Smart Fortwo 2009 review
Never have my wife and I disagreed so much — except on our wedding night, when I wanted to leave early. Echoing that level of differing opinions, she loved the Smart fortwo coupe we had on test recently and I loathed it. She found it fun to drive and I felt like a complete goose in the tiny two-seater.
She said people looked, smiled and waved at her when she was driving it while I found they pointed, laughed and made other motions with their hands. So I went to Crazy Clark's and bought a clever disguise for just $2. Not that I'm against small cars. The Mini is great fun to drive. But the Smart fortwo coupe just feels too quirky and weird to make the driving experience anything other than a total aggravation.
It started for me when I struggled trying to unlock the car with the key fob buttons which are totally invisible to my naked eye.When I slipped in behind the wheel it was no better. It seems Mercedes — the makers of Smart cars — has done everything it can to make the controls different to conventional wisdom.
Even the key is located in the centre console, rather than near the steering wheel, although Saab also does that. Speaking of the steering wheel, it is not reach adjustable, so the driving position just never felt comfortable for me, although my wife loved it.
The Smart coupe comes with a five-speed manual, but this one was equipped with the ‘Softouch’ auto for an extra $750. It includes steering wheel paddles to change gears, or you can push and pull the gear lever. The ‘Softouch’ semi-automatic changes are ridiculously ponderous and require the driver to decelerate as if they were changing manual gears, but without a clutch.
Even leaving it in automatic it dithers and feels as if it's stalling as it slows to change gears. And forget about rapid downshifts for overtaking or impetus on a hill because it groans and struggles on for ages in too-high a gear before deciding to switch cogs. Getting off the mark is also quite slow and it takes more than 13 seconds to wind up to highway speed.
It's not that the vehicle is underpowered. It only has a three-cylinder 999cc engine, but it weighs only 750kg. Besides, you can also get a version with 10kW more power and 32Nm more torque. The problem lies in that auto transmission. The manual would undoubtedly be nippier.
Speed is not the essence of this vehicle. According to my wife it's about fun, economy and easy parking. Oh, and she loves the efficient wipers. I wasn't having much fun, especially around my neighbourhood where people could identify me or when our equally tall photographer and I tried to squeeze into the car together and had to take turns putting on our seat belts or cop an elbow in the eye. However, I will concede on the economy and parking issues. And the big-sweeping wipers.
With a turning circle less than 9m and a wheelbase of just 1.8m, it whips into parking spaces with no planning or skill required. You can even fit it sideways in a parking space as they tend to do in Paris and Rome. It also whips into the tightest spaces when merging into traffic without inciting rage from other road users.
As for economy, it simply ran all week without making much of a dint in the fuel gauge, so I tend to believe the supplied figures of 4.7L/100km. And that's pretty good. That's even better than my motorcycle. In fact, under certain conditions, such as stop-start commuting, you could expect to get even better economy if you choose to switch on the economy button next to the gearshift. This puts it into ‘stop/start’ function which means the engine stops when the car stops and starts when you take your foot off the brake again so you aren't wasting fuel while idling at the traffic lights or stopped in a queue of traffic.
However, in the summer, you will find the airconditioning also switches off and the car quickly heats up. It also feels very rough as the three-cylinder donk shudders to a halt and fires up again and in stop-start traffic this becomes quite annoying.
The Smart is listed at just under $20,000 and is built to that price, but even competitors in this price range have electric wing mirrors. The only saving grace of the manual mirrors is that you can easily reach the passenger's side because the car is so tiny. Not that it worries my wife — she never looks in the mirrors, except to fix her lippy. However, my wife did find one problem with the car: she felt very nervous when a truck pulled up behind.
Range and Specs
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data