Car Lust: Smart Roadster

17 Jul 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Car Lust: Smart Roadster

Smart Roadster

It’s been far too long since I wrote about a real sports car. By that I don’t mean a big, overt, heavy supercar like the Ferrari Testarossa I wrote up on Thursday; cars like that offer heart-palpitating horsepower and face-distorting cornering power. That’s fantastic, but it’s not at all what traditional sports cars are all about.

Traditional sports cars are agile dance partners for twisty back roads; open-air mood changers for mellow cruising under autumn colors. The key to a pleasing sports car is a sweet driving experience–often provided by a light, tossable chassis, an eager engine, and, of course, an open top.

In the past, this niche has been ably filled by MGs, Fiats, Triumphs, Alfa Romeos, and Lotuses (Loti?), but the pickings are much slimmer nowadays. Most of today’s offerings are heavier, more comfortable, and more powerful. Most aren’t quite light or direct enough, more like a pocketknife than a scalpel.

So where to turn? Well, to Europe, actually.

As everybody likely knows by now, the Mercedes-Benz brand Smart makes impossibly tiny city cars, notable as much for their cult status and cartoon-like styling as for their diminuitive proportions. From 2003 to 2005, Smart also cranked out the Roadster and the curiously named Roadster Coupe.

The Roadster is a low-cut training shoe for the road; a more comfortable four-wheeled motorcycle; a skin-tight, motorized extension of your will. It is incredibly light (only 1,700 pounds) and flingable, with a zingy three-cylinder engine that cranked out as much as 100 horsepower in performance trim.

Even in a car that light, 100 horsepower won’t provide sensory-altering performance, but that means the Smart Roadster can be pushed to the limit without requiring a fire suit, a pace helicopter or a safety crew at every corner. It might not be the quickest car on the road, but on a pretty day, with a bottle of wine and some fine cheese stashed in the trunk, and the appropriate special someone in the passenger seat, it might just be the most entertaining.

Of course, there’s an inevitable hot-rod version for those who just can’t get enough horsepower. Mercedes-Benz tuner Brabus merged two turbocharged Smart three-cylinders into one twin-turbocharged V-6 pumping out 215 horspower. That’s big horsepower for the Smart Roadster‘s flyweight dimensions and heft. Is this monster as sweet and easy to drive as the standard Roadster?

Probably not, but since only a handful were made, it’s not likely any of us will ever even see one.

Smart’s micro-economy cars are just now starting to trickle into the States; it’s great that we have another interesting car-buying option, but I really wish the Roadster had made it over during its short life cycle. The idea of driving a Lilliputian sprinter around American roads, darting deftly between 5,000-pound sedans, appeals to me. Well, at least until somebody in a Ford Expedition t-bones me–I have a hunch a Smart Roadster would disintegrate around me without even denting the Expedition’s bumper.

These photos come from Flickr user onlyroadster. who has a bunch of gorgeous photos of this black Smart Roadster.

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