Smart ForTwo Coupe review
If you live in a city then before you look at any other car you should consider the new Smart ForTwo.
What's not so good
Smart ForTwo Coupe: what would you like to read next?
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 The tragic old automatic gearbox has been replaced by a newly developed DSG gearbox that is fast and smooth.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.
It's a nice car that serves a very singular purpose – be among the best in city centres
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.
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 new platform lends the Smart a more stable and planted feel compare to its fidgety predecessor
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 with at least 67.3mpg quoted by the manufacturer.
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 lever 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.
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…
It’s small on the outside yet decently spacious inside