PH Carpool: Smart Roadster Coupe


Name: Stephen Millband
Car: Smart Roadster Coupe
Owned since: January 2008
Previously owned: Some boring stuff followed by an Impreza classic wagon, Impreza WRX wagon, Smart Roadster Coupe, Renaultsport Clio 172, Mazda RX-8 PZ. Currently have a V8 MG ZT 260 as my daily driver.

Water ingress a well known issue on Smarts...
Water ingress a well known issue on Smarts...
Why I bought it:
This is my second Smart Roadster Coupe. I bought my first one for a summer of open top motoring, being attracted by its quirkiness combined with a surprising amount of practicality. The car ended up being much more fun and much more of a 'proper' sports car than I expected. Within months of replacing it with a Clio 172 I really missed it and decided I needed another one.

What I wish I'd known:
Once I'd made the decision, there was no stopping me. Perhaps being over confident I impetuously bought a local car with a good discount. There was an obvious leak from the roof but the car was still under warranty and I reckoned from previous experience and discussions on www.theroadster.net that this was fixable. Pity I didn't spot just how much else was wrong!

Over the next couple of months I estimate it cost Mercedes well over £2,000 in warranty work. This included new roof seals, a new steering wheel (position sensor fault), new tailgate hinges (corroded), new air-con pipe (broken - replaced three times now), removing the carpets and drying them, sealing the front bulkhead ... when you read about the build quality of Smart Roadsters being iffy, believe it - it's all true.

It's also worth saying that the build issues CAN be fixed and you can get a very good car if you buy carefully. Just don't let your heart rule your head like I did

Small car, big scenery and loads of fun
Small car, big scenery and loads of fun
Things I love:
Despite those early issues I still have the car five years and over 50,000 miles later. This car really got under my skin.

Almost immediately I had it remapped to 109hp up from the standard 80hp. The 698cc engines in the Roadster are bullet proof compared to the early 600cc Smart engines and the remap really brings the car to life. It's still not a fast car, but it's quick enough to be a hell of a lot of fun. It positively encourages you drive it absolutely 100 per cent flat out everywhere with the bonus that you can enjoy a completely manic driving experience without it automatically leading to a spell behind bars.

It's not the purest driving experience by any means, however it's very well balanced with enough feedback to be rewarding and enough grip and safety systems in reserve so that even a ham-fisted driver like me won't stick it in a hedge as soon as it rains.

Remap equals Elise-baiting pace
Remap equals Elise-baiting pace
But what I really love about it - and what has made it so difficult to replace - is that it has bags and bags of character. I know it's a real Marmite car and there are a few haters (some of them ex-owners!) but it's the complete opposite of the bland sterility of so many other cars. Surely this is something to be celebrated? It makes wonderful noises, from its 911-lite three-cylinder thrum to the WRC-style chirps and chatter from the turbo. Your bum flies inches from the road. The roof goes up and down in seconds and at any speed so you can enjoy open-air driving on a whim. People come up to you at garages (and at race tracks and at Le Mans) and say nice things about it. And unlike a friend who owned a Boxster you DON'T get abuse shouted at you when cruising with the roof down.

Things I hate:
Hate is a bit strong, but it's annoying that it's almost impossible to change gear smoothly around town. Unlike many I don't think this car needs a manual gearbox - the power band is too narrow and the gear ratios are so close that you hit the redline in third as you reach 60. You'd get a repetitive strain injury if you had to change gear manually. I just wish the paddle shift auto was a little better engineered.

Bringing a knife to gun fight, perhaps
Bringing a knife to gun fight, perhaps
Costs:
Service costs are a little on the high side especially as most of the rear bodywork has to come off for jobs like changing the six spark plugs. Servicing is best done at a specialist independent as Mercedes dealers are hugely expensive and not really very interested. Economy is excellent with 50+ mpg possible if you show restraint. Consumables like brakes and tyres last forever. I get 30,000 miles out of a set of tyres and over 20,000 miles per set of front brake pads. I'm still on the original clutch despite the remap and track days.

Where I've been:
I've been all over in this little car and every trip is an adventure! It was my daily driver for 30,000 miles before becoming my second car. I've had two Scottish driving holidays where it was brilliant on the twisty single-track roads. I've been to Le Mans three times in it. It carried a gazebo, two tents, chairs, table, sleeping bags, cameras, etc and I could still get the roof down. It's a surprisingly good tourer being stable and comfortable at speed as long as you don't mind the epic wind noise.

Friends have equally eclectic tastes
Friends have equally eclectic tastes
I've done trackdays at Croft and Cadwell Park (where ESP and ABS gave me the confidence to sneak past a few nervous Elise drivers in torrential rain) and a training day on the Harewood Hillclimb course - I can highly recommend this if you want to try something different.

For the last two years I've been competing in Autosolos. Autosolos are timed slaloms around courses marked with cones, tackled mostly in first gear. They're designed for road cars and don't require any special safety kit. Handbrake turns and powerslides on gravelly car parks are huge fun and I've learnt a lot about car control at very little cost and very little risk. I've managed to come second in class on one event, but I still need to work on putting in consistent times...

Last but definitely not least I've had a great time joining a few PH runs around the Yorkshire Dales and the Evo Triangle with an eclectic mix of other cars. So far there has been everything ranging from a Puma to Imprezas, TVRs and a Ferrari Testarossa - even a gorgeous rally prepped Citroen DS. I think I've managed to keep up and not get in the way too much - hopefully the guys will back me up on this!

What next?
I've been looking at S1 Elises for a while now but can't make up my mind. I know an Elise will be a 'better' drive in almost every way, but will it make me grin as much?

Harewood run

Cadwell

 

 

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Comments (142) Join the discussion on the forum

  • moribund 26 Apr 2013

    Well my Roadster is now sold! Strange feeling after 5 years but onwards and upwards.

  • Smart Alec 21 Apr 2013

    Lahlah said:
    Thanks Mike...that's really helpful. You're a Smart specialist mechanic I see so i hope you don't mind me picking your brains?? A few people over at SmartManiacs have suggested that I should look into getting my ForTwo repaired by a specialist. They have indicated this could be done for £750 - £800 which would be amazing as chatting to my (non-specialist) mechanic we've assumed £1200 - £1500 upwards. He's serviced my car every 10,000 miles since I bought it with 30,000 on the clock nearly 7 years ago,and fitted new turbo/manifold and exhaust about 2 years ago but had never been able to sort out the judder I sometimes get when pressing the brake pedal, and which I've had for years. The car is now (not) running on 2 cylinders has done over 100,000 miles and drinks oil. Do you think it's worth getting fixed? If I could do it for around a grand it's definitely something I'd consider. If not I'm going to sell it as a non-runner...hopefully get a few hundred for her? Sorry for all the questions...you can tell me to take a hike...will understand!
    Oh wow, I didn't see this post before. A million apologies! Contact us if you are not already sorted.

  • moribund 20 Apr 2013

    Well, as hinted in the article the urge to buy an Elise has finally caught up with me so my Roadster is in the Pistonheads classifieds if anyone fancies it thumbup

  • Lahlah 04 Feb 2013

    Smart Alec said:
    Hi there, just a thought, but I don't know if you've considered a newer 451 model of smart car. These were available from mid 2007 (57 plate) onwards and the earliest cars are probably in your price range. There is an (excellent, imo) cabrio version but these are holding value well and I haven't seen one for sale for less than £5k recently. You may find an early 451 with panaromaic roof though for under £4k.

    The newer car is a good leap ahead from the older version imo, and (again imo) the gearbox has been completely transformed. I really like the newer models and am on the look out for a cabrio myself.

    However the feedback I get from customers is that they are not as economical as the older cars, (and indeed the Roadster is possibly the most economical petrol smart car of all). I've driven a couple of the 71bhp non-turbo 451s though and have really enjoyed them, in fact I drove one in the recent snow and was very impressed. Like the original smart car the 451 is nippy, makes a great 3-cylinder howl at high revs, is easy to park and doesn't have the gearbox foibles of the older car.

    Just thought I'd throw my two-pennorth into the ring. (And no, we don't have one for sale) smile.
    Thanks Mike...that's really helpful. You're a Smart specialist mechanic I see so i hope you don't mind me picking your brains?? A few people over at SmartManiacs have suggested that I should look into getting my ForTwo repaired by a specialist. They have indicated this could be done for £750 - £800 which would be amazing as chatting to my (non-specialist) mechanic we've assumed £1200 - £1500 upwards. He's serviced my car every 10,000 miles since I bought it with 30,000 on the clock nearly 7 years ago,and fitted new turbo/manifold and exhaust about 2 years ago but had never been able to sort out the judder I sometimes get when pressing the brake pedal, and which I've had for years. The car is now (not) running on 2 cylinders has done over 100,000 miles and drinks oil. Do you think it's worth getting fixed? If I could do it for around a grand it's definitely something I'd consider. If not I'm going to sell it as a non-runner...hopefully get a few hundred for her? Sorry for all the questions...you can tell me to take a hike...will understand!

  • Smart Alec 04 Feb 2013

    Lahlah said:
    I DO love how easy the Smart is to park (I'm crap at parking)...it's a real boon where I work (Brighton) but not an issue where I live in the sticks. I've been talking to people on the SmartManiacs site too and I think I'm too much of a scaredy cat for the Roadster...i.e. fear of being squashed by some huge 4x4, being dazzled by 'regular' car headlights, the whole leaks thing. Unlike Moribund I don't have the option of an alternative 'big'car...BUT they are so pretty and sound so good...his videos are partly to blame for me even considering it! smile
    Hi there, just a thought, but I don't know if you've considered a newer 451 model of smart car. These were available from mid 2007 (57 plate) onwards and the earliest cars are probably in your price range. There is an (excellent, imo) cabrio version but these are holding value well and I haven't seen one for sale for less than £5k recently. You may find an early 451 with panaromaic roof though for under £4k.

    The newer car is a good leap ahead from the older version imo, and (again imo) the gearbox has been completely transformed. I really like the newer models and am on the look out for a cabrio myself.

    However the feedback I get from customers is that they are not as economical as the older cars, (and indeed the Roadster is possibly the most economical petrol smart car of all). I've driven a couple of the 71bhp non-turbo 451s though and have really enjoyed them, in fact I drove one in the recent snow and was very impressed. Like the original smart car the 451 is nippy, makes a great 3-cylinder howl at high revs, is easy to park and doesn't have the gearbox foibles of the older car.

    Just thought I'd throw my two-pennorth into the ring. (And no, we don't have one for sale) smile.



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