Smart ForTwo Review

Martin Schwoerer
by Martin Schwoerer

The Smart ForTwo isn't so much a small car as a short one. At just eight feet from stem to stern, it’s by far the shortest car on the market. What's the difference between small and short? A small car can stay low to the ground to achieve excellent handling and fuel economy. A short car only excels at one thing: unmetered parallel parking. The first-generation Smart proved the point. As reviewed on TTAC, it was a noisy, slow, poor-handling, stiff-legged, bouncy and crashy car with meh mileage. So, Daimler says it’s rectified the first-gen's faults. Is Version 2.0– headed stateside in 2008– ready for prime time?

The new ForTwo maintains its Tonka-toy proportions and look at me I’m wearing designer glasses (without a prescription) unconventionality. There’s now a painted parenthesis around the driver’s compartment: a clever if unsuccessful attempt to reassure drivers that Smart’s got their back (as there’s nothing much behind them). From certain angles, the slash-marked Four Two looks like a Pokemon with weird sideburns. Anyway, there’s no denying that observers (especially women) fight the urge to muss the ForTwo’s metaphorical hair and pinch its figurative cheeks.

The ForTwo’s new cabin uses shapes, textures and fonts with a bit less originality than before. The dash is now monolithic in the mighty Mercedes manner. And it's a shame the signature twin periscopes (rpms and clock) aren’t standard issue. On the positive side, the interior is still remarkably airy and spacious: a haven for a brace of art loving urbanites. The materials quality and fit and finish surpass Ye Olde SMART’s by a wide margin. Better yet, the ForTwo’s trunk can now swallow a full 58 gallons of luggage. One more Tumi for the road?

The stateside Smarts are motivated by a one-liter, three cylinder engine. The erstwhile powerplant is a revvy little beast, even at idle. Annoying stationary vibration aside, the mini-mill certainly gives its all– 70 horses– to the cause of forward momentum. Guide the tachometer needle to the 6500rpm redline and you just might accelerate (if that’s the right word) from rest to 60mph in 12 seconds. The ForTwo will also cruise relatively comfortably at 70mph. That’s provided you can wait that long and surmount the recalcitrance of the FourTwo's passion killing gearbox.

The original SMART was rightly and roundly criticized for its hesitant transmission. The new box still changes gears sequentially (when you request) or automatically (when it feels like it). Gear change times are reduced. But sadly, the new ForTwo still shifts the way Frank Costanza talks. Driving softly, the box swaps cogs smoothly. But hard acceleration will make you and your passenger look like diehard (one hopes) headbangers. Even worse, if you need a burst of oomph for emergency overtaking, the Smart ForTwo will pause for a moment or two before summoning more shove– while you contemplate a messy and untimely death.

The ForTwo’s suspension is also improved– but not by enough. For a city car that’s shorter than an NBA player carrying a midget on his shoulders, the ForTwo v2 rides pretty well. For any other type of car, the suspension sucks. You'd have to be a fan of sadomasochism lite to enjoy the Smart's hard not to say buckboard-quality ride. If potholes mar your local landscape, well, a smart Smart owner will have his chiropractor on speed dial.

The other downside of a hard-sprung car: you can be fooled into believing it handles well. Yes, the ForTwo corners flat. And it's true: my tester’s unassisted steering was as meaty as a cauldron of Texas chili. But the ForTwo's limits are lower than snake hips, and the ESP handling nanny is always on duty. Not to put too fine a point on it, an aggressive driver can put the ForTwo into any handling attitude they like– as long as it's an understeer slide.

So the Smart is an unpleasant-to-drive, one-trick pony. And yet there are plenty of people– some 30k American early adopters at last count– who couldn’t care less about its dreadful driving dynamics. To wit: on a three-hundred mile mosey along the Moselle River, my girlfriend fell in love with the ForTwo. She was charmed by the friendly questions posed by rural Belgians, and amused when the driver of a twenty-ton truck honked and gave us a thumbs up as we passed on a twisty mountain road (I was frozen with fear).

I reckon the Smart ForTwo is the automotive equivalent of Maxwell Smart's Cone of Silence: a great idea in theory, a laughable device in practice. Then again, the ForTwo is a statement. And it does bear a striking resemblance to the Porsche 911: a patently ridiculous concept made drivable by obsessive-compulsive German engineers. But while the Porsche has almost always made money, the Smart never has. Judging from v2, it probably never will.

Martin Schwoerer
Martin Schwoerer

More by Martin Schwoerer

Comments
Join the conversation
2 of 112 comments
  • Wintermutt Wintermutt on Jul 10, 2011

    i finally drove one of these. as a way of intro, i own an NSX, 3 series bmw and a toyota tundra. in the past i have owned a 911 SC, a Z28, el camino, acura legend. also some motorcycles. anyway - i loved the smart car. i got it on interstate 80 doing 70 MPH and was grinning the whole time. forget all the BS, someone must have hired some spin meisters, see for yourself, go drive one! they shift just fine, the accelerate just fine, and they are more fun than anything i have driven in a very long time. i have two problems with the vehicle - build quality is below average, and i think if i get in a collision with a truck i am toast. but anyone with a lotus is used to that!

  • Arednek Arednek on Feb 25, 2013

    So many good points below this article, only problem is good or bad every comment here can be used against half a dozen other cars just as well. I have been selling used cars for many years and have had the chance to drive every make and model from a beat up $200 trade in, to brand new porsche's. I would never try to compare a smart to a sports car in speed and handling, or to a 3500 diesel for power or a twon and country for space. |But I do see this kind of crap right here and everywhere else someone wants to trash talk any car ever made, try to make a fair comparison, the space in a smart car is for two (hence the name Smart ForTwo) but that space if you read the measurements give the drive more room than a 2500 Ram quad in hight and leg room that also goes for the hummer H2, of the vehicles I compared the only one with more head and leg room is the Mega cab and its only by 1.5 inches... but the smart does come in short when it comes to with so it was clearly made to suit a driver who isnt large in the rear, that being said I wear a size 42 and fit very well. lets hit accelerating next 0-60 in 10.5 sec on the base model (pulse) 8.8 on the top of the line Brabus, yes its not a sports car but match it up to the Aveo, 13.5 in the base and 11.7 in the Aveo5, both similar size and price. how about the Mini I see mentioned here a few times 8.8 in the same diesel and 7.6 in the S, so yes it is a little faster for only $10,000 more than the compareable Smart (you can build them right on their own sites and see pricing and all of these specs as I am doing while I write this, I do not know all this off hand I am looking up all of these specs and prices as I go) Lets see how fast the same site rates the H3, 10.1 base and the alpha at 8.8 ... I'm not seeing a huge difference here but dont worry every car has at least 1 angle you can play to make it beat another car, the Hummer would win in over all interior space and since all hummer owners buy hummers for car pooling that point goes to the hummer. Dont get me wrong I do not have, drive or intend to buy either one but I would like to match this up apples to apples and not continue this appalling display of misrepresentaion. you want to bash the top speed of a smart, well your right again its not a sports car but it seems to drive just fine at 130 kmph it took to deliver it with occasionally going up to 140 for fun, but the speed in Canada is limited to 110km so I'm not sure where anyone could have been that the smart didnt keep up? it may not be as fast in a drag as alot of cars but my few turns in it I found people do not pass me, not because they cant but because the average driver does not go as fast as their car can. lets hit safety for fun, the smart fortwo Tridion Safety Cell has held over 7000 lbs without crushing, now of course thats the saftey cell or what some people refer to as the roll cage, so yes half that weight will mess up the the rest of the car rendering it undriveable, but leaving the occupants alive and well. The standard for a vehicles roof is vehicles under 6000lbs have to hold 3 times their own weight on the roof (incase of a roll over falling etc) but vehicles 6000 - 10,000 lbs only need to hold 1.5 times their own weight and from the few I looked up they just barely make it. so whats safer to roll over in a vehicle that weights 1700 lbs and can hold up over 7000 or one that weights 6150 like a 250 supercrew that can hold 9950 (as per fords site) ? I guess if you are worried about a dinosaur over 7000 lbs stepping on your vehicle you need that truck but when it comes to the more common slipping on an icy road and flipping I can not see why anyone thinks being in something that weights 6000lbs and can support almost 10,000lbs is safer than 1700lbs that can hold over 7000? but I'm sure there is something I might have missed. My point for all this is when it comes time to bash a vehicle you put it up against the most absurd comparasins, you want the space of a van... buy a van! you want speed buy a sports car, you need to pull a 13,000 lbs trailer do not buy a smartcar! if you happen to be single or a couple who does mostly city driving and does not drive all your pedestrian friends around all the time, you are not drag racing on weekends and not moving furniture/lumber or snow mobiles around every day, this maybe the car for you. We can all play this comparasin game reading all sorts of real facts about vehicles and use just the ones to make our point so we look right and leave out the rest, but really is anyone stupid enough not to see that coming a mile away? buy a Harley and tell me its safer in a head on collision that the smart? and last point I missed along the way this car is made by sold by and maintained by Mercedes Benz which not only speaks for the over all quality and reliability but if I were to trade in my Mustang for a sub compact 2 seater I would rather have an engine block that says Mercedes than Hyundai or chevy (not to bash either of those but we all know some makes are status symbols and Mercedes is one of them even if it is 35 square feet and 1700lbs)

  • Michael Gallagher I agree to a certain extent but I go back to the car SUV transition. People began to buy SUVs because they were supposedly safer because of their larger size when pitted against a regular car. As more SUVs crowded the road that safety advantage began to dwindle as it became more likely to hit an equally sized SUV. Now there is no safety advantage at all.
  • Probert The new EV9 is even bigger - a true monument of a personal transportation device. Not my thing, but credit where credit is due - impressive. The interior is bigger than my house and much nicer with 2 rows of lounge seats and 3rd for the plebes. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, around 300miles of range, and an e-mpg of 80 (90 for the 2wd). What a world.
  • Ajla "Like showroom" is a lame description but he seems negotiable on the price and at least from what the two pictures show I've dealt with worse. But, I'm not interested in something with the Devil's configuration.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I really like the C-Class, it reminds me of some trips to Russia to visit Dear Friend VladdyPoo.
  • ToolGuy New Hampshire
Next