The latest Smart ForTwo has a hard task ahead of it. Not only does it need to appeal to the same people who fell in love with the innovative original, it also has to compete against established, conventional city cars like the Volkswagen up!, Skoda Citigo, Hyundai i10 and Fiat Panda. Those are all cheaper and more practical than the Smart ForTwo. So is the Smart special enough to succeed?
When the original Smart ForTwo was launched, it was intended to be the ultimate city car. It was the only real car you could buy that could be parked nose-on to the keb without obstructing traffic, thanks to its very short length. It made short work of nipping around congested city streets and its lightness helped make it very economical, as it meant only a tiny engine was necessary.
All very welcome attributes, but the sad truth was that the original Smart was somewhat flawed. To keep its tall body stable the suspension had to be firm and, as a result the ride was terrible. It also felt vulnerable in traffic and was light enough to be badly affected by strong winds. Its gearbox was also jerky and slow to change gear.
Today’s ForTwo is more mature, very accomplished and much improved overall. The layout hasn’t changed – the engine is still at the back, but the car now feels a lot more stable and planted than before and has a far superior gearbox; a six-speed, twin-clutch sequential that makes gear changes far more slick.
Although it's still a strict two-seater, the improvements are part of a development program that also resulted in the Smart ForFour, itself a near-twin of the Renault Twingo. These are both also tiny rear-engined city cars, but are longer, with a pair of back seats.
When choosing a Smart ForTwo you can go for one of two three-cylinder petrol engines, both of which have reasonable running costs. The least expensive is a 1.0-litre, which makes the car feel a little sluggish. We think it’s worth paying the extra for the 0.9-litre engine. It’s turbocharged, giving it more power and making it a lot easier to live with. You can also get a version of this engine tuned by Mercedes performance specialist Brabus, with power boosted from 89 to 108bhp, plus tweaks to the steering, suspension and gearbox for a sportier drive.
There's no mistaking the upright, dinky Smart ForTwo for any other car. Like the previous model it can be instantly recognised by its Tridion safety cell, which is picked out in a different colour to the rest of the car. You can further personalise your ForTwo, both outside and in, with a range of personalisation options.
The Smart ForTwo has never been a budget choice and there’s no danger of things being any different for the new model. However, its price tag does at least include plenty of standard equipment. LED daytime running lights are fitted, as is climate control and an engine start-stop system for enhanced fuel economy. Cruise-control is another surprising inclusion.
However it can’t be denied that it costs markedly more than the competition which consists some very capable cars from VW, Skoda, Hyundai and Fiat. Justifying the extra cost of the Smart ForTwo is likely to depend on how much you value the car's quirky layout and styling.