- Clever design
- Fun to drive
- Reasonably practical
- Unsettled ride
- Hates speed bumps
- Pricey given its size
Rory Reid takes to the highways, byways, city streets and B-roads of North-East England to review the new Smart ForTwo.
The Smart car has always had some fairly obvious compromises; it’s tiny, looks weird and doesn’t drive particularly well for starters, but that hasn’t stopped people buying the thing in their droves.
Daimler has been churning out in excess of 100,000 examples per year, at or near the limit of its production capacity, since production began. Now in its third generation, the new car is slightly bigger, significantly less odd-looking and promises an improved drive. But has the dinky city car grown up enough to win over new followers? We hopped in both the two-door ForTwo model (reviewed here) as well as the ForFour to find out.
The new Smart ForTwo looks distinctly more grown up than the previous model. Gone is the ‘one-box’ design and in comes a sort of box and a half aesthetic, with a higher, more pronounced bonnet giving it a more conventional silhouette.
“Its new face seems to be gormless, cute and aggressive all at once.”It’s less cutesy than before, with a face that seems to be gormless, cute and aggressive all at once. The two-tone colour scheme from the old models is still in effect, too – the tridion safety cell can be specced in white, black or silver – while the rear has a muscular, contemporary, almost sporty aesthetic.
Underneath, both ForTwo and ForFour are based on a new chassis – the same underpinnings as used by the Renault Twingo. It’s marginally wider than before, but the same length, meaning it’ll still (not quite) fit perpendicularly into parking spaces.
Both the ForTwo and ForFour are designed by Daimler, Mercedes-Benz’ parent company, but the ForFour is built in Germany in a Mercedes factory, the ForFour is built by Renault in France.
The new Smart ForTwo is reasonably practical, provided you keep your expectations realistic. The ForTwo only comes with two seats, but it’s 100mm wider than before, so there’s more room for passengers to sit comfortably side by side – there’s ample shoulder room and headroom, even for two burly occupants.
The boot is reasonably spacious. There’s a split-level tailgate (the rear window opens independently of the boot lid, and there’s enough room for a fairly large suitcase. There’s also space behind each of the seats for smaller bags, and if you’re really in a pinch, you can dump things in the passenger seat footwell, which is enormous.
As before, t’s possible to fold the passenger seat flat to store longer items, although that precludes you from carrying passengers.
The interior has a fair amount of room for bits and bobs. The door bins are tiny, but there’s a secret storage drawer underneath the centre console for fitting things like candies, phones etc. There are also a total of three cup holders. The door bins and glovebox are pretty tiny though.
Performance & Handling
The Smart ForTwo and ForFour come with a choice of engines; either a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol unit that makes 71hp, or a smaller (but turbocharged) 0.9-litre petrol that manages a heady 90hp.
“Despite the 19hp power difference, there’s not an awful lot between the two engines.”Despite the 19hp power difference, there’s not an awful lot between the two engines. The bigger, less powerful engine is nippy enough – certainly faster than its 14.1-second 0-62mph time suggests.
The smaller, more powerful turbo engine is faster on paper, achieving the same sprint in 10.4 seconds. It also sounds nicer, emitting a pleasing thrum as opposed to the slightly coarse drone of the larger unit, but for most people there’s little point paying a premium for the turbo unit.
Both engines feel like a big improvement on the previous powerplants, mostly because they’re now mated to a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, as opposed to the rubbish automatic (robotised manual) transmission in the previous car. Power delivery feels more immediate and the car feels more responsive as a result.
A twin-clutch automatic option is scheduled for later in the year.
It almost feels as if you’re riding over cobbled streets even if you’re actually driving over near-perfect tarmac”As for handling, the Smart ForTwo is pleasingly nimble, changing direction with aplomb. It grips far better than it has any right to, despite riding on skinny low-rolling resistance tyres and barely bats an eyelid through fast bends. Point it at a twisty B-road and it’ll hold its own, delivering a fun, rewarding drive
Where it excels is in the city. It’s incredibly nippy, with fast, direct steering and commendable agility. Its turning circle is phenomenal, too – two feet tighter than a London black cab.
Sadly, the ride quality is poor. The ForTwo offers an annoyingly jiggly ride, so much so it almost feels as if you’re riding over cobbled streets even if you’re actually driving over near-perfect tarmac. The larger Smart ForFour is much better in this respect.
Economy & Environment
One of the Smart ForTwo’s major strengths is its low running costs. The 1-litre engine will fetch 68.9mpg with CO2 emissions of 93g/km, while the 0.9-litre turbo manages 67.3mpg and 97g/km – much of a commendable muchness.
Smart reckons it’s possible to drive from London to Newcastle and back again on one tank of fuel, although you’d likely have to nurse the accelerator pedal to do so. We managed an average of 39mpg during our test, although it must be said we were being anything but easy on the throttle.
Equipment & Value
The new Smart ForTwo isn’t cheap — there are definitely more affordable cars in its size bracket — but Mercedes hasn’t been too stingy with the spec. It comes in three equipment grades; passion, prime and proxy. The entry-level passion model starts from £11,125 and includes 15-inch alloys, auto climate control, an entry-level audio system, multifunction leather steering wheel, a 3.5-inch TFT colour screen behind the steering wheel and cruise control.
The prime upgrade starts at £11,820 and gets better 15-inch bi-colour alloys, lane keeping assist, a panoramic glass roof, more dashboard instrument pods, black leather seats with white stitching, a better-looking dashboard with fabric and contrasting white trim, and heated seats.
The proxy model costs exactly the same as the prime, but gains cloth and leather Artico seats in white and blue with a colour-matching interior colour scheme. Proxy ditches heated seats in favour of 16-inch wheels finished in black, a chrome exhaust finisher, alloy pedals and a sports steering wheel in perforated leather.
“We’d recommend adding the £795 Premium Package.”There are a host of optional extras available across all grades. We’d recommend adding the £795 Premium Package, which includes height adjustable drivers seat and steering wheel, electric mirrors, rear parking aid, and a 7-inch infotainment screen with a three-year subscription to TomTom Live advanced navigation.
The Smart ForTwo has safety limitations – it’ll never have as much potential to be as safe as a larger vehicle, but it’s hard as nails. Its ‘tridion’ safety cell (that’s the metal cage that surrounds it) is tough enough to keep the passenger cabin intact even in the event of a collision with a larger vehicle at speed.
Smart has simulated a crash between a Smart ForTwo and a larger Mercedes-Benz S-Class. While the entire front end of the Smart was destroyed, the interior was fully preserved, with the two passenger airbags doing their bit to keep the crash test dummies as alive as they could ever be.
The car also has electronic stability control, cross wind assist and very good brakes.
The new Smart car is a big improvement on the previous model. It’s better looking, better equipped, more spacious and can cope better on a wider variety of roads. It’s also immense fun to drive both in the city and on faster roads. Its ride quality is rather poor (we’d opt for the larger Smart ForFour because of this fact) but if you’re looking for a small, relatively affordable city car, the Smart is a compelling choice.
|Engine||1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol|
|Power||71hp @ 6,000rpm|
|Torque||91Nm @ 2,850|
|Acceleration||0-62mph in 14.4 seconds|
|Emissions||93g/km of CO2|