Other highlights are a 10cm increase in the Fortwo’s body width, which brings many benefits. Where cabin space is concerned, the Smart two-seater now has far more hip and shoulder room so it no longer needs the staggered seats of past models (although it keeps their high hip-point and big doors for spectacularly easy access) and – although our disguised pictures won’t yet show it – its styling recalls the chic shape of the original car, which gave way to a ‘Tonka toy’ shape in the second version that was less well received.
ForTwos have always used a pressed steel Tridion chassis frame as their main structure, supporting impact-absorbing plastic outer panels, and that layout is used again. So is a rear-engined layout: an ultra-compact three-cylinder engine mounted under the boot floor, in unit with the gearbox and differential and driving the rear wheels.
The entry-level engine for UK buyers will be a brand-new 999cc Renault-made triple, designated SCe70. It is normally aspirated, is rated at 70bhp and develops its 67lb ft peak torque virtually from ground level, ideal for town motoring. It will come with stop-start as an option. The top spec offering is Renault’s zippy Energy TCe90 899cc turbo triple that punches out 89bhp and 100lb ft, has standard stop-start and Euro 6 clean air compliance. This engine has already been used in the Captur and Clio but the engine has been adapted specifically for Twingo-Smart to provide what Renault calls “refined performance”.
The related models keep their all-independent wishbone suspension, but the extra body width now allows longer suspension arms with wider-based mountings to be used, for better wheel control. There’s more suspension travel, too, which improves the ride considerably because less of the suspension stroke is affected by contact with the bump-stops…
Inside the Boblingen HQ, I first meet Frank Zimmerman, Smart's head of product marketing, who shows me the two prototypes, summarises (without too much detail) the changes – and assures me that one key objective in the development of the Fortwo has been to maintain what he terms “the 269”, the car’s diminutive length of 2.69m.
“We did lots of research among existing owners,” says Zimmerman, “which showed their number one reason for buying was the car’s shortness. So we fought hard to maintain it. We’ve kept the height the same, too. Owners say the big doors and the high hip-point are also features they like.” However, you certainly can’t miss the extra body width, which makes Zimmerman (tall) and me (wide) perfectly comfortable sitting side by side in the cockpit. It also makes the car look much tougher and more grown-up on the road.
The patch of tarmac that they’ve allotted for my manoeuvring test seems slightly smaller than a postage stamp. It’s difficult to imagine that we’ll be able to do anything meaningful but Zimmerman insists that there will be plenty of space for a car that now has a turning circle between kerbs of just 6.9m, less than 23 feet. It can out-turn a Toyota iQ by a metre, and easily corner inside a London cab’s U-turn.
Read more about the new Smart Fortwo and Forfour
I try it, enjoying the accurate but easy-twirling electric power steering, and discover that it’s possible to throw complete circles in this tiny space without even using full lock. “Turn tighter,” the photographer keeps saying, although in space terms there’s no need. The car manoeuvres easily and shows no sign of tyre scrub, even on full lock. The point is made: adding a few inches to the width of a Smart is nothing compared with carving half a yard off its turning circle. There can’t now be a more agile car on the market.