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Smart Roadster Light 2004 Road Test

Wed, 04 Aug 2004

I’ve already driven higher-spec LHD and RHD Smart Roadsters and Roadster Coupes. The basic concept is the same as the 1958 Healey Sprite, which was a very basic car. So this time I’m driving the most basic version of the Smart Roadster: the Roadster Light.

Unlike the first LHD £10,000 Smart Roadster specials, this one has the full 80bhp engine of the better equipped versions. But it doesn’t have paddleshifts for the gearbox, fat alloy wheels, air-conditioning, sports seats, or an electric retractable roof. Which makes it lighter, as the name implies. And therefore a little bit faster.

The six-speed electric clutch gearbox is still a bit obstructive. But the way to get the best out of a car is to learn its quirks and exploit them. And once you get your head around pushing the lever forward to change up; back to change down, you can pick up speed very rapidly. The figures say something like 10.4 seconds to 60, but because you’ve been through three gears to get there, then need 4th at 60 itself, you feel like you’re gathering pace more rapidly. And the size of the car allows you to get on with it.

It’s most fun of all on tight, winding back-roads where, as long as you can see through the corners, you can get round them at what seem like astonishing speeds. The front wheels always hang on and the backs are first to let go even with the ESP left untouched. And that makes it more controllable. Very go-kart like. And all within the national limit. This Roadster Light, on its cheap steel wheels was actually a much better thing to drive than the fancy alloy wheeled version I drove a year ago.

First uninstructed attempt to get the two-piece top off and stow it will be a 5 – 10 minute disaster. Second time, once you’ve worked it out, takes around 30 seconds. So the lack of electrical assistance is no real handicap. And the fact that you lock the luggage compartment release inside the glove locker means even if you leave the car open it will be reasonably secure. I can also tell you that, unlike many targa tops of the past, this one is 100% watertight. On 3rd of August I arranged special trial by thunderstorm and despite the Niagara-like deluge actually bouncing water two feet into the air, not a drop penetrated the top.

Mine had a single CD radio which costs an extra £342. But with the top off you can’t hear it at above 60mph anyway, so you don’t really need it.

Maybe it was the blazing sunshine during the 8 days I had my Roadster Light. Maybe it was the sharper steering and better handling. Maybe it was the basic simplicity of the thing. But of all the Smart Roadsters I’ve driven I liked this one the best.

And at £11,995 (+ £342 for the CD/radio), it’s about the same price as a MINI Cooper. For the summer, there’s no contest, it would have to be the Smart Roadster Light. Come winter, though, the MINI might be more appealing.

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