A tiny car with a heart of gold.
Of all the things that we receive at t-break, there’s one thing that I steer (pun intended) clear of, and that’s cars. I have zero knowledge of what’s under a car’s hood, or what horsepower is or even how to change a car tire. Seriously, when it comes to cars I’m truly a fish out of water. As a point, when it came time for me to buy my first car, I walked into the Nissan showroom, pointed at a blue Tiida, and had this conversation:
Me: I’ll take that one please.
Salesman: Good Sir – would you like to take it for a test drive first?
Me: Oh yeah, I guess that’s a good idea.
So I drive my car purely for practical reasons – I don’t want to upgrade its speaker systems or fiddle with the suspension or make it glow in the dark. I just need my car to get me from point A to point B, and that’s it. I guess that’s what made me a prime candidate to drive the Smart car for a few days. I had seen the tiny car a few times on the roads, mostly due to them being imported on the grey market. But it was only after a friend of mine was tweeting about driving the car around the city did I rekindle my interest in checking out this fun little car. A couple of tweets later and I was sitting behind the wheel of a shiny red Smart car.
It’s somewhat remarkable that despite looking rather tiny from the outside, the Smart is surprisingly roomy inside. I’m 6ft 2”, and I was able to sit comfortably in the driver’s seat without my knees hitting the steering wheel or sitting awkwardly. The seats can be adjusted to accommodate most drivers, and the seats are raised slightly as safety feature should the car be involved in a collision. There’s also a glass roof with a manual cover that you can slide back to let some of the awesome Dubai sunshine in.
My Smart car was one of the basic models, so it had just the essentials (like four tires and a steering wheel). There’s a 6-preset radio system with a USB input for mp3 players, but this can be upgraded to a slightly better music system with CD player etc. The center of the dashboard contains the AC controls as well as a small clock and the tachometer. Behind the steering wheel is the speedometer as well as controls for the lights and windscreen.
Driving the Smart car at first was a bit tricky for me, since the gearbox is not fully automatic. This meant that I had to manually shift gears up or down using either the gear stick or the paddle shifters. I found using the gear stick much easier because trying to change gears with the paddle shifters when you’re making a turn was a bit tricky, simply because I wasn’t used to it. But after a few hours of practice I was able to change gears flawlessly, much to the amazement of our resident petrol-head, Taimoor. The brakes on the Smart car do need some time to get use to – they require a substantial amount of force to be applied to slow the car down. The boot of the Smart car is roomy enough to accommodate a decent amount of shopping, but don’t be looking so pack your IKEA furniture in there. Fuel economy in the Smart was quite impressive. For a full tank of AED 55, I was able to get just over 420km of mileage.
So how does the Smart car actually feel when on the roads? Given its tiny size, the first thing I notice about the Smart car is just how quickly it can accelerate forward. At first I was a little bit terrified of this, but I was able to adjust my driving to accommodate for the quick pick-up. Driving around the city was certainly an interesting experience for two reasons. Firstly, people made it a point to pull up alongside the Smart car and take a good, long look at it (one lady even rolled down her passenger window and took a photo). The other thing is because the car is so small and lightweight, it’s a cinch to swap lanes or squeeze through some of the narrow streets of Bur Dubai or Sharjah. At high speeds I did feel a bit uneasy when turning because the car was able to make tighter turns than my Tiida, but it never felt like it would swerve away. The only major concern I had was when I drove the Smart car during a sandstorm with strong winds. The car’s light body make it a challenge to drive in high winds, and I had to hold on to the steering wheel tightly to prevent the car from drifting into the next lane.
The biggest asset of course with the Smart car had to be with parking. On the day I received it I had a client meeting in the bowels of Dubai Internet City, a place where I rarely find proper parking. To my absolute delight, I found a parking space that I could certainly not have squeezed in my Tiida, but the Smart car effortlessly slid into place without any hiccups.
Even though the Smart car is small and compact, it does have some unique safety features that are worth mentioning. Though large portions of the car’s body are made from durable plastic, the actual frame of the car is made from highly durable steel shell that is designed to absorb impact in the event of a collision. There are also driver-side and passenger airbags, as well as anti-swerve technologies and anti-lock braking systems. For such a small car, there’s certainly a lot of engineering hidden behind that cute exterior.
The Smart car isn’t yet officially available here, though there are forces at work studying if it would be viable to launch the car in the UAE. In other countries such as Europe,Jordan, andBeirut, the Smart car has sold well and is the perfect car for narrow roads and winding streets. Pricing isn’t available either, but I would say that a range of about AED 40-42k would be a good starting point for an entry level Smart car. Granted this won’t be a car designed for families with kids (or shopaholics), but as a ‘people-mover’, the Smart car is a joy to drive around the city, and certainly turns heads while doing so.