Smart ForTwo

Tiny two-seat city car is stylish, nippy and cheap to run

6.5
wowscore
This is the average score given by leading car publications from 11 reviews
  • Tight turning circle
  • New gearbox
  • Highly customisable
  • Still expensive
  • Not much fun to drive
  • Doesn't like the motorway
 

£11,125 - £19,490 Price range

 

2 Seats

 

62 - 68 MPG

Review

If you live in a city then before you look at any other car you should consider the new Smart ForTwo.

Its dinky dimensions mean it is even better suited to tight town streets than its rivals – the likes of the Volkswagen up! or Toyota Aygo – but as a two seater it’s also markedly less practical than its four or five-seat competitors. Still, it’s so short that it can be parked perpendicular to the kerb, so finding a usable parking space in even the busiest city should be easy.

When designing the new car, Smart focused on addressing the complaints made by owners of the old model. The biggest offender was the old car’s automated manual gearbox – its jerky changes could make the ForTwo surprisingly difficult to manoeuvre at low speeds. This new model gets a choice of a six-speed manual or a dual-clutch automatic gearbox with the same number of cogs.

Another complaint was the old car’s bouncy suspension that was stiffened (at the expense of ride comfort) to make the car more stable at speed. It’s been swapped in favour of a system that’s based on the suspension fitted to the new Mercedes C-Class which is much more comfortable than the old setup.

Getting noticed was never a problem in the old Smart ForTwo, which would explain why it appealed to younger drivers. Things haven’t been toned down in this new model and the car is available in a variety of bright colours and with numerous eye-catching accessories. There’s also a version fettled by tuning company Brabus that has the look of a mini AMG Mercedes.

The Smart comes with a basic 1.0-litre petrol engine or a more high-tech 0.9-litre turbocharged unit. Both offer superb fuel economy, but neither are very quick. The tragic old automatic gearbox has been replaced by a newly developed DSG gearbox that is fast and smooth. All models come with stop-start technology to save fuel, daytime running lights, climate control, central locking and electric front windows.

If this sounds like the perfect car for you, check out all the available paint options using our complete Smart ForTwo colours guide.

It won’t come as a shock to find out there isn’t a lot inside that tiny 2.69m-long body, but it is at least made of mainly good quality materials and well bolted together – it’s still a part of the Mercedes family and that sort of attention to fit and finish will inevitably bleed down through the range.

Most of what your gaze falls on is brightly coloured and nicely textured. There’s a clear and easy to use touchscreen – right out of the Renault electronics selection – an attractive heater slider and a nice, clear instrument binnacle with a neat LCD display in the middle. The upper dash is covered in an odd, but pleasant, textured fabric while fans of the original Smart’s gauge pod will be happy to note that it returns – albeit as an option.

Cast your eye about a bit though and you’ll find things that are less pleasing. Reviewers don’t like the plastics used on the doors and transmission tunnel one bit, and the operation of many of the controls and air vents attracts comments of flimsiness.

Smart ForTwo interior space

It’s still only a two-seater, but a 100mm wider body than before means that you can fit two reasonably sized adults next to each other now without having to get overly friendly. Headroom is decent, but if you’re over six-feet tall then it’s recommended that you try the seating position first – and be aware that the driver’s seat is not height adjustable unless you pick the ‘comfort pack’ option.

Smart ForTwo boot space

There’s actually a surprising amount of space in the back for such a small car: 260 litres eclipses most of the ForTwo’s four-seat city car rivals by no small margin, although it’s still not going to worry any estate cars.

A neat feature is the split tailgate, which means that the glass section of the boot hinges up for the nonchalant loading of designer bags and the lower part of the boot folds down – yes, down – to access the boot space as a whole. It’s quite a high boot floor though because there’s an engine under there. Best think twice about loading it up with frozen goods, unless you want to defrost them by the time you’re home from the shops.

If you need more room then the passenger seat will fold flat and open out the load area to 350 litres. It makes the ForTwo a little more useful for flatpack furniture like this, but if you’re a regular Swedish furniture buyer then consider a bigger car.

Consensus is that the ForTwo is a dramatic improvement in just about any aspect of the daily driving experience over its predecessor – but this isn’t quite a ringing endorsement. The original car was really extraordinarily wearing to drive, very uncomfortable over bumps, quite alarming in bends (nabbing honours for being among the worst handling cars available), noisy and phenomenally inert. An improvement was almost inevitable.

The track (width between wheels) has been increased and this makes it far more stable in any kind of bend, but the wheelbase (length between wheels front and back) is still particularly short, so unless you’re a fan of fighting against physics it’s still not one to hurry down a back road with any kind of pace. This is probably for the best because the brake pedal is felt to be still on the numb side – probably due to the lack of weight on the nose of the car – and the variable-ratio steering often requires a couple of bites to get a bend right: the relationship between your steering input and how much the car actually turns varies with speed.

That short wheelbase also means that the whole car will lurch over a good sized speedbump, but it is a much softer car than before with a far more compliant attitude to pock-marked tarmac. It’s not up there with the best in the class, but if you’ve come from the old car you’ll be able to tackle poorly surfaced roads without detaching your retinas any more.

Of course the Smart still retains its driving party piece. Without an engine in the front of the car (it’s in the back), there’s nothing to get in the way of the front wheels when you turn the steering wheel. This means it has an incredible amount of steering angle for the most amazingly tight turning circle: it will complete an about-face in just 6.95 metres – about the length of a long-wheelbase Mercedes Sprinter van. This must make the ForTwo the perfect car for anyone who frequently gets lost… 

At launch the ForTwo carries the same petrol engines as the ForFour and Renault Twingo, with a pair of three-cylinder petrols that don’t break the magic litre mark.

The larger engine is also the less powerful of the two, with a 999cc capacity and 70hp on tap. The other choice is a little smaller at 898cc but with the assistance of what might be the world’s smallest turbocharger it’ll put out 90hp. That makes it four seconds quicker to 60mph which, even if you’re not bothered about such things, is a big chunk of time.

There’s not so much of an obvious difference on the road between the two engines unless you’re doing 0-60mph testing, but it still holds true that if you want to get out of the city and do some motorway miles you’ll be happiest with the more powerful 90hp version. Neither will set you back a penny in road tax – an official rating of 67.3mpg at worst means there’s insufficient carbon dioxide to concern the Treasury.

The Brabus model offers another engine option – a tuned version of the 0.9-litre engine, which increases power by 17hp to 107hp. The suspension has also been tweaked to be 10mm lower and 20 per cent stiffer than the standard setup. The result is a small car that’s ideal for squirting through traffic, even if its 9.5 second 0-62mph time is slower than some seven-seater MPVs.

Smart buyers get a choice of five-speed manual or a new dual-clutch auto. Some will remember the horror of the first car’s automatic and the great news is that this is a thing of the past. The new one is silky smooth but still a £1,000 option. It’s far easier to live with than the manual with quick changes available no matter the pace you drive. The new transmission also comes with its cons – down changes are sudden and the gear leaver looks really cheap and dated.

The optional Sports pack adds F1-style paddles behind the steering wheel and also 16-inch alloys, a chrome exhaust and lowers the ride height by 10mm.

It might only be the size of a remote-control car, but it’s no less safe than anything else batting about city streets. When Euro NCAP smashed, bashed and poked it in the new-format 2014 tests, it walked away with a four-star rating – actually scoring enough for five stars in both the adult and child occupant safety categories.

Much of the Smart’s strength comes from its safety cell, and having the engine slung out the back of the car means the entire front can act as a crumple zone without any heavy and hot lumps of metal getting in the way – or being shoved back into the cabin.

If you’re wondering how the ForTwo fares against ‘proper’ cars rather than the laboratory’s deformable blocks, parent company Daimler rammed a ForTwo and a Mercedes S-Class into each other at 50mph apiece – the occupants of both cars could have walked away.

Like the bigger ForFour, the ForTwo gets five airbags as standard to turn the interior into a veritable bouncy castle in a crash, along with standard stability control, crosswind assist and hill hold, while lane assist is an option. Oddly there is no autonomous braking system available, even as an option – something that would’ve counted against the ForTwo in Euro NCAP’s tests.

It’s probably not well known that, despite the price, the development and production costs of the original Smart ForTwo meant that parent company Daimler lost a huge sum on each – to the tune of billions in total. As we’ve said, the new one shares parts with the Renault Twingo to reduce the Smart’s costs, but those savings aren’t passed on to the buyer – it’s almost identically-priced to the old car.

Smart ForTwo equipment

Starting at nearly £12,000 for the basic Passion trim the ForTwo is butting up against the sort of money you’d be paying for a proper supermini, two classes up, so you’ll need to be sold on the tiny city car ethos to sign on the dotted line. It is at least well equipped though – no ForTwo owner will have to suffer the ignominy of steel wheels, with the base car sporting 15-inch alloys wheels, automatic climate control and a choice of either orange/black or black/white interior colours.

Saunter up to Prime trim and you gain a lane-assist function, black heated leather seats and a very swish panoramic glass sunroof. At the same price as the Prime model you can get the Proxy instead, offering lowered sports suspension, sporty touches like a chrome exhaust finisher and metal-trimmed pedals and bigger 16-inch alloys.

Buyers now get the option of special edition white and black models. These are based on the existing prime trim but add desirable extras including heated leather seats and sat nav.

Head for the option packs and you’ll find Comfort (£295), Premium (Comfort + £500) and Premium Plus (Premium + £500) available to add a little civility to the innards. Comfort is well worth having because it adds a height adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel, to make it easier to squeeze in if you’re larger than the average city-car buyer. Premium adds the sat-nav and a reversing sensor – the latter perhaps not so necessary on a car this size.

Premium Plus – not available on base Passion cars – goes the whole nine yards with mood lighting, LED headlights, automatic wipers and a largely superfluous reversing camera.

Smart ForTwo Brabus

Despite the frankly monstrous creations that have come out the doors of the famous Mercedes tuner, the Smart Brabus is more about bark than bite. Yes, there are the typical Brabus upgrades such as a different bodykit and large (for the Smart) 17-inch wheels, but the rest of the upgrades are merely symbolical – a Brabus logo on the gear lever and stainless steel pedals. Uncharacteristically for a Brabus product, the engine gets just a modest 17hp power increase and the sporty exhaust doesn’t make the naughty sounds of some of Brabus’ pricier offerings.

Conclusion

It’s a more grown up second act for the ForTwo and it’s by far the better car for it. It’s nicer to drive and more spacious but no less of a cityscape wonder than it was before. Retaining the hilariously small turning circle means the ForTwo really is the car that reaches the parts other cars cannot hope to reach.

But outside the isolation of its own improvement, it’s still quite a pricey and compromised little beast. Just about anything else on sale would be a more accomplished car on the motorways and rat runs and at this sort of money it doesn’t just have to worry about other city cars but superminis such as the Ford Fiesta and Mazda 2 – before you even get out of the bottom spec Smarts.

You’d really need to want a car less than three-metres long and never leave the city to take this into consideration at all, because it’s just not well-rounded enough to mix it with more conventional cars. That said, it has a lot of charm that might make it the one for you.

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