Ever cruised around the city trying looking for parking, dreaming of a car that could fit into all those little spots you had to pass up? Here it is: The Smart Fortwo. Did some inconsiderate pickup driver park over the line? No problem. Did an idiot in a Bimmer leave only half a spot between his back bumper and the car behind? With the Smart Fortwo, that spot is yours. The Smart Fortwo makes other minicars look as big as old-school Cadillacs, and if you have to drive in a crowded city, you'll find no better runabout.
Unfortunately, once you head out of the city, the disadvantages begin to pile up. The Smart Fortwo has a hard ride, it accelerates slowly at highway speeds, and the blind spots are huge. You might expect great fuel economy from such a tiny vehicle, but the Fortwo runs on premium fuel, which offsets the savings.
Freshly redesigned just last year, the latest Fortwo is powered by a 0.9-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine that puts out 89 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque. Smart now offers a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic, which shifts much more smoothly (and promptly) than the sequential transmission in the older Smart, as well as a five-speed manual. But the new Smart is heavier than the old one, so acceleration is tepid — we clocked the automatic-equipped car to 60 mph in 10.1 seconds, and the car feels particularly slow to accelerate at higher speeds. EPA fuel economy estimates are 35 mpg combined (33 city/39 highway) for the automatic and 34 mpg combined (31 city/39 highway) for the manual. Smart also makes an electric version called the Fortwo Electric Drive.
The Smart Fortwo has a turning circle of just 22.8 feet, which means it can pull a U-turn on all but the narrowest of alleys. With its high center of gravity and narrow tires, the Smart isn't a great handler, and the ride is abnormally stiff. Short-wheelbase cars generally have a choppy ride, but the Fortwo takes this to a new level: Large bumps have the potential to toss you out of the seat if you aren't strapped in (which, considering the lack of seat comfort, might not be the worst thing).
At least the Fortwo offers decent room; with only two seats, there's plenty of space. The interior design is stylish and well laid out, but the materials feel chintzy. There's no padding on the door armrests, and a center armrest is an extra-cost option. Because the engine is under the trunk floor, trunk space is limited to just 9.2 cubic feet.
Smart sells the Fortwo in Pure, Passion, Prime and Proxy models; the Pure is a basic grocery-getter, the Proxy is brimming with style, and the Passion and Prime live somewhere in between. Let Edmunds help find the perfect 2017 Smart Fortwo for you.
The concept of the Smart car emerged in the early 1990s when the Swiss company Swatch, best known for its kitschy watches, sought to build an affordable city car that would fit into the smallest of parking spots and go easy on fuel. Not too long after, the company paired up with Mercedes-Benz to make the idea a reality. The car was later christened "Smart," an acronym for Swatch Mercedes Art.
The Smart Fortwo, originally dubbed the City Coupe, debuted at the 1997 Frankfurt Auto Show. Although the first generation never made it to the U.S., the tiny two-seater, which persevered through its parent company's financial troubles and an eventual buyout by Daimler-Benz, was later replaced by the slightly larger second-generation Fortwo. Not only is the reworked Fortwo newly available in the States, but an ambitious plan to launch several stand-alone dealerships in the U.S. makes it clear that the Smart brand is serious about competing in the American subcompact market. While its diminutive size and power entail certain on-road limitations, the Fortwo is a worthy candidate for urban commuters who want to maneuver through city congestion and save on gas without giving up the creature comforts of a car.
Current Smart Fortwo
At 8 feet, 10 inches long, the Smart Fortwo is a two-seat subcompact city car and is the smallest production car currently sold in North America. It comes in two body styles: the hatchback Coupe and the convertible Cabrio. The standard trim levels are Pure and the more well-equipped Passion. The Fortwo is powered by a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that produces 71 horsepower and 68 pound-feet of torque and sends its power to the rear wheels through an automated sequential-shift manual transmission.
There's also a limited-edition model from German tuner Brabus that upgrades the Smart with sportier wheels, a stiffer suspension, aerodynamic and cosmetic body cladding, a higher-performing exhaust and heated leather seats.
Because of its Lilliputian proportions (it's more than 3 feet shorter than a Mini Cooper), safety is at the core of the Fortwo design. The engine is in the rear of the car to increase front crumple-zone space, and the car is built around a cage of high-strength steel known as the Tridion safety cell, which helps the Fortwo post passable if unimpressive frontal crash-test scores. Side impact protection is enhanced by the closer placement of axles to the passenger compartment, and the Smart's scores in side-impact crash testing are top-notch. And although the car might look something like a golf cart, standard safety features like side airbags, antilock brakes, stability control and traction control combine to put that comparison to rest.
Fuel economy is another welcome asset of the Smart Fortwo; its EPA rating is 33 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. With its 8.7-gallon gas tank, that makes for a lot of driving between fill-ups, though it's worth noting that premium gasoline is recommended.
In our initial reviews, we found the Smart Fortwo surprisingly comfortable. The interior is roomier than it might appear from the outside -- especially in the passenger seat, which is set back 6 inches for increased legroom. (It also folds flat for extra cargo space.) On the road, however, the Smart's manner is less than graceful over rough pavement. Moreover, while the car is admirably stable at high speeds for such a small vehicle, its slablike side panels and upright posture conspire to make it unsettlingly vulnerable to crosswinds.
We aren't fans of the automated manual transmission either. Gearchanges are sluggish and somewhat jerky. The Fortwo is also one of the slowest vehicles for sale today (zero to 60 mph takes 14.1 seconds) and it has a particularly hard time keeping up with traffic on the highway. Still, the Smart Fortwo is great for tooling around city streets. Buyers who aren't looking to do much more than that will probably be quite satisfied with the Smart car.
Used Smart Fortwo Models
The current (second) generation Fortwo debuted for 2008 and was the first Smart model to go on sale in the U.S. There have been no major changes since, though the Brabus trim level wasn't available for its first year.
Designed primarily for urban cities in Europe, the first-generation Smart Fortwo was originally known as the City Coupe and not sold in North America. It debuted for the 1998 model year and it came with a turbocharged three-cylinder engine that was either gasoline-fueled (initially 599cc of displacement and later 698cc) or diesel-fueled (799cc). The first-generation Smart Fortwo was discontinued after the 2007 model year.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.