Twin Test: Fun First Cars

  • The best small two-door coupes go head-to-head
  • Find out how the Ford Puma and Smart Roadster compare for costs and practicality
  • Driving fun also considered

We pit two of the best small two-door coupes against each other to find out which would make the ideal fun first car. Both are attractive prospects in very different ways, but which one wins?

Smart Roadster (2003-2007) vs Ford Puma (1997-2002)

Driving

The tiny Smart is powered by a 698cc turbocharged petrol engine mated to a fairly slow six-speed semi- automatic gearbox. You also get paddle-shifters just like Formula One drivers. It handles very well thanks to light,  direct steering, its mid-engined configuration and rear-wheel drive.

The Ford Puma

Based on the amazingly successful Ford Fiesta’s under-pinnings, the Puma is one of the best-driving smaller cars money can buy. It has a brilliant chassis so handles very well, while  the choice of petrol engines includes a terrific 1.7 and a low-cost 1.4. The five- speed manual gearbox is a joy to operate.

Practicality

Don’t expect miracles – the Smart is a small car so space is at a premium. You’ll get one suitcase or a couple of soft overnight bags in the boot at the front, but that’s about it. The weekly shop should just about fit. In the cabin you have some storage in cubbies and a small space behind  the seats. You’ll only get two  humans in, though.

Due to it's mid-engine configuration, the SMART offers luggage space under the bonnet.

Considering  it’s a two-door coupe, the Puma is more practical than you’d expect. The seats will fold for a more useable boot area; it’s quite large with them down. The shape and height of the boot can make it awkward to get bulky items in. You’ll squeeze two adults in the rear, but not for long without complaints. They’re really there for back-up use only.

Costs

With  fuel economy ranging between 52 and 55mpg, the Smart is a great choice for low-cost motoring. Its low CO2 emissions (below  130g/km for all models) means VED tax won’t break the bank either. The only sticking point here is the relatively expensive parts and servicing – it’s built by Mercedes, after all.

Those looking for the lowest insurance premiums are going  to be drawn  to the 1.4 model, but you can only have that in standard trim. Fuel economy and CO2 emissions are similar across the board, so tax and petrol bills will be roughly the same no matter which engine you go for. Parts are cheap and servicing will be too.

  Smart Roadster Ford Puma

Engines:

Gearbox:

Power:

0-62mph:

Economy:

Fuel Capacity:

VED Car Tax:

Insurance groups:

Seats:

Boot capacity:

698cc turbo petrol

Six-speed semi-automatic

80,90 or 110 bhp

9.6-10.6 seconds

52-55 mpg

35 litres

£110

20-26

2

145 litres

1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 1.7 Racing Puma petrol

Five-speed manual

88-152 bhp

7.9-10.8 seconds

34-39 mpg

40 litres

£145-£230

19-27

4

250 litres

Verdict

Ford Puma - Winner

Should we be judging this solely on running costs, the Smart would run away with the honours.  It’s better  on fuel, cheaper to insure and costs less to tax. It handles well too. Unfortunately it’s handicapped by a lack of space, a dim-witted gearbox and a lack of power.

If you’re after fun, the Puma is undoubtedly where it's at. The brilliant chassis, responsive petrol engines and svelte looks means it appeals to enthusiasts. It’s also the more practical of the two, with more boot space and an extra pair of seats thrown in.