Smart ForTwo 2008 review: road test
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The second generation Smart ForTwo is more spacious, has a better ride and comes with more safety features than its predecessor, but is this tiny little car — which thrives in some of Europe’s most populous and cramped cities — necessary on Australian roads?
Obviously the Smart ForTwo looks different to other vehicles but it’s not until you see one sandwiched between two larger cars – like we did in the work car park - that you really appreciate how minute these things are. At just over two and a half meters long and one and a half meters wide, they make a Corolla look ungainly.
Inside, the ForTwo is quite basic as space is at a premium. The clock and rev counter are forced above the dash in two external dials but this gives the cockpit a cheeky, slightly sporty look. Electric windows and mirrors, comfortable seats and a quality stereo provide a well rounded package.
Storage again is at a premium but the luggage area is a manageable 220 litres and the door pockets and lockable centre console box provide some extra room.
Engine and Transmission
Both the coupe and cabriolet versions of the new Smart are powered by a standard one litre, three cylinder 52kW/92Nm naturally aspirated or a 62kW/120Nm turbo engine.
Both the naturally aspirated and turbo engines get you to a top speed of 145km/h with the turbo pushing you to the 100km mark in 10.9 seconds – almost three seconds faster than the 52kW.
Fuel consumption is expectedly low at 4.7 litres/100kms for the 52kW engine and 4.9 litres/100kms for the one with larger outputs.
An automated clutch-less manual five-speed transmission gets power to the wheels but there is no option to fully automate the process.
For such a small car, the ForTwo safety package is impressive. ESP, hill-start assist, ABS with electronic brake-force distribution, acceleration skid control and electronic brake assist are all standard. Marry that with the crash rating and you begin to feel a little less wary about going for a spin.
At $19, 990 for the cheapest coupe (up to $24, 990 for the turbo cabriolet), these are not the cheapest small cars out there. Couple this with the fact that they provide the least space and a question mark hangs over your decision to buy one.
Living with it
It’s a little disconcerting sitting right against the back wall of the car and even though it has received 4 out of 5 euro NCAP stars, it still feels a little dinky. More space in the cabin in this second generation version separates you and your passenger a little better but you may feel a little claustrophobic if you like to stretch out.
Front and side vision is great but you only get a matchbox of window out the back because of the tall seats.
On paper the power and torque figures seem miniscule but given that the car is a mere 750kgs, the performance is quite good, possibly even nippy at times.
Constant paddle or gear stick shifting is a must, and gear changing is a bit clunky and it can get annoying if you’re in a hurry.
They are cute and novel but the demand shouldn’t be as strong as it might be in Europe where tight laneways and massive populations necessitate a car this small and nimble.
Getting out of the City was fun, the acceleration surprised and I just love a paddle shift. Slotting into traffic and accelerating for lane changes is where this thing excels … as long as you allow for the up-change lag which appears to be in the seconds rather than the milliseconds.
But it's not very smooth at low speeds, lots of pitching and whirring, Not very pleasant or relaxed. I found the ergonomics lousy. I had the seat right back and I had to scrunch my arm up to be able to get to the window switch to wind it down. The interior mirror is right at a height where you constantly have the drivers lights behind you in your eyes.
Turning fast displayed not much body roll, however doing a fast change from fourth to fifth resulted in pitching that would leave my wife feeling seasick. But the Smart sat and tracked nicely, even going past a couple of B-double trucks running in tandem.
A couple of times overtaking Commodore and Bimmer drivers I found them accelerating once I was past to get back in front. Obviously they were annoyed at the indignation of being passed by the little Smart.
But my wife just laughed at the car, and a drive didn’t endear it to her.
I am a Mercedes fan, but would I buy one of these? No.
Buy a Fiat 500 – at least you won’t be laughed at by your wife.
You really have to keep your hand on the paddles to make the most of this little engine in anything other than the most relaxed city driving. And two tall girls found there was plenty of room for us, but after our briefcases were added, not much for anything else.
Positioning of some of the controls is uncomfortable, and rear vision is hugely compromised.
All of which should mean an unenjoyable experience. And yet…
The Smart is as much a statement as a form of transport. It says you’re urban, concerned about the environment, and don’t rely on a large car to highlight your importance in the world. You’re smart, in fact.
But its main problem is that it’s all a bit worthy, like cloth shopping bags and wholefoods. Which overlooks that the Smart can be a lot of fun as an urban traveller.
There’s something just so appealingly ludicrous about its proportions that you can’t help but grin at the sight of it.
Especially when that sight is a satisfied backward glance as you blithely walk away after inserting it into a parking slot that would challenge a large pram.
Could I live with it forever? Only if there was a second vehicle in the garage for trips away, garage sales and even the weeks with a large grocery list.
Range and Specs
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data