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Snow Smart

Had a friend not promised us a dawn ride on a steam train we would have stayed snug inside.

With a scraper, enough snow is scooped away to allow us to get into the car.

That's one challenge taken care of, but the next is daunting.

Snow is thick on the road, but I think the Smart should be OK to drive if I take it easy – no sudden braking, accelerating or turns.

Driving in the snow before the sun rises is eerie. There are few vehicles around, but several snow ploughs work to keep roads open.

Other cars are travelling under 40km/h – the locals know how treacherous these conditions are.

We are close to Aviemore train station, but aren't sure because signs are covered in snow.

Luckily, the Forfour has satellite navigation which is not affected by weather.

We find the station in time for a run on the black and red steam train. Throwing out huge clouds of smoke and steam, it trundles through snow-covered fields on the Strathspey line.

We are in the engine room, the best place on a day such as this. After the train ride, we want to make it over a mountain range to the western seaside town of Kyle of Lochalsh, just across from scenic Isle of Skye.

It is one of the most awesome roads you could drive, with mountains, cold dark lakes and expanses dotted with small stone huts.

Eilean Donan castle, on a small rocky island not far from Kyle of Lochalsh, is a must-see for tourists.

The scenery along this road is so stunning it is tempting to stop, pull over to the verge and take a photograph.

That can be dangerous because of the snow. It is hard to judge what is under it and whether it is safe to put a wheel there.

We see one embarrassed man and his partner walking to a phone box to call for a tow truck.

He parked his car at the side of the road, misjudged, and his hatchback slid into a ditch.

Half an hour later we came across three cars facing different directions on a slippery corner. Somehow they had not connected.

The Smart handles conditions well. The standard stability control doesn't seem to come on too much, but it is nice to know it is there, along with the anti-skid brakes and front and side driver and passenger airbags.

The snow turns to rain the next day so we decide to head south, over some of the same winding roads, this time covered in streams of water rather than snow.

The twisty tarmac turns into the major highway that runs through Glasgow and we drive to Coventry late that night, an 820km trip.

We arrive at Brighton, on England's south coast, after stopping at Salisbury Plain to see Stonehenge monument.

At the start it seemed a daunting distance in a small car such as the Smart, but it is a pleasant surprise. The interior is comfortable and the rear seats fold to fit luggage.

So the Smart is not great for families on holiday, but is perfect for two.

The 1.5-litre engine has plenty of go and is nothing like the underpowered engines in the rest of the Smart range.

The test car has a five-speed manual that works well.

Fuel consumption is a strong point of the Smart which often comes in at less than 6l/100km, a real plus when fuel in Europe often pushes past $2 a litre.

THE seats stand up well to our lap of Britain: there is not a numb-bum report for the whole journey.

The only thing missing in the test car is cruise control, but it is not an issue. The car's red and grey paint is a traffic-stopper in northern Scotland, but quite at home in Brighton.

The Smart attracts plenty of interest and questions.

Most people are surprised that much of the Forfour is made of plastic, which explains why it is 975kg.

The doors have extruded aluminium components and intrusion beams inside, but the skin is plastic.

Then there is the Tridion safety cell – in silver, black or titanium – to absorb impact energy and channel it away from occupants. There are 10 panel colours in the Smart range, including the test car's Phat Red.

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