By far the smallest vehicle on sale in the United States, the smart fortwo is a truly unique two-passenger subcompact car with a surprisingly large interior for its Lilliputian dimensions. Though its middling fuel economy, jerky transmission and poor highway manners will turn off some buyers, those seeking a nimble and easy-to-park city runabout should look no further.
Along with its quasi-convertible cabriolet sibling, the smart fortwo (the automaker eschews capitol letters in its nomenclature) received a modest facelift for the latest model year. While the tall and narrow overall shape doesn't change, the model received a new front fascia with a revised lower air intake that gives it a more aggressive look. The grille was also slightly redrawn, and it now incorporates the smart logo. Around back, the bumper was restyled to match the fresh front end.
The fortwo's diminutive overall length of 8.8 feet (approximately 40 inches shorter than a MINI Cooper) remains the same, with the generously sized interior carrying over as well. Up front, there's plenty of leg and headroom for the driver and passenger, and unique offset seat positioning puts the passenger six inches behind the driver for extra shoulder space. Though decidedly spartan in base models, the fortwo's interior features quality materials, a well laid-out dashboard and intuitive controls.
Given its nanoscale exterior dimensions, the fortwo's eight cubic feet of trunk space (or twelve if cargo is stacked up to the ceiling) is impressive.
As one would expect, the fortwo excels in the city, where it can zip through traffic and fit in the smallest of parking spaces. It's much less at home on the highway, where its small weight and wheelbase make it a bit darty and susceptible to crosswinds.
Three-cylinder motor, "automated manual" transmission
Mounted at the rear of the fortwo is a 1.0-liter three-cylinder motor that produces 70 horsepower and 68 lb-ft of torque. The tiny engine sends power to the rear wheels via a rough-shifting single-clutch automated manual transmission that tends to lurch like a teenager learning to drive stick for the first time. Acceleration is adequate for city driving, though passing maneuvers are best planned in advance on the highway.
Fuel economy is rated at 34 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway, which is somewhat mediocre considering that many larger non-hybrid vehicles can achieve 40 mpg or better on the highway. Premium fuel is required.
Trim Level Breakdown
The fortwo is offered in entry-level Pure and up-market Passion trim levels.
The Pure is something of a bare-bones model, making do without standard air-conditioning, power locks, power windows or a radio (all of which can be tacked on as extra-cost options). It does include a long list of safety features (detailed below), however.
The Passion brings all the aforementioned features that the Pure lacks in addition to a panoramic sunroof, a smart radio with USB and AUX inputs, a three-spoke leather steering wheel with paddle shifters and 15-inch alloy wheels (the Pure has steel wheels of the same diameter with hubcaps).
Options include a navigation system, heated seats, a surround sound stereo and LED daytime running lights.
With full-size SUVs, enormous pickups and gargantuan 18-wheelers roaming the roads, smart knew that it had take special care in ensuring that the fortwo would protect its occupants in event of a collision. The car was designed from the outset with safety in mind and features a reinforced high-strength steel tridion safety cell, dual front, side, side-curtain and knee-bolster airbags, traction and stability control systems and ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution.
The smart fortwo is the smallest subcompact in the U.S., but those not set on having the most diminutive car at any cost may also want to check out the Fiat 500 and the Scion iQ. There are also slightly larger subcompacts such as the Ford Fiesta, Mazda Mazda2 or MINI Cooper to consider.