Next car?

I have something of a love/hate relationship with my current car, a Smart Roadster Coupé. On balance I think it’s fantastic, but at times it’s borderline rubbish. Mostly, the quirks keep it interesting, and it screws the environment somewhat less than most other cars out there (not exactly grounds for feeling virtuous, but there’s a relative aspect to such things). Whoever designed the gearbox must have really, really hated their employer, but the car’s still a hoot to drive. Mostly as a result of the engine, which was clearly fettled by people with an altogether different sense of engineering aesthetics. It’s a tiny, highly-strung, three-cylinder, turbocharged, wailing lunacy of a motor, stashed right behind the driver’s bum, barely bigger than a bundled-up sleeping bag but with a somewhat different character. 80bhp from 700cc is quite impressive, and they’re good for at least 105 with various insano-tune options, including a factory-fit version.

It has character, and even if that character is a bit moody it’s still fun enough for me to enjoy the thing. Overall, however, I have to admit that my previous Mini Cooper was as much of a blast to drive, considerably better bolted together, and somewhat more practical. The Roadster isn’t as impractical as you’d think, but I can’t get my bicycle in it let alone three or four people. In short, the Mini was the better car, though there’s a good argument that if the Roadster sported a ‘Lotus’ badge it’d be a modern-day classic with genuinely amazing residuals: it’s not as a easy a win for the Mini as one might expected.

Here’s the dilemma: I’m still rather attached to the whole concept. A car with relatively good fuel efficiency and low carbon emissions, that’s neither rubbish on motorways nor, crucially, as dull to drive as watching cabbages grow? Well, pinch me, but I have sampled the future and it isn’t entirely sterile. So… being a good little consumer, to what car do I aspire in oooooh… say eighteen months’ time? Ignoring the most likely occurrence that I just keep the thing and run it into the ground, that is.

Another Roadster isn’t an option – production stops at the end of the year, and they’ve not sold well enough to expect a replacement based on the new Smart due whenever it’s due, should they still go ahead with the whole US rollout thing. Going back to the 2006/7 Mini could work, but unless BMW pull some rabbit out of a hat with the new engine I can’t see it going much above 40mpg except in the diesel version. It’s heavy, see, and that’s a Bad Thing with cars. At least until an SUV hits you, but at that point frankly all bets are off anyway.

But there’s really nothing else like the Smart. Things like the Daihatsu Copen and whatever the open-top Ka is called just aren’t in the same league, and certainly aren’t equivalently practical. And I’ve seen nothing on the horizon that was an even vaguely similar idea – surprising, given the whole ‘trying not to mess up the planet as much as we used to’ vibe towards which many of us stumble.

And then Mazda go and do this, the Sassou. A concept car that looks suspiciously like the sort of thing they might actually build. Small, sporty, hatchback… and clattering along on a one-litre three-cylinder turbo. OK, so the interior is the usual concept-car spaceship nonsense, but apparently the (USB!) key allows you to uplink flight plans and playlists, which is cool as heck and hence almost certainly wouldn’t make the cut if the car headed into production.

Lots of other articles out there. At least one of which mentions a ‘y-type twin-clutch 6-speed powershift transmission that is shifted using paddles on the steering wheel.’ Which is – the same sort of gearbox that serves as the Smart’s achilles heel. Arrrghhhh!

13 thoughts on “Next car?”

  1. Nothing else like the Smart? I’d say the British car industry is crawling with them. Lotus, Westfield et al may not market their cars as environmentally-friendly, but a lightweight car with a modern engine qualifies more or less by default. They’re mostly supplied with normal gearboxes, too. Reliability may be a bit of a problem, though…

  2. Nah, there’s nothing from the little specialists that’s as day-to-day practical as the Smart Roadie, which has a surprising amount of luggage space (far more than an Elise, MR2 or MX-5, for example and almost infinitely more than a Seven-derivative). It’s also relatively cheap, though still, arguably, two grand more than it’s worth. You’re right, Richard, that the TF is cheap now – but again, there’s precious little luggage space.
    A modern equivalent of the Lotus Excel or Eclat would be spot on, though; those fastback hatches (Reliant Scimitar, anyone? Oh, that’s right — Colin) are a great compromise. They’re just not very fashionable at the moment. Or maybe they’re called ‘hot hatches’ these days?
    [incidentally, this comment was barred for ‘questionable content.’ Hnngh?]

  3. Well, you know what I’ll tell you to get, and if I can convince VAG that a trip upto Glasgow is a reasonable “test drive”, I’ll book it 😀 They owe me a favour, having borrowed my Mk1 for the launch.

  4. Yes. the MG TF can be got for silly money, You can get an 05 160 bhp one (that’s the really fast 1.8 VVC one I have – 0-60 in 6.5 secs) for 12k. If you are used to the ‘not properly bolted together’ feel of the Smart, then you’ll be right at home in the MG. I have driven the Smart (my wife has a Four Two and gets the Roadster when she puts hers in for service) and the MG has a higher quality feel and is arguably a better drive. It’s certainly faster going up hills!
    But RPG is right. I did actually sell it at the weekend. It’s only 1.75 years old, it has 10,600 on the clock and it went for �8,250, which is a pisser as it owes me 12,000. The new motor, which I hope to get tomorrow, is a different animal altogether, but still an amazing bargain. It’s an 02 Jaguar S-Type 3.0 V6 Sport. New Jags don’t hold their value too well and this sucker had plummeted from 33 grand to just 17 in three years. It’s still an expensive car for me, but Christ, it’s a bleedin’ Jag!
    If you look at the MGs, you need to factor in an RAC mechanical warranty, as the Rover K-series engine in the TF has a propensity to let go of its cylinder head gasket. That’s a 700 quid replacement job, so the warranty is worth looking at. Alternetively, the adventurous and mechanical-minded amongst us could always try the pretty standrad stunt of taking out that K-series and dropping in a Honda VTEC unit out of a Civic Type-R. The TF is faster than the R with its standard engine, so with the actual one from the R, the HP per ton goes up and you really have a handful of a car!

  5. Heh. The Smart Roadie is mid-engined too. Mine has to go in for its ‘B’ service, and that’s a complete rear-body-off job… to change the spark plugs. No, really. [sigh].

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