Smart ForTwo Coupe Passion

Ultimate city car continues to make a very strong case for itself

  • Solid build of the original car hasn’t been compromised, the cockpit has a bright and airy feel, nippy around town,
  • Road manners are less than smooth, throttle response is jerky and changes slow.

AMAZINGLY, the Smart ForTwo has been around for 10 years now. And while it has become a familiar sight, it caused a real stir when it was first unveiled. In reinventing the concept of a true city car, Smart introduced a model that was unlike anything ever sold in the European market before.

Last year saw the second generation arrive, as the German manufacturer aimed to set new standards of comfort, agility and refinement. But in terms of looks, Smart has stuck with the original shape, claiming that it wants to retain the car’s unique character and packaging.

This means it still has the visible Tridion safety cell and plastic body panels, along with a rear-engined layout. But a number of subtle changes have been carried out. Both the head and tail-lamps have been redesigned, and each panel and detail is subtly different.

The ForTwo is larger than the car it replaces; it’s slightly wider and 195mm longer, too, while the wheelbase has gained 55mm. Nevertheless, it’s 850mm shorter than the Fiat. This means it is ideal for city driving – and you can still park the nose to the kerb. But the consequence is that the Smart can’t compete with its four-seat rivals here.

Practicality is surprisingly good, though. Luggage space is up from 150 litres to 220 litres (nearly 50 per cent bigger than the MINI) and the front passenger seat folds forward to carry long loads. The split tailgate is another useful feature.

The cabin has a real quality feel, too. All the switchgear is robust, and aside from some flimsy air vent controls, the finish is excellent, while the fabric dash is a good alternative to bare plastics.

Confusingly, our high-spec Passion model doesn’t get extras such as the pod-shaped rev counter and clock, or the steering wheel-mounted gearshifters, even though they are standard on the cheaper Pulse model. Instead, buyers benefit from air-con and a luggage compartment cover.

Although the ForTwo is available with only one engine – the all-aluminium 1.0-litre developed in conjunction with Mitsubishi – it comes in four different outputs, ranging from 61bhp to 98bhp for the flagship Brabus. The Passion model is available with an 84bhp turbo, but our car has a normally aspirated 71bhp unit. This provides decent performance, partly thanks to the low kerbweight of only 750kg. The top speed is limited to 92mph, but it covers 0-60mph in 13.8 seconds. Although this isn’t as quick as the more powerful MINI, the ForTwo is nippy from a standstill and showed the 500 a clean pair of heels.

Unfortunately, the automated box has hesitant shifts, and there’s a pause between gears which causes the car to lurch forward as it changes up. Thanks to the engine’s characterful nature and offbeat thrum, nipping round town is enjoyable, but it’s not easy to crawl along in traffic. The steering is heavy and the jerky throttle makes tight manoeuvres such as parking far from smooth. The large windscreen means visibility is excellent, although you do feel a lot more vulnerable than in the MINI and Fiat.

Due to the short wheelbase and firm ride, the Smart is jarring over broken surfaces, and through corners it feels nervous, with numb steering. The brake pedal is vague, too, so stopping progessively isn’t easy, while motorway journeys are noisy and tiring.

But it’s good value and comes very well equipped, with alloy wheels, air-conditioning and electric windows as standard – only the Fiat can match it for kit. Plus, the Smart is the cheapest car here, undercutting the 500 by £760. It’s just a pity there are only two airbags.

Details

Price: £8,540Model tested: Smart ForTwo PassionChart position: 3WHY: Brilliantly packaged and well built, the tiny ForTwo is focused on being the ultimate city car.

Economy

the ForTwo has the lowest kerbweight – it tips the scales at 750kg – and claims the best economy, at 60.1mpg. But because you need to rev the Smart’s 999cc engine hard, it averaged only 43.3mpg during its time with us.

Residuals

over the course of three years, the ForTwo is likely to lose £4,168 of its price when new. That’s an impressive resale figure of 51.2 per cent – although the fact it’s not the best in this test shows how strong this sector performs.

Servicing

Considering its penny-pinching image we were surprised at how costly the ForTwo is to maintain. The first three services cost £830, and the brand finished a dismal 29th out of 32 in our Driver Power 2007 dealer survey.

Tax

WHILE it’s unlikely to be the most obvious choice for business users, the Smart is the cheapest car to own in this company. Lower-band owners shell out only £282 a year in tax – that’s over £100 less than the MINI One.

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