Is Smart's tiny two-seater still the go-to runabout for well-heeled big-city dwellers? We've got six months in the latest version to find out
3 October 2016

I was barely out of my awkward teenage years when Mercedes-Benz unleashed its audacious, Pop Swatch-inspired Smart City Coupé on upwardly mobile young city types.

Having driven one back in the early noughties, I loved the original looks, valued the park-anywhere ability and giggled at the insane turning circle.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and although Pop Swatches have now been banished to the hazy memories of jaded Generation Xs, the Smart is battling not to go the same way. I’ll be living with a Fortwo for six months and am intrigued to see whether this third-generation model has tweaked its tried and tested compact car formula enough to remain a serious proposition in the fiercely competitive city car class.

I wanted a bit more oomph on tap for my occasional blasts around the M25, so I opted for the more powerful of the two engine options in the regular Fortwo: the 898cc, 89bhp turbocharged triple that also powers the Smart’s close French relative, the Renault Twingo. Rather than plumping for the five-speed manual gearbox, I’ve chosen the new six-speed dual-clutch auto to see just how much better it is than the previous generation’s clunky robotised manual. I recall that no matter how hard I tried, gearshifts were far from seamless in the old gearbox.

To keep things realistic on the price front, I’ve gone for mid-level Prime trim. On top of standard features such as air-con, cruise control, heated seats, a multifunction steering wheel and a tyre pressure monitoring system, we’ve added an £845 Premium Pack that includes heated and electrically adjustable door mirrors, rear parking sensors, a height-adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel and a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav, Bluetooth connectivity and MirrorLink for Android phones.

My tastes have also matured somewhat in the choice of colour scheme. Retina-abusing shades and fake graffiti-style body panels have been eschewed in favour of classier-looking Midnight Blue paint with a silver Tridion safety cell. One of my colleagues expressed disappointment at my decision not to go for the arresting orange and black colour combo also available, but with my motorcycling background, this would have been too reminiscent of KTM’s signature look.

I also think the cabin is a bright and airy place to be. The almost full-length sunroof helps to create a feeling of space, and because this Fortwo is wider than its predecessors were, this really helps when you have a broad-shouldered passenger. There are some nice design touches and nods to the original car, such as rev counter and clock pods stacked on top of the dashboard that you can move left or right to suit. The Neoprene wetsuit-feel mesh fabric covering the top of the dashboard adds some welcome texture, too.

Driving the Fortwo for the first time reminded me that a multi-storey car park can actually be fun. The one we use for work is a badly laid out, tight affair, with awkwardly placed concrete buffers at the entrance and exit of every up and down ramp, perfect for catching tyres and snicking alloy wheels. The new Fortwo has been bestowed with an even tighter turning circle than its predecessor, now a mind-boggling 6.95 metres. I was actually whooping as I lined up and catapulted the tiny Smart up and up – no need for braking, ever, as long as you keep a watch out for other cars manoeuvring into and out of parking spaces.

Talking about parking… I am going to admit something here. On the first couple of attempts at squeezing the Fortwo into the tiniest space possible, I found it more difficult than it should have been, due to the overly sensitive rear parking sensors. It’s easier if you turn them off (via a switch to the right of the steering column), but annoyingly, you have to repeat the action every day before setting off. I also woefully underestimated how much room the long doors need in order to be able to attempt anything like a dignified exit, especially when wearing a skirt. However, parking at home is much easier now. I live in a narrow street with marked-out parking bays. As long as there is a wide enough boundary to stop me from falling foul of the overzealous traffic wardens, I can park at a right angle to the kerb between two cars. In fact, I sometimes end up next to motorbikes lined up in a similar fashion, something that gives me a bit of a warm glow. Not sure the riders think the same, though. So it’s still early days, but on the parking front at least, the Smart is impressing me all over again.

Another area where city cars need to triumph is fuel economy. I’m a typical city driver, doing very short hops each day with the odd motorway journey thrown in once every couple of weeks, and I’ve been panicking slightly because I need to get a ‘proper’ fuel economy reading instead of relying on the car’s electronic readout, but the Fortwo’s 35-litre fuel tank has been draining so slowly that I haven’t been able to yet. The fuel gauge is still showing three bars’ worth of go-go juice (out of eight) after 280 miles of enthusiastic haring around the streets of leafy south-west London.

However, when I do brim the Fortwo again, I’d be surprised if I get near the official claimed average combined 68.9mpg figure. The claimed urban figure is a slightly more realistic 56.5mpg, so we’ll see. 

Our Verdict

Smart Fortwo

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

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Comments
9

3 October 2016
to the pavement was the first Smart car's strong point. The new one is 8" longer. Still, in the Netherlands it isn't allowed to create two parking spaces for Smart cars where normally just one car would fit. If it is condoned, both Smart owners will have to pay full price. In the future it is something that city governments might look into. Why should a Fiat 500 owner pay the same parking fare as the one who drives a Hummer H1?

3 October 2016
Anyone see the previous gen smart crash test? It pinged off a Merc and rolled over, making it likely passengers would sustain serious injuries. The same test in a polo behaved normally, the crumple zones absorbing the crash forces. The passengers would likely walk away without injury. The videos are up on youtube.

3 October 2016
winniethewoo wrote:

Anyone see the previous gen smart crash test? It pinged off a Merc and rolled over, making it likely passengers would sustain serious injuries. The same test in a polo behaved normally, the crumple zones absorbing the crash forces. The passengers would likely walk away without injury. The videos are up on youtube.

You can't ignore the laws of physics...basically, a lighter car will always be at a disadvantage to a heavier car, period. The greater the difference, the greater the effect. The test that I think you're referring to was actually conducted between the first-gen Smart and an S-Class...so obviously the Smart was at a great disadvantage. However, rolling over only makes it likely that passengers sustain serious injuries if the roof is weak, which isn't the case for the Smart. And the Smart actually performed quite well in that test, seeing as the safety cell and crumple zones did their job effectively. In a test conducted between another S-Class and a Corsa, the latter suffered serious deformation - *that* would have likely resulted in serious injuries.

Therefore, calling the Smart a safety disaster is ridiculous...the same-era Fiat Seicento, on the other hand...

 

- Follow your own star -

3 October 2016
When will you admit you work for Mercedes? The testing body, I think it was a German car mag said the injuries in the Smart would have been very serious. It literally flicked off the s class like a pebble against the wall. This Smart for two looks better in the same test but the test doesn't look as realistic. The video makes me wonder if they tethered the smart to the track.

3 October 2016
Funny, I was going to ask what's your beef with all things Mercedes seeing as they never seem to do anything right in your opinion...but back to the Smart - as mentioned in the previous post, weight difference between two vehicles plays an important role; any car would get 'flicked off' if it's significantly lighter than the other vehicle, not just the Smart. That said, it is known to be a 'stiff' car since it needs to be ensured that the passenger compartment remains largely intact, but there's not much space where the crash energy can be absorbed - this tends to result in higher G-forces and makes the 'bouncing back' more pronounced. The alternatives are (a) giving it a longer front-end similar to what they've done with the latest model (although you could argue it makes it a-bit less practical to park than the previous versions), or (b) having a softer structure that would allow significant intrusions into the passenger compartment - most likely yielding fatal injuries to occupants (arguably more dangerous than higher G-forces).

Simply put, with today's tech at least, there's not much more that engineers can do except make it larger and heavier, which would make it a supermini and betray the whole point of the Fortwo. We must also remember that the car is designed mainly for city use, i.e. lower speed environments where crashes would not be so serious.

 

- Follow your own star -

3 October 2016
Christian Galea wrote:

We must also remember that the car is designed mainly for city use, i.e. lower speed environments where crashes would not be so serious.

In addition, you are more likely to collide with smaller and lighter vehicles than an S-Class (primarily other city cars and superminis) in city environments.

 

- Follow your own star -

3 October 2016
The fact that you have to remove the hood to check your levels is just stupid ( And Renault got stuck with it for the Twingo as well ). It's not even a matter of form over function, it's just bad design.

 

 

3 October 2016
... seems like a smarter design.

3 October 2016
...Really? Jeez - it finishes just behind your head!

Wide cars in a world of narrow.

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