2011 smart, new generation or new trend?

When we went to Germany to try the new S-Class AMG, Mercedes-Benz decided to double our fun by taking us to the Düsseldorf region so that we could try out the new 2011 smart, which the manufacturer says represents a new generation. While it may be true that the European smart has several new features, here in Canada, it’s a bit of a stretch to call this a new generation. For us, it’s more of an evolution, since many of the vehicle’s new features won’t be making it to our side of the pond just yet.

Several years after its debut in our country, the smart is now a fairly common sight on our streets – and it’s gaining more and more fans south of the border too. We can at least claim to have appreciated the virtues of this two-seater first – which is kind of novel in our market. And kudos to the manufacturer for daring to offer a vehicle in Canada before the U.S. That’s really rare. Deciding to buy is smart is not like opting for a sub-compact. First off, it’s not among the most affordable vehicles, nor is it one of the most practical. But we like what it represents. A lifestyle. And that’s what’s driving the modifications to the 2011 smart. Little has changed in terms of aesthetics or the engine, but there are new colours, equipment and customizable touches. With sales of this car reaching a plateau, it was time to give the smart a second wind.

Unchanged mechanics

In Canada, the mechanics remain unchanged for 2011. The only engine offered since they did away with the diesel two years ago is a three-cylinder one-litre gas engine that produces 70 horsespower and 68 lbs-ft. of torque. In Europe, buyers can choose from different engines, some of which are cleaner with reduced emissions. You have to understand that the manufacturer is hoping not only to make the European smart an intelligent urbanite, but they also want to cloak it in a clean, green aura.

On the outside, not much is different. There are seven color options including some – blue and light green – that are markedly different from what we’re used to seeing. Sharper eyes will note that the little door covering the gas tank is now painted the same color as the body. The most visible exterior element is no doubt the LED daylights, which add a touch of sophistication. A new choice of wheels completes the look.

Inside, it’s pretty much the same story. The changes are very subtle – nothing that will make 2010 smart buyers regret their purchase. Plus, most of the changes are on optional equipment. The most visible difference is in the shift stick, which is newly configured, and the optional navigation system’s big touch screen in the middle of the dashboard. It certainly does a good job of dolling up the dash. There’s also a sizeable storage compartment available on option in the lower part of the central console and a new ambient lighting system to spruce up the interior. In all, the changes are minimal.

What about the Brabus?

In Canada, buyers can order the smart Brabus, which inherits exclusive 17-inch tires in the back, a sport exhaust, aerodynamic components and a sport suspension that lowers the vehicle some 10 mm. Actually, it’s a cosmetic treatment, since this vehicle gets the same engine as the regular smart. Whereas in Europe the Brabus comes with a 102-hp turbo engine. That makes all the difference. Having had the chance to drive the European model, I have to admit that its supercharged engine literally transforms this vehicle’s handling. You feel like you’re driving a go-cart as it unabashedly charges onto the Autobahn. Its accelerations are much more vigorous and you really appreciate its 30 extra horses when passing. This engine would certainly be popular in our country, and it would add another dimension to the smart.

All the same, the regular smart remains true to itself. It offers great visibility, and its virtues and small stature are best appreciated in the city.

It’s hard to say whether the changes made to the 2011 smart will be enough to spark renewed interest in the model. In our view, the modifications seemed a little sparse – at least in Canada they did. I bet the big-wigs at Mercedes-Benz Canada would have liked to offer Canadians a little more.

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