The Smart fortwo is one of the most characterful small cars we know. The design is a fun marriage of fit-for-combat composite body panels alongside some toy-like, yet exquisitely finished, detailing. More stringent crash test legislation has led to Smart adopting the Tridion Safety Cell – the car’s high-tensile steel core structure. This can be highlighted in a choice of three colours. All versions receive 15-inch alloys and coloured bumpers but the on-trend daytime running headlights are optional.
The mesh fabric dashboard evokes images of your favourite pair of Nike trainers
There’s a fine cohesion between the exterior and interior of the Smart fortwo, with high quality materials that also inject some fun and frivolity. The entire cabin has the same soft geometric style we have seen in design-led cars like the Kia Soul, yet the mesh fabric dashboard takes things a step further, evoking images of your favourite pair of Nike trainers. Even without the panoramic polycarbonate roof, it feels spacious with plenty of shoulder room for both occupants. The standard radio, smartphone cradle and connect cross app – allowing your phone to become the car’s interface – work well, but the touchscreen media system with digital DAB radio, navigation and real-time traffic planning is better. The seats could offer more thigh and lateral support, plus those who spec the manual may be annoyed there’s no space to rest their clutch foot.
Having all the oily bits at the back frees up space for the front wheels to turn more aggressively
The Smart fortwo is cut from the same genius as the Renault Twingo. They’re the result of a joint venture and that’s significant because the fortwo uses the same chassis and rear engine, rear-drive configuration as the Twingo. Having all the oily bits at the back frees up space for the front wheels to turn more aggressively, and the fortwo boasts a best-in-class turning circle that not only embarrasses the discontinued Toyota iQ, but it will put the blushers on a black cab. Those compact dimensions also mean you can park nose-in to the kerb (where permitted), while the split rear tailgate allows access into the boot even in the tightest of spaces.
Ride and handling
The rear-engined nature and wheel-at-each-corner stance of the fortwo creates a darty and responsive city car that communicates through light, if numb, steering. You’ll find yourself giggling at the seemingly impossible gaps this car can fit through. Unfortunately, the advantages this short wheelbase brings in town are offset when you take the speedo higher. Despite impressive refinement, the fortwo doesn’t feel the most natural of high-speed companions, plus speed humps and road scars are soaked up into the cabin with large ‘thumps’.
For now, Smart only offers the fortwo in two states of petrol power, although an all-electric version will arrive in 2016. The most popular version is the entry-level, naturally aspirated 999cc unit with 70bhp, which is easy to drive smoothly with the standard five-speed manual gearbox. However, we prefer the extra poke and responsiveness of the turbocharged 898cc unit with 89bhp, especially when coupled to the optional ‘Twinamic’ dual-clutch automatic transmission. The fortwo has always felt like a car suited to a good auto transmission, but only now have we been able to recommend it.
Standard equipment is strong and its unrivalled proposition help secure stronger residual values
The Smart fortwo is not a cheap car when compared with other, more conventional city car rivals like the Hyundai i10, but standard equipment is strong while its unrivalled proposition and loyal, enthusiastic following help secure stronger residual values. Both engines are fitted with automatic stop-start and promise fuel economy in excess of 67mpg and CO2 emissions below 100g/km. Smart also offers a service care package, which for a monthly fee, guarantees the price of parts and labour for up to four services.
The Smart fortwo gets one year breakdown cover as standard, but any reports of this take-up are too new to call. However, the previous generation fortwo has been greeted by five star owners reviews on AutoTrader, while the Renault-sourced engines have also fared well in the Twingo, with no reported problems.
The Smart fortwo has always been big on standard safety and this version continues in that vein, using five airbags – a driver’s kneebag, plus driver and passenger head and thorax bags – ABS and cross-wind assist. The result is a four star rating from EuroNCAP, the fortwo scoring 82% for adult occupants but only 56% for pedestrian impact. Optional extras also include lane-keeping assist – which beeps at you if the car detects you drifting out of your lane – and forward collision warning sensors.
Avoid the Proxy trim level which boasts larger 16-inch alloys and lowered, sports suspension
There are three core trim levels – Pulse, Prime and Proxy – plus a limited Edition #1 version for early adopters. Entry-level Pulse offers air conditioning, cruise control and Bluetooth but items such as DAB radio and a height adjustable driver’s seat are curiously absent. A comfort package, that includes the height adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel, heated seats and door mirrors, comes as standard on Prime trim levels and above. Other bolt-on packages include Premium, adding rear parking sensors and the touchscreen media system, and Premium Plus that adds LED headlights and a reversing camera. If you’re not a fan of chiropractors, avoid the Proxy trim level which boasts larger 16-inch alloys and lowered, sports suspension.
The Smart fortwo is a charismatic, clever and expertly finished small car that, despite the obvious packaging restraints, is surprisingly refined and practical. That said, if you’re not desperate for the diddy dimensions or party-piece turning circle, there are less costly alternatives out there.