Smart Fortwo Revisited

Lesley Wimbush
by Lesley Wimbush

Since the late 90’s, hundreds of thousands of smart cars found homes in European towns, villages and apartments. I first encountered the smart fortwo at my tribe’s annual Testfest. Canada’s finest motoring hacks caned the diminutive machine on highways, byways, roads and racetrack, where one burly journalist declared the smart as much fun as a fart in a wetsuit. And now the butt of a thousand headline puns is headed your way America, thanks to the otherwise sane metal movers at The United Auto Group.

Admittedly, my automotive tastes run towards aggressive-looking beasts with luxurious curves that bring shivers to places best not mentioned here. By that standard, the smart fortwo could easily be the named “the vehicle least likely to raise wood.” I just can’t get my head around the fact that the fourtwo is a car, and not a four-wheeled projectile fired out of battleship’s main guns. (Up close, it looks like a baby’s pram crossed with a Pokemon.) While I could fully deconstruct the utter strangeness of the fourtwo’s design, this paragraph is already longer than the car itself. Suffice it to say, the fourtwo is a four-wheeled two-by-four.

Of course, it would be easy to just let rip and have a good ole slagfest at the smart's expense. Sure, the cargo capacity sucks; there’s hardly enough extra space to pack a couple of Slim Jims. Yes, from a safety point-of-view, it’s SUV toe jam. And sure, the Canada-spec diesel engine only puts out 40hp, making the fourtwo only marginally faster than walking. [NB: a British lunatic dropped a Hayabusa bike engine, beefed up the suspension and created a 180hp track monster known as the "smartuki."] Well, guess what? It cain't tow nothin’ neither.

On the positive side, the fourtwo is an environmentalist’s wet dream. You can drive the snot out of it all day for under $13 in diesel, stick it in parking spots meant for two-wheelers, leave the atmosphere almost completely chemically unmolested and receive two thumbs up from academics and hairy socialist types who assume you give a shit about the environment. That’s not exactly my thing, but it’s still a refreshing change from the middle digit communication afforded the Hummer H3. Anyway, the fortwo is a very clever piece of engineering.

Forone thing, it’s amazing how much room there is inside the motorized fishbowl. The sloped windshield is panoramic, the side windows are bigger than my widescreen TV and there's plenty of head and legroom for life-sized human beings. The initial impression– that there’s nothing between you and oncoming traffic– is eventually dispelled by the enormous expanse of foam-padded dash twixt wheel and glass. While I've seen tougher-looking accessories on a Tonka toy, the fortwo’s instrumentation is hilarious; think iMac meets the Jetsons. The clock and tachometer are housed in globes atop swiveling stalks.

Despite the Mercedes Benz connection, the fourtwo’s switchgear errs on the side of cheap and cheerful, operating with all the precision and tactility of a cereal box top. By the same token, the optional clutch-free semi-manual transmission is entirely without grace. Generally I try these tip shift gizmos out once, just to say I did, and then ignore them. However, the fourtwo’s slapstick is infinitely preferable to the lag and lurch of automatic mode – which causes the back of your head to repeatedly meet the headrest, and not in that muscle car kinda way.

The smart fourtwo’s handling is the fourth Ace in the deck (after fuel economy, size and planet hugging street cred). It feels as if the smart has been bolted to a go-kart frame. Stiff and square, with a wheel at each corner, there's almost zero body roll and lots of road feel beneath your butt. Although it requires more forward planning than a Middle Eastern invasion, blowing by startled Mustangs and Hondas like a giant mutant high-top on steroids is a priceless experience. However, due to the fourtwo’s height and slab-sided-ness, understeer is out there… somewhere… and strong winds at highway speed require both hands on the wheel. In fact, the ride’s so squirrelly, it might as well have a farking sail.

Once I got over my initial reluctance to be seen in the fourtwo, I got a perverse pleasure from driving the wee beastie everywhere. It was hugely satisfying bringing it to car meets, provoking extended bouts of contemptous sniggering from stalwart hairy-chested muscle car guys. Almost without exception, the car’s sardonic detractors were eventually won over by the fourtwo’s practicality and spacious interior– even if they only admitted their enchantment begrudgingly. It’s true. Whether a grassroots grease monkey or an over-moneyed connoisseur of silken engineering, any true car nut is sure to find the smart Fortwo a compelling automobile-– even if they would never, ever own one.

Lesley Wimbush
Lesley Wimbush

Gearhead, newspaper grunt, car writer, illustrator:,front.spy

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  • Robert.Walter Robert.Walter on Feb 03, 2009

    I have a picture (I think) of a collision between a Smart and an M-Class, showing the M-Class on its side, and the Smart not all the worse for the wear... how to post pictures? Can anyone tell me?

  • Mills Motors Mills Motors on Jun 27, 2013

    This is a future vehicle for us, fuel efficient and consume less power than big cars.

  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).
  • Lou_BC There are a few in my town. They come out on sunny days. I'd rather spend $29k on a square body Chevy
  • Lou_BC I had a 2010 Ford F150 and 2010 Toyota Sienna. The F150 went through 3 sets of brakes and Sienna 2 sets. Similar mileage and 10 year span.4 sets tires on F150. Truck needed a set of rear shocks and front axle seals. The solenoid in the T-case was replaced under warranty. I replaced a "blend door motor" on heater. Sienna needed a water pump and heater blower both on warranty. One TSB then recall on spare tire cable. Has a limp mode due to an engine sensor failure. At 11 years old I had to replace clutch pack in rear diff F150. My ZR2 diesel at 55,000 km. Needs new tires. Duratrac's worn and chewed up. Needed front end alignment (1st time ever on any truck I've owned).Rear brakes worn out. Left pads were to metal. Chevy rear brakes don't like offroad. Weird "inside out" dents in a few spots rear fenders. Typically GM can't really build an offroad truck issue. They won't warranty. Has fender-well liners. Tore off one rear shock protector. Was cheaper to order from GM warehouse through parts supplier than through Chevy dealer. Lots of squeaks and rattles. Infotainment has crashed a few times. Seat heater modual was on recall. One of those post sale retrofit.Local dealer is horrific. If my son can't service or repair it, I'll drive 120 km to the next town. 1st and last Chevy. Love the drivetrain and suspension. Fit and finish mediocre. Dealer sucks.
  • MaintenanceCosts You expect everything on Amazon and eBay to be fake, but it's a shame to see fake stuff on Summit Racing. Glad they pulled it.
  • SCE to AUX 08 Rabbit (college car, 128k miles): Everything is expensive and difficult to repair. Bought it several years ago as a favor to a friend leaving the country. I outsourced the clutch ($1200), but I did all other work. Ignition switch, all calipers, pads, rotors, A/C compressor, blower fan, cooling fan, plugs and coils, belts and tensioners, 3 flat tires (nails), and on and on.19 Ioniq EV (66k miles): 12V battery, wipers, 1 set of tires, cabin air filter, new pads and rotors at 15k miles since the factory ones wore funny, 1 qt of reduction gear oil. Insurance is cheap. It costs me nearly nothing to drive it.22 Santa Fe (22k miles): Nothing yet, except oil changes. I dread having to buy tires.