Engine improvements help city driving, but make most difference out of town
New gearbox compromises car's city credentials
0.8-litre three-pot turbodiesel engine has 54bhp and 96 lb ft of torque
The Smart Fortwo is a unique proposition. Its emotional appeal is unquestionable and it is one of the most novel and innovative cars available.
What is it?
The newly updated Smart Fortwo CDI. The diminutive diesel two-seater now gets 21 per cent more power and 18 per cent more torque from the 0.8-litre three-pot turbodiesel engine, giving it 54bhp and 96lb ft of torque.
This significant jump in power means the new Smart CDI also gets three seconds cut off its 0-62mph time, reducing it to a more bearable 16.8sec.
Yet with all the added output, the headline figures are barely changed at just 89g/km and 83.1mpg, meaning that the oil-burning Smart continues to be the most economical combustion-engined car on sale.
The interior has also been freshened up with black dials and indicator stalks replacing the old grey ones. A new five-speed semi-automatic gearbox also offers fully automatic or manual modes.
What’s it like?
Generally it’s a successful upgrade. The alterations have improved the aspects that most needed to be changed.
The extra power means the Smart Fortwo CDI is now much more capable of keeping up with fast-moving traffic, and yet its tiny footprint and turning circle still make it one of the most convenient city cars.
The black dials also look good, are clear to read and add a touch of class to the cabin.
But this is still an essentially flawed car.
The new gearbox is an improvement in many respects but is painfully slow to change up in automatic mode, and the car rocks forwards and backwards on its soft suspension with every gearchange.
Using manual mode and some subtle throttle usage does allow you to drive smoothly, but this requires more concentration and effort than should be needed in a car designed to thread through narrow and congested streets with ease.
A kickdown function is also new to the 2009 Fortwo CDI, but it’s too slow to react to really be useful in any situation needing quick acceleration.
To add to the Smart’s problems, the combination of a slow gearchange and inconsistent throttle response makes it quite difficult to pull away smoothly – a simple function that is essential for a city car.
Where the power upgrades have really helped is in the Smart’s ability outside town. The extra power makes motorway work much easier, if still lacking the big-car comfort that the Toyota iQ offers.
Should I buy one?
For all its flaws, the Fortwo CDI is a clever car that has a strong place in the market. It offers vastly better economy than the wider, more expensive and petrol-only Toyota iQ, and that will be enough for many people wanting a low-mileage town car.
But if you need a compact city car that can do more than that, the four-seat iQ manages the duties of an everyday car with none of the compromises involved in running the Smart.