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Clever microcar gets grown-up road manners, heightening its appeal for those who can accept its in-built compromises and steep price

Our Verdict

Smart Fortwo

It's bigger and bolder than before, but is this new city car any better?

Matt Burt
6 November 2014

What is it?

There has never been much to fault about the concept behind the Smart Fortwo microcar, which offers urban mobility for two people in a usefully compact and very stylish package. Previously, though, the car’s execution has had its flaws.

While the third-generation Fortwo doesn’t deviate too dramatically from the Mk2 model in terms of mechanical set-up – it retains the rear-engined, rear-drive layout of its predecessor, as well as the two-door, two-seat layout – there’s been a major focus on correcting the old car’s wrongs, most notably an unsettled ride and clunky transmission.

The Fortwo comes to market in tandem with a reinvigorated four-door, four-seat Forfour and both share their underpinnings with the new Renault Twingo.

The two Smart models share a common 1660mm width and 1550mm height, but the Fortwo is shorter than its four-seat relation. Indeed, its 2695mm length is the same as the previous iteration, although the wheelbase has been pushed out by 8mm to 1873mm.

The Fortwo and Forfour also have a new family look, particularly in terms of the front-end styling and the exposed elements of the Tridion safety cell. 

Two powerplants are available at launch: a 999cc, three-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine that produces 70bhp and 67lb ft and a more powerful turbocharged 898cc, three-cylinder unit with 89bhp and 100lb ft on tap.

The other big development for the Fortwo is that the unloved, sloth-like five-speed automated manual has been consigned to history, replaced by a choice of a regular five-speed manual or, later in 2015, a six-speed, twin-clutch automatic.

What's it like?

With its wider tracks, wheels pushed out to each corner and short overhangs, the new Smart Fortwo has a more purposeful appearance than the previous car.


This car is 11cm wider than its predecessor and it shows inside, where there’s sufficient width for two broad adults to sit comfortably without having to rub shoulders. Headroom is pretty decent too.

Just as the Mk2 version improved on the dynamic qualities of the original Smart, this new version makes further progress.

New suspension has succeeded in smoothing most of the jiggle and excessive harshness out of the Fortwo’s ride. Even on our test car’s optional sportier suspension set-up – which comprises 16in wheels and a 10mm ride height reduction and is available on the high-spec Proxy variant – the car feels composed, helped by pretty accurate electric power steering.

The turning circle is just 6.95m, eclipsing all other cars as well as ultra-manoeuvrable vehicles such as the London black cab. The front wheels can turn through a 45-degree angle, which helps to make tight cornering and parking a doddle. 

It can still be skittish over large bumps, humps and camber changes, but all told, there’s a better feel to the way the new Fortwo tackles traffic-clogged urban roads. It feels more grown-up to drive.

On our city-street test route, the 999cc naturally aspirated unit seemed to be better suited to the Fortwo than the more costly 898cc turbocharged variant.

It won’t win any races away from the traffic lights – the 0-62mph sprint takes a glacial 14.4sec – but the three-pot unit responds in a more progressive fashion than the boosted engine. The power of the latter tends to arrive all at once after an initial lull. Acceleration and deceleration of the naturally aspirated engine seems easier to moderate. 

It's no surprise that it runs out of puff quickly, but that’s of less importance in lower-speed city driving, and only becomes an issue when you take to A-roads and motorways, where the turbocharged engine feels slightly more capable. Ultimately, though, neither car is anything close to offering swift performance.

In addition to the five-speed manual, we also sampled a pre-production car fitted with the newly engineered automatic transmission. A £995 option that will be available from the spring of 2015, it is an improvement over the old automated manual when it comes to the speed of shifts.

However, the automatic transmission’s installation in our test car didn’t feel nearly as refined as the smooth manual, with some vibration noticeable and a gear-stick that required some effort to be pushed back to ‘Park’ mode.

Other testers in cars equipped with the automatic transmission didn’t report the same issues, and this might reflect the pre-production nature of our machine.

Although the combinations of bold interior colours and novel materials inside won’t be to everyone’s tastes, they set the Fortwo apart and enhance the premium feel that’s reflected in the car’s pricing.

The 260-litre boot – not huge, but on a par with what you'll find in some four-seat city cars – is accessed via a split hatch, with the top window folding upwards and the rear panel downwards, a clever set-up that makes access easier when you’ve slipped the Smart into the tightest of parking spaces.

Should I buy one?

The new Smart Fortwo retains the sparks of fresh design and clever packaging that made the quirky original version such a head-turning proposition, but combines them with a welcome improvement in refinement – and additional interior space for good measure.

Its petite stature and two-seat layout essentially leave it in a class of its own in terms of dimensions – with perhaps only the (theoretically four-seat) Toyota iQ coming close – but the Fortwo's £11k price tag puts it on a par with more practical city cars and superminis.

The challenge will be convincing savvy urbanites that the Smart Fortwo’s clever packaging and generous kit levels make it worthy of its price tag when you can acquire more commodious city cars with a wider range of dynamic ability for similar cash, or less.

However, if you know for certain that you’ll only ever transport yourself and one passenger, rarely venture past the city limits, and blanch at the prospect of, say, parallel parking even a Ford Fiesta in the tight confines of the city centre, the Smart Fortwo could be the answer.

Smart Fortwo

Price £11,125; 0-62mph 14.4sec; Top speed 94mph; Economy 68.9mpg; CO2 emissions 93g/km; Kerb weight 880kg; Engine layout 3cyls, 999cc, naturally aspirated; Installation rear, transverse, rear-wheel drive; Power 70bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 67lb ft at 2850rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual 

6 November 2014

"urban mobility for two people in a usefully compact and very stylish package" - ok that's the brochures words - now just look at the thing!

"retains the sparks of fresh design" - your kidding!

It is ugly, expensive and wasteful (no benefit in fuel consumption over a 4/5 seater car).

Will be bought by the rich and clueless.

7 November 2014

I think it looks better than the old model and clearly drives better. The interior is particularly good. It is too expensive, but perhaps there's space for a cheaper version without all the goodies. I look forward to seeing how the electric version performs. I can see a lot of people trading up to the Four Four, even if it isn't as cute as the two seater, and there is a certain luxury in knowing you'll never have to drive three of your mates home after a night out.

7 November 2014

Fair enough, I accept it has a turning circle similar to that of a 50 year old Triumph Herald. Otherwise I am struggling. This two seater weighs as much and costs as much if not more than many more practical 4 or 5-seaters. And the performance offered by its one litre engine is woeful when it should be pretty brisk with 70 horsepower available. The fact that it addresses the ride and gearbox issues of its predecessors doesn't make it clever in my eyes. The original Smart was prettier, more clever and for me a lot more appealing than this latest (and final?) effort.

7 November 2014
LP in Brighton wrote:

.. This two seater weighs as much and costs as much if not more than many more practical 4 or 5-seaters......

Really, how many practical 4 or 5-seaters weight around 880kg's (that might with driver and petrol)?

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

7 November 2014
xxxx wrote:

(that might with driver and petrol)?

It is, see my post above :D

7 November 2014

Brilliant, a car that does only one thing for £11k. Meanwhile, in the real world, people can get a car that does everything for the same price.

7 November 2014

lost the agile-look of the previous-gen Smart. Now looks like a brutal Child's toy.

7 November 2014

Much too heavy for such a tiny two-seater. According to figures published on this website, it weighs 15KG more than the larger, 4 seater, Renault Twingo. No wonder it's slow.

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

7 November 2014

So all in all, an improvement over the previous car (of which I've owned 3, plus one of the originals), with a hefty price tag. I said on the article about the prices, that they should be doing as they are in Germany, and offering an entry level car that has steel wheels, no aircon, no stereo (but weirdly has cruise control) for £8600. Not only does that look like a better price, which will get people into the showrooms to have a look at it, they can also upsell to better trim levels. Businesses will love the base spec. I know Stirling Council has dozens of 58 reg base spec fortwos as pool cars for example. Do you think they will replace them with £11 models? Very doubtful

Frightmare Bob wrote:

Much too heavy for such a tiny two-seater. According to figures published on this website, it weighs 15KG more than the larger, 4 seater, Renault Twingo. No wonder it's slow.

You've got to read between the lines. From smart's website, they quote the weight with fuel tank 90% full, with driver, 68 kg and luggage. Renault only say that it doesn't include the driver with its weight figures. They don't mention if it it has luggage, or any fuel on board.

7 November 2014
superstevie wrote:

You've got to read between the lines. From smart's website, they quote the weight with fuel tank 90% full, with driver, 68 kg and luggage. Renault only say that it doesn't include the driver with its weight figures. They don't mention if it it has luggage, or any fuel on board.

Sorry but, I think that is just trying to excuse lazy, cost-cut design. It is too heavy for a tiny two-seater.

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

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