Smart ForTwo review
Smart's dinky two-seat ForTwo has returned, sitting on a shortened version of the Renault Twingo's chassis
The original Smart ForTwo went on sale in the UK in the late 1990s. Although originally only available in left-hand-drive, that didn’t stop space-conscious motorists buying the two-seat city car in their droves. It was later sold as a right hooker – with over 100,000 units finding homes in the UK since 1997.
Now in its third generation, the ‘smart car’ has grown up, offering quieter and more powerful engines but with the same incredible urban practicality and rock bottom running costs. Offering just two seats, the ForTwo has limited appeal as a family car, but those looking for a bigger cabin should try the similarly designed but more spacious ForFour.
The new Smart ForTwo is 110mm wider than it was before but critically, it remains the same length at 2.69m. A higher and softer bonnet makes for improved pedestrian protection and also gives the car a more conventional look, something that the ‘one-box’ design of the old model never managed.
Under the skin the ForTwo uses a shortened version of the same chassis you’ll find beneath the new Renault Twingo – a longer version is used for the 4-door ForFour. It offers an equally amazing turning circle, allowing both cars to almost pivot on the rear wheels and allow for seamless manoeuvring are town.
From launch two rear-mounted petrol engines are available, while a lesser 59bhp version will join the range at a later date. Both the 70bhp and 89bhp engines promise fuel economy in excess of 67mpg and CO2 emissions below 100g/km. An all-electric version will also arrive in 2016.
Changes are widespread in the ForTwo’s cabin too. A completely new dash is made up of textured fabrics, with top-spec models boasting a new seven-inch floating infotainment screen. Heated seats, handy storage cubbies, a panoramic roof and cruise control are all available to buyers as well, depending on their choice of Passion, Prime and Proxy trim levels.
Smart ditched the ‘one-box’ design of the previous ForTwo when developing the new model. The bonnet is higher and softer, with the added width allowing the wheels to be pushed out into the corners, widening the stance and giving better road holding.
The short overhangs contribute to a tiny 2.69m overall length. The split rear tailgate also allows you access the boot even if space behind the car is limited.
The contrasting body colour scheme remains a trademark feature on the ForTwo, with the ‘tridion safety cell’ available in three different colours. Add in the options for the body panels and front grille and buyers have 40 different colour combinations available. It’s just as colourful inside too, with bright fabrics on the dash and seats depending on spec.
In the cabin, a new dash and centre console design are far more upmarket than before but there are still some cheap looking plastics lurking around. The dash-mounted rev counter feels and looks flimsy but the optional seven-inch floating nav screen looks sharp and the menu system is easy to navigate.
As with the ForFour, three trim levels are offered made up of Passion, Prime and Proxy. Standard kit includes cruise control, climate control and 15-inch alloy wheels.
Huge developments beneath the surface make the ForTwo more engaging but still comfortable to drive. Smart has successfully addressed the two biggest issues with its city car: the ride and the refinement.
The new chassis brings with it more sophisticated suspension – with some elements from the front axle being taken from the Mercedes C-Class compact executive saloon– so the ForTwo is no longer troubled by slightly worn tarmac. It’s more cushioned and compliant on the move.
The old robotized manual gearbox, which plagued the old model has now thankfully been ditched. In its place is a five-speed manual or optional (£995) dual-clutch auto. While we wouldn’t recommend the auto, it’s much improved over the version in the previous-gen car – transforming the driving dynamics and making the Smart quite fun to drive.
The engine now thrums rather than wheezes and the gearchange is far smoother, although a slightly sticky clutch can make getaways a little jerky. The turbo engine commands a premium of around £700 over the 70bhp 1.0-litre motor, but we think it’s well worth the cash. It isn’t the most refined in its power delivery, but it’s far better suited to motorway driving, allowing you to keep up with faster-moving traffic.
The rear engine and rear-wheel drive setup has been employed to maximize practicality rather performance. Around the city it’s incredibly nimble and the 6.95m turning circle is the smallest of any car on sale. It’s a huge benefit when you have to navigate tight city streets or make impromptu u-turns on narrow roads.
Out of its comfort zone the ForTwo does struggle. Rivals at this price point are far more capable on quicker roads and more comfortable. Wind noise is excessive due to the slab-sided body and the engine pulls almost 4,000rpm at 70mph. What’s more, on twistier roads, the weight over the rear axle results in alarmingly light steering, allowing very little confidence if you start to push on. The Skoda Citigo and Hyundai i10 are still more fun to drive.
Smart has invested a lot of time and money to ensure the compact ForTwo is as safe as possible. The new chassis means the little car is almost as safe as a Mercedes C-Class in the unfortunate event of a head on collision. Tech such as lane departure warning, forward collision warning and crosswind assist should also boost its chances of receiving the full five-star EURO NCAP safety rating.
The previous Smart ForTwo had a strong reliability record with one recall on the books that affected just 26 cars. As it’s designed mainly for urban use, the brakes and gearbox did have a tendency to wear out faster on the previous ForTwo than on cars covering a lot of motorway miles. There’s no word yet on how the new car performs in this regard.
An obvious drawback is that the Smart can only seat two people, when cheaper alternatives can seat up to five. But if space for two is enough there are plenty of nifty features that increase the Smart’s appeal.
The doors are wide, making access easy and – thanks to the added 110mm in width – the car feels far more spacious inside than the exterior proportions would suggest.
The 260-litre boot is a good size and it’s simple to load and unload items as there is no load lip. The ledge is a little high, but the lower section of the split tailgate features a hidden cubby, which is handy for storing smaller or more fragile items. Beneath the centre console hides another pull-out storage area, which makes up for the rather small glove box.
The new three-cylinder petrol engines make the ForTwo even cheaper to run than it was before. Opt for the more frugal 70bhp 1.0-litre naturally aspirated engine and Smart claims you can return up to 68.9mpg and 93g/km of CO2.
The more powerful 89bhp 900cc turbo engine is around £700 more to buy and returns figures of 67.3mpg and 97g/km. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard but the DCT auto is a £995 option. While we wouldn’t recommend it, the twin-clutch auto is much better than before, and if you really need a self-shifter, it isn’t half bad.
Prices start at £11,125 for entry-level Passion models with the base 1.0-litre engine. Both Prime and Proxy spec cost a further £695, with the latter adding sports suspension and larger 16-inch alloy wheels.