart Fortwo handles like a go-kart and I’m not sure that’s entirely justified, but it turns in well and there’s plenty of feel.

The Iceshine I tested came with the 84bhp turbocharged engine, but there’s a lesser 71bhp lump available which brings the carbon emissions down below 100g/km.

With either engine, performance is best described as ‘nippy’ rather than ‘quick’ but it’s brisk enough for a spirited drive round the urban sprawl. On the motorway, you’ll be happier with the turbocharged engine and you’ll doubtless be impressed with its fuel economy - I managed to sustain just shy of 50mpg on a 200 mile M1 jaunt.

It’s not the perfect partner on a motorway though, to be honest. Its small size doesn’t stand against it as much as you’d imagine but it does have a habit of catching crosswinds and its seats become uncomfortable after a few hours.

Changing gears, although helped along by the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, is a love it or loathe it affair. It’s a manual box, which will, if you ask it to, shift through the ratios for you.

It sounds great but, in reality, it feels slow and clumsy compared to a conventional auto box and you’ll soon find yourself switching it to self-shift mode which, when you’re accustomed to it, is actually very intuitive and perfectly easy to get along with. Still a bit slow, if I’m being picky, but it adds to the car’s ‘quirky’ nature.

Happilly, though, there’s plenty of space in the interior for such a small car. Obviously there’s no seats in the back - just a cargo net and then access into the boot through a retractable parcel shelf - but there are plenty of useful cubbies and the rear luggage compartment - accessed through a dual opening tailgate - is surprisingly large.

In its current form, days might be numbered for the Fortwo but if Smart’s owners, Daimler Benz, can use the best bits of this latest model as a basic blueprint for its forthcoming replacement they could be on to another winner.

The newcomer will have a lot to live up to, not just by following a technically very clever and capable little car, but in not losing any of its character.

The current Fortwo, and especially the bright and breezy Iceshine, makes you feel good about yourself every time you step in. I’ll miss it.

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