Smart ForTwo 2008 review
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But as the all-new Smart Fortwo was launched in Sydney this week, it arrived with a question mark over its real relevance on Australian roads.
The one-model company, under parent company Mercedes-Benz, sold just 550 Fortwo's in Australia last year. And that's a number that Smart Australia's boss Wolfgang Schrempp admits isn't profitable enough to continue on for the next three to four years. But they're confident the second-generation of the novelty-like car can help boost those numbers.
Since the late 1990s, Smart has sold 770,000 Fortwos worldwide. It's an environmentally friendly urban car for someone who wants to stand out as being funky, individual and “smart”-thinking. And the new model arrives just a bit bigger and better than its predecessor.
The Fortwo will be available in two engines and two body styles. Both are powered by a Mitsubishi-built, naturally aspirated 999cc three-cylinder engine, one giving off 52kW, the other getting some help from a turbo-charger and delivering 62kW of power. Customers also have the choice of a coupe or cabrio model, the soft top retracting at any speed and the coupe featuring a glass roof with a sliding lining. The new Fortwo has become less toy-like, although it still maintains its quirky and unique character.
It sits on a longer wheelbase, has slightly larger dimensions and has undergone some styling changes. The boot is also a little bigger. From the rear, the Fortwo now looks like a proper car with its wider stance and four lights adorning the rear instead of the previous six.
The aim of the car as an environmentally friendly model is achieved nicely — it's the most fuel-efficient petrol car on the market, getting 4.7-litres per 100km on the non-turbo engined version and 4.9-litres for the turbo.
Carbon dioxide emissions are also low. The Fortwo starts at $19,990 for the 52kW coupe model and $22,990 for the cabrio. The turbo version adds $2000 to each price tag. And while it may look unusual, driving it feels just like any other light car. There's plenty of space for the two occupants, and the passenger especially gets generous leg room.
But you can't help feeling it lacks that connection between driver and environment.
You tend to sit very high on top of the seat, rather than in it, and the dash feels separate instead of moulding around you. But it is a cute and peculiar type of styling both inside and out.
While 52kW isn't a impressive figure, it is only a small engine and it feels as though it has enough power for its role as an urban driver. The lightweight car gets around town with enough “oomph” through the five-speed automated manual transmission. This means there's no clutch, but you still control the gears through the gearstick or the paddles on the steering wheel.
You can be lazy when it comes to changing down, as the gearbox does this on its own. Up hills it did take its time to drop back a gear and you sometimes had to interrupt in order to get it over the ascent. The semi-manual transmission has been improved. Changing up a gear doesn't leave you looking like a learner driver — rather its a smoother, more fluid shift.
But if changing gears just isn't for you, there's also the softouch automatic option, adding $2000 to the price. Top speed is 145km/h and despite its size, you do feel safe knowing it has achieved a four-star Euro NCAP rating and comes standard with four airbags.
It's great around town and very easy to park, but the ride comfort isn't the best as the suspension doesn't seem to absorb much at all.
The Fortwo gets a tick of approval for fitting stability control as a standard feature, something rare in this segment. Power steering didn't make the list but Smart says customer feedback suggested the steering was light enough. While that's true at faster speeds, you really notice its absence in car parks or tight turns.
We also had the chance to give the 62kW turbo model a quick spin. This model would be the pick of the two, giving that extra performance and a more spirited drive. At just a $90 increase over the outgoing model, the Fortwo does offer a unique and special car under the $20,000 mark.
But for less you could get the Mazda2 or Volkswagen's Polo, offering the added benefit of extra seats, bigger engine and marginally higher fuel consumption. So to make the Smart choice, you have to really be a fan.
Is Smart relevant for Australia?
Range and Specs
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