Smart ForTwo review

Our Rating: 
3
3.0/5.0
2014 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

Smart's tiny ForTwo has returned, but this time it's part of a tie-up with Renault and sits on the rear-engined Twingo platform

For: 
Looks great, manoeuvrable in town, premium feel
Against: 
Expensive, not very practical, struggles on faster roads

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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 still has limited appeal as a family car, but those looking for a bigger cabin should try the similarly designed but more spacious ForFour.

Best city cars

While it still makes a powerful style statement, the new Smart has perhaps lost a little of the stand-out originality that attracted owners to earlier versions – while the joint-venture development programme with Renault’s Twingo is evident from the driving seat, too.

Our Choice: 
Smart ForTwo 90hp Passion Premium twinamic

The original Smart ForTwo arrived in the late 1990's, and from the hype it generated you'd have expected that nearly two decades later all of us would be driving them. In 2016 things aren't quite at that level, but the ForTwo has still been popular - over 100,000 examples of the first and second-generation models have found homes since 1997.

The latest-generation model has grown up a bit, and is wider than its predecessor. It's still the same length, though - and retains the previous models' ability to park nose-on to the kerb. A more defined 'bonnet' and more interior space gives the car a slightly more conventional feel - something that couldn't be said about the old model.

• Best small cars on the market

As well as the two-door ‘coupe’ version tested here (it’s really a two-seat hatchback), Smart also offers a convertible model that debuted at the 2015 Frankfurt motor show but it's the hard top we're focusing on here. 

Under the skin, the ForTwo uses a shortened version of the same platform (the car's underlying architecture) that you’ll find beneath the new Renault Twingo. The longer version is used for the four-door Smart ForFour, which is built alongside the Twingo at Renault’s Slovakian factory, while the ForTwo is built separately at Daimler’s ‘Smartville’ factory in France.

In all cases, the rear-engined platform offers an equally amazing turning circle, allowing the cars to virtually pivot on the rear wheels, allowing for seamless manoeuvring around town.

Two sub-one litre, three-cylinder rear-mounted petrol engines are available, both shared with the Twingo and with promised fuel economy in excess of 67mpg and CO2 emissions below 100g/km.

 You can opt for a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic gearbox over the standard five-speed manual, while an all-electric version of the ForTwo is scheduled to arrive in 2016.

The ForTwo's cabin offers further widespread changes from the old model. 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, depending on their choice of Passion, Prime and Proxy trim levels.

Engines, performance and drive

3
Nimble in town, but the Smart ForTwo struggles to keep up with rivals beyond the city limits

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) si-speed dual-clutch auto. It's worth stumping up the extra cash for the auto, making this agile little city car even more lively and reactive ove the sticky five-speed manual version.

Smart ForTwo side

The engine now thrums rather than wheezes and the gearchange is far smoother. 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.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

3.7
Nimble in town, but the Smart ForTwo struggles to keep up with rivals beyond the city limits

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 underlying platform 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 horrid robotised manual gearbox that plagued the old model has now thankfully been ditched. In its place is a five-speed manual or optional (£995) six-speed dual-clutch auto. It's worth stumping up the extra cash for the auto ‘twinamic’ transmission, making this agile little city car even more lively and reactive over the sticky five-speed manual version. You get two shift modes – comfort and sport – and if you pick the sporty Proxy trim level with its lowered and stiffened suspension you’ll even get paddle-shifts on the steering wheel.

The rear engine and rear-wheel drive set-up has been employed to maximize practicality rather performance. Around the city the ForTwo is 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. The engine now thrums rather than wheezes and the gearchange is far smoother, but wind noise is excessive due to the slab-sided body and the engine pulls almost 4,000rpm at just 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.

Engines

The Smart’s three-cylinder engine is available in two capacities, with the 89bhp turbocharged 0.9-litre variant commanding a premium of around £700 over the 70bhp, 1.0-litre non-turbo motor.

The 89bhp engine delivers 0-62mph in 10.4 seconds with either manual or automatic transmission, while the 70bhp cars take 14.4 seconds with manual and 15.1 seconds with auto transmission. The 89bhp car will reach 96mph, compared to 94mph for the 70bhp model.

We think the more powerful engine is well worth the premium. The turbo unit isn’t the most refined in its delivery but the extra oomph means it’s far better suited to motorway driving, allowing you to keep up with faster-moving traffic. 

Interior, design and technology

3.5
The ForTwo retains its iconic abbreviated profile, but feels more grown-up inside and out

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.

Smart ForTwo - rear

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, and there are clear carry-overs from the related Renault Twingo. The dash-mounted rev counter feels and looks flimsy but the optional seven-inch floating sat-nav screen looks sharp and the menu system is easy to navigate.

As with the ForFour, three trim levels are offered named Passion, Prime and Proxy. Standard kit includes cruise control, climate control and 15-inch alloy wheels.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

Like the Renault Twingo, with which it shares so much engineering, all models in the Smart ForTwo line-up feature a dash-mounted cradle for your smartphone. Dedicated apps are available that turn your phone into a controller for the audio system, a streamed music source and an instant on-board sat-nav.

It’s a neat idea, but the cradle gets in the way of the standard Audio-System controls, which is a bit annoying. We recommend the £795 Premium Package instead, which includes the Media-System. This has a built-in sat-nav and digital radio capability among its other features – all operated via an intuitive built-in touchscreen.

You can also upgrade both the Audio- and Media-Systems output via a JBL sound system, providing eight speakers and 240 watts of music.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

2
The Smart ForTwo does exactly what it says on the can. So if you want more, pick a ForFour...

An obvious drawback is that the Smart can only seat two people, while 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.

There’s plenty of room for driver and passenger, but it will be worthwhile investing £295 in the Comfort Package which adds height adjustment for the driver’s seat and steering wheel. (The Comfort Package upgrades are thrown in automatically with the also-desirable Premium Package.)

Beneath the centre console hides another pull-out storage area, which makes up for the small glove box.

Smart ForTwo - dash

Size

Despite sharing much of its engineering and systems with the Renault Twingo, at 2,695mm the ForTwo is considerably shorter than its 3,595mm counterpart. The Toyota Aygo is a good bit longer too, at 3,455mm.

The 1,663mm tall ForTwo sits between the other two for width, but at 1,555m it’s taller than the 1,460mm Aygo and almost identical in height to the Twingo.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

If you want to carry more than one passenger in a Smart, you need the new ForFour model. The ForTwo’s front seats back straight onto the car’s luggage compartment. It’s a serious competitive disadvantage when even the most cramped city car rear seats tend to be used occasionally, but for some reason Smart has stuck to its guns.

Boot

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.

Reliability and Safety

4
As safe as a C-Class in a head-on collision, but the Smart ForTwo misses out on a 5 star rating

Smart has invested a lot of time and money to ensure the compact ForTwo is as safe as possible. The new platform means the little car is almost as safe as a Mercedes C-Class in the unfortunate event of a head-on collision, the company says.

EuroNCAP didn’t make quite as generous an assessment when it crash-tested the ForTwo in 2014, suggesting the side-impact protection provided by the airbags was below par. With the lack of an emergency brake system also taken into account, the ForTwo only won four out of five stars – but Smart has since implemented an airbag revision to address EuroNCAP’s concern.

Tech systems such as lane departure warning, forward collision warning and crosswind assist are on the options list.

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. It’s too early yet to say how the new car will perform in this regard, or indeed how it will compare to rival city runabouts.

Few will be sorry that the occasionally troubling automatic from the previous generation has been consigned to history, but against that the new Renault/Mercedes jointly-developed three-cylinder engines have yet to prove themselves in the long term.

Smart models don’t figure in our 2015 Driver Power survey, but any badge snobs feeling sniffy about the possible effects of the Renault/Mercedes collaboration should take note of the overall brand scores. When asked specifically about reliability, our survey respondents rated Renault 14th and Mercedes 26th...

Warranty

The old Smart ForTwo was lumbered with a pretty poor two-year warranty, so it was pleasing to see the third generation being introduced with three-year cover and unlimited mileage. But while Smart may have caught up with the industry standard, it still falls way short of the five-year/100,000-mile cover offered by Hyundai on the i10.

Servicing 

Smart has introduced 12,500 mile – or annual - service intervals on the latest ForTwo, and also has fixed price schemes allowing you to spread the cost in monthly instalments.

Annual servicing will cost £15 per month (or £180 per year), for as long as you are in the agreement. 

Last updated: 28 Jun, 2016