Orange Smart City-Coupé

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The Orange Smart City-Coupé costs £8,895 (inc. VAT and road tax), for which you get the second most powerful Smart car in the range, a Bluetooth phone with six months’ prepaid Orange contract, plus the aforementioned handsfree kit.

Setup & ease of use
The communication subsystem includes one of the best Bluetooth phones available, the Editors’ Choice-winning Sony Ericsson T610, along with a Bluetooth handsfree car kit developed jointly by ELSA and Peiker (in-vehicle communication specialists based in Germany). The ELSA/Peiker system consists of a car interface box, two ceiling-mounted control buttons and a microphone. The start/end call button mutes the radio and CD player, which relays the audio, while the second ceiling button adjusts the volume of the call. Voice recognition is aided by noise reduction and echo cancellation. To get going, you need to record voice commands on the T610. This is a straightforward procedure, but bear in mind the likely difference between the sonic environment when you record the commands and when you invoke them out on the road. Subtle nuances and stresses in your vocal inflexion can affect the recognition process. You’ll get better results if you hold the T610 about 30cm away from your mouth when recording. You should also clearly separate a contact’s first and last names when recording, and later when voice dialling. The position of the start/end call and volume buttons -- on the ceiling, just in front of the rear-view mirror attachment -- makes them tricky to use on the move. It would be more convenient, not to mention safer, if these controls were attached to the steering wheel. In fact, it’s clear that the ELSA/Pieker handsfree kit is an add-on rather than a truly integral part of the car’s design.

Road and engine noise can confuse the speech recognition system when you’re driving the Smart City-Coupé, even at moderate speeds. With the car in automatic mode there’s a noticeable lag in acceleration before the turbo kicks in, so there will be moments when you’re tempted to floor the accelerator to keep up with traffic (you can use the semi-automatic 6-speed softip gearbox if you want a more lively driving experience). Certainly, you won’t want to make a handsfree call when you’re revving the 698cc engine anywhere near the 6,000rpm red line, when the sound levels are similar to a mid-size motorcycle engine going flat out. Once you’ve pressed the start call button and called out a contact’s name, the handsfree kit replays your previously recorded voice command over the car’s audio system -- assuming it has recognised your command. A problem arises if you’re calling a contact with several associated numbers, as the Bluetooth system does not prompt you to specify which number to call. Meanwhile, the T610’s screen will silently ask you to say ‘Work’, ‘Home’ or Mobile. Also, if the number you are calling is busy, you will often fail to hear the engaged tone. Again, the T610’s is more informative, displaying ‘Network busy’, ‘Retry? ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Unfortunately you will be unaware of all this if your mobile is in a bag or pocket. Clearly, what’s required is either a cradle for T610 handset, allowing you to see what stage of the recognition process is happening on the phone, or better integration of the T610 with the Bluetooth handsfree kit -- the only feedback you get from the CD player/radio’s LED when you’re handling a call is the word ‘Phone’.

We have some reservations about the implementation of the Bluetooth handsfree system on the Orange Smart City-Coupé, but the sheer pleasure you get from driving such a compact, lightweight and economical vehicle cannot be denied.