Perfect for parking and a pleasure to pootle in

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 October, 2009, 12:00am

It's not a word you'd necessarily find in a dictionary, but 'pootle' - a cross between 'potter' and 'tootle' - seems about right for the Smart car.

For a start, it's the most easily recognisable automobile in Hong Kong. Bigger than a dodgem, a distant cousin of the Mini, a possible escapee from an auto design lab, or perhaps an absconder from Ocean Park. Fair enough, the shape is unusual, but there's a reason for it.

The engine could not really be described as large, nor the interior as commodious. With a driver, passenger and a modest amount of luggage, the Smart car is fit to burst.

But - and it's a sizeable conjunction - Hong Kong and the Smart car make a pretty good fit. Miles of rolling highway with nothing between driver and horizon but bonnet and blacktop are non-existent in the city. Apart from gaining container loads of face, going from nought to 60 in seconds flat is an exercise in futility if there is a traffic jam around the corner. Most car journeys are for something mundane such as picking up the kids from school, collecting the shopping, bridging the geographical gap between home and office and vice versa.

When it comes to next year's environmental awareness day, shouldn't our political leaders - rather than hoofing it to work in a blaze of camera strobes - simply give up their limos for something a bit smaller, such as a Smart car?

Sliding into the driver's seat - especially if you are lanky - is not an easy task. But once settled in, the Smart car feels surprisingly normal, with plenty of room to move round in.

Setting off from Central ferry pier behind the wheel of a Smart ForTwo Coupe Pure, the first task was a climb up The Peak. The three-cylinder, 999cc engine, tackled the uphill well, and from the top it was a simple cruise down past Repulse Bay and Stanley to Tai Tam. Stopping at roadworks cleared the way ahead and gave a chance to shove the accelerator to the floor. Again, no great shakes but a very respectable performance from this roaring mouse. Happy Valley, or rather its back streets, provided the Smart with the opportunity to strut its stuff in the inner city, principally when it came to parking. Slotting it into a stiff corner was a breeze - and a passing fan promptly popped up to request a photo.

Stepping out to admire how dexterously I had parked, I was brought up short again by just how short the Smart car is. Pundits infer it is popular in Hong Kong for its low fuel consumption, safety features, and friendliness to the environment, but most drivers will tell you that being able to park on a dime is this automobile's greatest attribute.

The basic retail price is HK$88,000 for the ForTwo Coupe Pure, although there are six other models, all with more features and correspondingly pricier, but all with the 999cc engine.