Used buyer's guide: Smart ForTwo

20 Sep, 2012 4:00pm Richard Dredge

The distinctive Smart ForTwo city car is a great used buy for urban dwellers


The Smart’s tiny proportions are both a blessing and a curse. Although it’s the perfect size for zipping around town, a firm ride and short wheelbase mean it’s uncomfortable on potholed or speed bump-infested roads. The boot is also cramped, but when it comes to carrying people safely, you’ll be amazed at what the Smart can do. It’s ideal for young drivers, who can take no more than one friend along for the ride, and it’s a great car for people who like to get noticed, too.

Few cars of the past decade have divided opinion as much as the Smart ForTwo. Brilliant but flawed, this is a city car with a difference thanks to its cute looks, great engineering and astonishing body strength. Yet it’s also quite expensive for a car that’s only really suited to urban dwellers.

Nippy, cheap to run and quite practical despite its compact dimensions, the Smart makes a lot more sense than you’d think. However, you should only buy one after careful consideration.


The Smart ForTwo MkII, known internally as the 451, arrived in autumn 2007 in Coupe and Cabrio forms. There was initially a choice of 61bhp, 71bhp or 84bhp three-cylinder 999cc petrol power, in Pure, Pulse and Passion trims, plus the sporty 97bhp Brabus.

The ForTwo CDI, with a 799cc diesel engine, reached the UK in June 2009. A September 2010 facelift brought reduced CO2 emissions for most of the petrol engines, plus more equipment and new colours inside and out. A further refresh earlier this year added LED daytime running lights, a reprofiled nose and improved cabin materials.


The alternatives have at least twice as many seats and often five doors, too. Its closest competitor is the Toyota iQ, which is extremely compact and has a high-quality finish. The iQ is best viewed as a two-seater, even though there are actually four seats.

The Fiat Panda provides more space and practicality than the Smart, with decent reliability, too, while the MkII Ford Ka isn’t as much fun as its predecessor, but it’s very usable. If you want more style, a Fiat 500 is worth a look. Finally, the Kia Picanto is a tempting choice, thanks to its reliability and practicality.


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Biggest drawback is the gearbox, it's terrible, often refuses to change up, sometimes changes back down again without any reason. Mpg figures are a joke in daily use... don't forget this is aimed at stop start, short journeys, the mpg figures for any car aren't based in the real world. I generally get mid-high 30's, no more! On the plus side the special editions (try UrbanStyle) come loaded with more kit than you can shake a stick at, SatNav, DVD player, heated leather seats etc... search them out.

It's got a fairly poor record with reliability, changing the alternator or starter motor is effectively an engine out job. If either fails the car won't start. The rear window leaks, the doors distort under moderate pressure.

Drive hard and it needs more frequent service pussy foot and you may never have to service the car.

To get the best from the gearbox you need to drive the car properly, not just plant your foot on the power.

I have driven a large number of Mercedes derived tip-tronic gearboxes and all need driving properly, point and squirt just doesn't make for a smooth ride.

Makes most sense if you live on or near a bus route, as the public MPV will fill in for those days when your smartie won't go.

The biggest downside is the attitude of Mercedes Dealers who are indifferent to the marque even on shared sites and you pay premium prices for all work done. If you have a smart specialist in your town the car almost makes sense, but otherwise forget it, few of us want to pay £100-125.00/hr for a basic service.

I looked long and hard at the smart as a commuter car but its running costs even in diesel forms are not all they are cracked up to be. Flawed it is and compromised it will remain but perfect for urban life? Ya having a laugh Auto Express!

Hold on - windscreen stuck to paint, paint not stuck to body? OK, windscreen now fixed, but what about the whole of the rest of the body with it's paint not stuck on properly? What chance for long term corrosion durability? One little stone chip doeth a rust bucket make...