Small shoulders. Big responsibility... There’s no doubt that the pressure is on for Smart’s ForTwo. A few years ago, the firm’s city car range included a roadster and a four-door supermini. These days, only one model carries the troubled company’s hopes.
So, can the latest ForTwo save Smart? Totally fresh from the ground up, with more space, an increased emphasis on quality and a diesel engine for the first time, it’s better equipped than ever.
On initial viewing, the ForTwo has clearly lost a little of its visual charm. Nearly 20cm have been added to the length and 9cm to the width in the pursuit of better pedestrian safety and rear-impact protection – as well as more legroom. As a result, it’s not quite as cheekily compact as before.
Mind you, with bigger lights and chunkier bumpers at both front and rear, the car does look a bit tougher. And, thanks to plastic body panels, it’s still as distinctive and resistant to parking dings as ever.
Inside, the trademark twin, movable, pod-style dials continue to take pride of place on top of the dashboard, and there is a trendy mix of fabric and body-coloured trim. However, the big change is in quality. All the plastics feel of a higher grade, while the seats in particular are much more supportive. The increased dimensions have also resulted in more leg and shoulder room.
There’s additional boot space, too – up 70 litres to 220 litres. And as the ForTwo is being sold in the US from 2008, safety levels have been improved, with new head and side airbags as standard as well as more robust seats. A four-star Euro NCAP crash test rating is also expected.
As for equipment, the Pure model is very basically specified, coming only with central locking and a radio. Its Pulse and Passion stablemates both feature a panoramic roof and alloy wheels. Air-conditioning is standard only on the range-topping Passion. On the options list is portable satellite navigation and an MP3-compatible CD changer. Under the bonnet, there have been some significant alterations to the engine line-up. A new 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol motor, developed with Mitsubishi, comes in three forms: a base 61bhp unit, a more punchy 71bhp version and the range-topping 84bhp turbo.
However, it’s the eagerly awaited CDI diesel that is the pick of the bunch. Developed by Mercedes, the three-cylinder unit features common-rail direct injection and pumps out a healthy 45bhp. Together, these give the little Smart a real turn of speed.
Factor in 80mpg economy, 90g/km emissions plus decent refinement, and it is clearly the star engine. It’s a pity this has yet to be confirmed for the UK. Still, helping the cause is another innovation – a new five-speed semi-auto gearbox. Much less jerky than the previous transmission, it makes for smoother progress in both fully automatic and manual modes.
Indeed, the whole driving experience has grown up. Thanks to the car’s increased wheelbase and wider track, the ForTwo seems more comfortable and stable than ever before. And while the old model could seem out of its depth when travelling on motorways, the newcomer feels much more secure at high speed.
Crucially, it has lost none of its manoeuvrability and boasts the same agility around town. It’s a shame the steering is as low-geared as before and doesn’t provide much feedback, but the ForTwo remains fun to drive.
Those looking for an even more involving experience will be keen on the forthcoming Cabriolet. It has a new fully automatic electric hood that can be raised or lowered to any position.
Prices will stay broadly in line with the current car’s, meaning the Coupé kicks off at around £7,000 in 61bhp Pure form. Given the leaps made, that represents as good value as ever.