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.
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