Smart Fortwo: road test
Nippy and easy to park, but tight for space… and pricey.
What is it?
The Smart Fortwo is a dinky little two-seater coupé less than three metres long, with a rear engine driving the rear wheels. It is the smallest car made by Smart, the Mercedes-Benz sub-brand.
How safe is it?
A car this size is just about as small as they come, primarily a city vehicle, for mostly urban use. In Euro NCAP testing it gained a four-star rating, with a score of 82 per cent for occupant protection.
Who should buy one?
A commuter looking for something nippy and easy to park in tight urban spaces, a city-dwelling couple with a very small garage slot, or a school-run single parent with just one offspring.
Road test by Sue Baker, published 21 May 2015
DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
Tucked in at the back of the Fortwo is a turbocharged three-cylinder, 898cc petrol engine, with an 89bhp power output. That doesn’t sound very gutsy, but it does not have particularly strenuous work to do in propelling a car that weighs well under a tonne: its kerb weight is just 880kg. So the performance, coaxed out via the five-speed manual gearbox, feels reasonably lively, and the acceleration time from a standing start to the benchmark 62 mph is a respectable 10 and a half seconds.
The top speed is lower than that of most modern cars, at 96 mph. That’s hardly a problem, though, when the maximum legal speed limit in Britain is 70mph. Although this is clearly ideally a city car, the Fortwo can hold its own perfectly well at motorway pace. It does not feel sluggish or out of its depth, and keeps up with the traffic very respectably.
Cruise at 70mph on a gusty day, though, and you do notice the effect of side-winds buffeting the short-wheelbase little car, especially when passing any large truck. You can find yourself gripping hard on the steering wheel to keep it on a straight course. It can also be a bit intimidating to be in such a small vehicle with huge lorries bearing down on you.
You might expect that as a rear-wheel-drive car, the Fortwo would be fun to drive, but it isn’t particularly so. The steering is a little on the light side, and could do with a bit more feel. Handling is reasonably tidy, but you wouldn’t want to push the car too hard along a twisty road. Ride quality is generally okay, but this is a car that you would tend to buy much more for its compact convenience than its driving calibre.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Elbow room isn’t exactly generous in the Fortwo, although just a little better in the new Fortwo than the older model. Make no mistake, this is a very small car – and feels it. It has a very short wheelbase of less than two metres, and there is only room inside for a pair of seats, while most of its rivals have double that.
Even so, the Fortwo isn’t entirely impractical. The side doors are large enough to give perfectly acceptable access to the seats. Plus the boot space is quite reasonable at 350 litres, so it is perfectly possible to do a fairly large haul of weekly grocery shopping at the supermarket and carry all the bags home in the Fortwo’s luggage bay.
It is the Fortwo’s external dimensions that are its strongest asset for practicality. The short length and very tight turning circle make it very manoeuvrable in awkward urban spaces. This little car will fit with ease into the smallest garage, and it is a joy to slot into gaps in multi-storey car parks.
It’s a bit of a worry that in any unlucky collision, the Fortwo is likely to be dwarfed by whatever hits it. Another concern is the way the little car is affected by windy weather on a motorway, where it tends to get buffeted. But it hasn’t fared too badly in Euro NCAP crash-test assessment, scoring four stars overall and 80 per cent-plus for both adult and child occupant safety.
A handy piece of standard kit on the Fortwo is a split tailgate, so you can open just the upper part to pop something quickly into the boot. The car also comes with a standard multi-function steering wheel, big storage bins on the doors and two cupholders. The best-equipped Proxy model has a standard panoramic glass roof, climate control, leather steering wheel, touch-screen audio with satnav, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The Smart Fortwo range starts from £11,125 and rises to nearly £14,000. That’s quite pricey for such a tiny car with only two seats, when there are four-seat rivals for similar money that are more fun to drive and include some – such as the Volkswagen Up!, Skoda Citigo and Seat Mii, that have a five-star Euro NCAP rating. However the Fortwo is reasonably inexpensive to run, with good economy and low insurance.
Nippy and easy to park, but tight for space and pricey.
AT A GLANCE:
Performance: 0-60mph in 10.4 seconds
Economy: 67.3mpg combined
Insurance: Group 3
Tax: Band A (£0 first year)
Figures for the Fortwo Proxy