You have to have a thick skin to do my job sometimes. I drove a pink Nissan Micra once and squeezed my frame into a Suzuki Cappuccino without a hint of a blush.
But clambering into a vivid yellow Smart car in Bradford city centre? Now that takes some guts!
I must say this car isn’t aimed at the likes of me, a 40-something (nearly 50-something) guy. It’s more likely to strike a chord with trendy urban types, the sort of people who eat sushi and live in loft apartments.
But I confess I can see the appeal. Of the Smart, that is. Not the sushi.
When Smart first appeared in 1998 it was treated by many as a novelty. But this ever-so-cute car, now badged as the Smart Fortwo, has a lot of good qualities.
It’s nimble, quick for such a small car and surprisingly spacious. It feels like a much bigger car and thanks to its protective shell it’s safer than you might imagine.
It won’t suit everyone, but if you have short commutes, no need to carry large loads and delight in squeezing your car into tiny parking spaces, Smart might just be for you.
It’s also quite a timeless car. Compare a brand-new one with a 1998 original and the changes are small. But on the open road, the Smart is much improved. The quirky jerky automatic gearbox feels smoother and the car is quieter and much more refined.
I must say, though, on each occasions that I have driven a Smart car I have been struck (almost literally) by the lack of respect that lorry drivers have for such vehicles. It brings out the bully in the so-called knights of the road.
Going up Wakefield Road at the speed limit, I had one articulated lorry driver so close I could almost feel his breath on my neck. Not nice.
Other drivers are, however, much more respectful. Tested here is Smart Fortwo Cityflame Coupe, a limited edition version which comes with such big car features as alloy wheels, leather-look upholstery, powered tailgate release (not that it needs it) and sports steering wheel.
At £10,995, it’s only a little more expensive than the entry-level Smart which costs £9,575. The tested version also adds a better stereo, LED daytime running lights, power steering, heated seats and a trip computer.
The most striking aspect to the car is its yellow (officially Flame Yellow) paintwork which makes the car eyecatching. Too much so for my tastes but young things love it.
Complementing the eye-catching exterior are a black safety cell, grille surround and door mirror caps as well as black alloy wheels. ‘cityflame’ logos in the mirror triangles and BRABUS headlights.
The colour scheme continues inside with black fabric-leather-look seats incorporating flame yellow inlays and stitching. The leather-look dashboard and three-spoke leather sports steering wheel with shift paddles also feature flame yellow contrasts, as does the specially-produced floor mats with ‘cityflame’ embroidered lettering.
Available as a Coupe or Cabrio and with a choice of 71bhp or 84bhp petrol engines, this edition is packed with a wealth of standard equipment too, including air conditioning, softouch transmission, electric windows and the audio system navigation-multimedia system. The coupe features a panoramic roof and the cabrio is equipped with an electric soft top in black fabric.
It’s on the road where this vehicles turns into a Marmite car. You either love it or hate it.
The ride is urgent but performance is better than you would expect and you don’t feel the least bit vulnerable.
l The Smart brand has left thirstier rivals trailing in its wake after winning a top award and earning two other commendations in Britain’s newest and largest car owner survey. It was voted Britain’s ‘Most Economical’ brand in the 2013 WeLoveAnyCar. com national awards and its trendsetting Smart Fortwo took a highly commended title in the ‘Best City Car’ category and a commended in the ‘Best Petrol Car’ section of the same awards. If that wasn’t praise enough for the brand which revolutionised urban motoring, the survey results also gave smart a top five placing in the ranking of ‘Most Exciting Cars to Drive’.
If you fancy being extra eco, then try the Smart Fortwo ‘electric drive’ model. Launched earlier this year, it offers class-leading pricing with innovative ‘sale&care’ purchasing options and a 90-mile range.
It is eligible for the Plug-in Car Grant of 25 per cent up to maximum of £5,000, providing the maximum grant available of £5,000 with a standard sale, and a grant of up to £4,368.34 with sale&care purchasing option.
It means on-the-road prices start from £12,275 plus £55 a month ‘peace of mind’ battery lease.
A Smart spokesman said: “The much anticipated fully electric version of the iconic, compact two-seater perfectly combines convenience and quality with the first class safety, comfort and performance expected from smart.”
Smart Fortwo Cityflame 71mhd PRICE: £10,995 on the road. Test version adds powered and heated mirrors, LED lights, cupholder, heated seats, storage box, trip computer, better sound system and power steering and costs £12,370. Smart Fortwo starts at £9,575 ENGINE: A 999cc three cylinder engine generating 71bhp via ‘soft-touch’ automatic gearbox PERFORMANCE: Top speed 90mph, 0 to 60mph in 13.7 seconds COSTS: town 61.4mpg; country 70.6mpg; combined 65.7mpg EMISSIONS: 98g/km INSURANCE: Group 3 WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles