Smart ForTwo micro car
Price: £9,575 - £15,375
- Easy to park
- Cheap to run – especially diesel
- Distinctive looks
- Auto gearbox is jerky
- Only two seats
- Poor performance out of town
“The Smart ForTwo diesel is one of the most fuel-efficient cars money can buy - and the easiest to park, too.”
For a long time, the Smart ForTwo (sometimes known as the Smart car) was by far the smallest car on sale in the UK. But with other micro cars and electric “cars” like the Renault Twizy now zipping about towns and cities (who would drive one in the countryside?), the Smart is not the novelty it once was. If you purely drive in the city, then it is still a good choice and the new model's looks remain distinct, still bringing a smile to people's faces. Then there are it's tiny dimensions, which make it beyond easy to park – in fact, because it's as wide as it is long, you can even park at right angles to the kerb or side on in tight parking bays. Running costs and emissions are both low, too. The trade off inevitably is the total lack of space – the ForTwo just isn’t designed for anything other than A to B city urban motoring. If you plan to use the motorway or large A-roads regularly, you’d be much better off with the slightly larger (and, interestingly, cheaper) Hyundai i10 or Toyota iQ, which are much more capable at higher speeds. But if you must go smart, we’d suggest the Electric Drive EV model, because while its range isn’t great, it plays up the car's existing strengths as a city runabout. The Smart ForTwo is available in three specifications – entry-level pulse, mid-range passion and top-of-the-range BRABUS Xclusive.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The diesel is road-tax-free
All models of the ForTwo return more than 50mpg in fuel economy. Cars fitted with the 83bhp engine return 54.3mpg and only incur £30 per year road tax, while the 70bhp is even better, returning 62.8mpg and cost just £20 in annual tax. But the real star of the range is the diesel, which returns an excellent 85.6mpg and emits only 86g/km in CO2, so it's free for road tax. As you can imagine, insurance is also very cheap.
Interior & comfort
The standard semi-automatic gearbox is jerky
When you look at a Smart car, do you think it looks comfortable? No, so while the seats are supportive, almost every aspect of the car is not designed for your comfort. The small three-cylinder engine is mounted at the back, behind the seats, and it gets very whiny when under heavier acceleration. There's no real problem when zipping about town, but it does quickly become annoying on longer journeys. And that's not the main minus. That is the semi-automatic gearbox that is fitted as standard. It's extremely clunky and is massively over-sensitive when accelerating – you almost have to caress the pedal to stop it from lurching back and forward when you pull out of junctions. Everything about the ForTwo screams “only use me for short journeys!”.
Practicality & boot space
There is up to 340 litres of storage space available
Simply: It's not practical. Having said that, the boot isn’t as bad as you might think, with 220 litres of space at your disposal. If you load it all the way up to the roof, that increases to a reasonable 340 litres. The trade-off is that it's strictly a two-seater. The split tailgate has a section that you can fold down and rest items on while you’re loading, which does help quite a lot if you’re trying to load (a small amount) of shopping, while the back rest of the passenger seat can also be folded flat if required.
Reliability & safety
Driver and passenger airbags are standard
The first clue is that the ForTwo itself doesn’t figure at all in the 2013 Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. The second is that Smart comes dead last in the poll's manufacturers list, dropping three places – which is doubly bad because there were two less spots in 2012. But what does that really mean? Well, while the ForTwo is undeniably cheap to run and you wouldn’t expect a city micro-car to win any awards for practicality, virtually all other aspects seem to drive owners up the wall. So, buying a Smart may well be a case of heart over head, or simply a desire to be able to park side on in tight city parking bays. There haven’t been any of the electric problems that blighted the original Smart in the new model, so at least that's an improvement. But it's not like they look robust, is it? Also, in a day and age when it is becoming standard practice to ensure your new car gets a maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, the ForTwo's four stars is a little troubling. On the other hand, a glass half full perspective would be that it's impressive that such a small, light car can do that well. Driver and passenger airbags and electronic stability control are all fitted as standard, but side airbags are an optional extra. An engine immobiliser also comes as standard, but you’ll have to pay more for a lockable glove compartment on basic models. If you go for the Electric Drive, the battery capacity is guaranteed for the duration of the battery lease.
Engines, drive & performance
Nippy in town, but size counts against it on motorways
We wouldn’t even think about taking a ForTwo out of the city onto the motorway. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine comes with 70bhp, 83bhp or 101bhp power outputs, while the 800cc turbodiesel model produces 54bhp. The most basic 70bhp version offers the best mix of nippy city performance and reasonable economy, while the 101bhp version is only available in the top-spec BRABUS version. You don’t get power steering as standard, but we’d suggest paying the extra to get it installed, because without it the steering becomes very heavy for such a small car. On the plus side, general visibility is good all round, while the tiny turning circle allows you to drive in, out and through gaps that other cars could only dream about attempting in busy urban traffic. Once outside the town or city, the ForTwo really doesn’t inspire confidence, feeling very small indeed next to larger cars and lorries. Plus, there isn’t a huge amount of grip to keep you stable if jostled by motorway crosswinds or the wake of articulated lorries.
Price, value for money & options
Resale values are decent
As is the standard practice with this type of car, the entry-level pulse is cheap to buy, but equipment is decidedly lacking. You do get air-conditioning, alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity and electric windows, though. Mid-spec passion models add some more “upmarket” extras like sat-nav and a panoramic glass roof, while the sporty BRABUS comes with heated leather seats and a chunkier exterior look.
What the others say
It may be flawed but there's still plenty of appeal in Smart's ForTwo. It looks as distinctive as ever, is full of character thanks to a rorty three-cylinder turbocharged engine and, perhaps most important of all for town dwellers, can be parked anywhere.
Thanks to its characteristic shape and diminutive size, the Smart Fortwo is instantly recognisable. This is the second generation model, but the styling is a gentle evolution of the first with the more angular headlights the most notable change. As before, it's great fun to drive in town and very nippy away from the lights, while it's still possible to park in nose first into parallel spaces thanks to an overall length of little more than 2.5 metres. It's certainly more comfortable than before with a better quality interior, but the ride is still very hard and the automatic-only gearbox has very laboured shifts, which quickly becomes frustrating on open roads.
Smart owners can park where other drivers wouldn't even consider, and its running costs and emissions are very low.
Turns out their first idea was their best – a city car so abbreviated it made everything else look clinically obese. And it's still the only true radical out there.
Last updated: 13 Jan 2014