The Smart fortwo has been completely redesigned for the first time, for the 2016 model year. First seen in Europe more than 15 years ago, the Smart car reached America in 2008.
The all-new 2016 Smart fortwo boasts considerably greater refinement and it’s much wider than before.
As the fortwo model name suggests, the Smart car is strictly a two-passenger model. It’s also one of the most easily recognizable vehicles on the street. As before, the fortwo is the shortest car sold in the U.S.
Though only 8.8 feet long, the 2016 Smart fortwo is nearly 4 inches wider than previously, which makes it feel more like a compact car, until you realize that the back window is only two feet away. At the front, the familiar stub nose remains, but fresh styling with a better-defined hood comes across as jauntier than before.
While relatively simple, the cabin features various rounded forms. Gauges and a 3.5-inch color display occupy a small cluster ahead of the driver, surrounded by the speedometer.
Diverse interior trim gives each trim level a distinct character. An Edition #1 special trim package will be offered only for the 2016 model year.
The powertrain configuration is unchanged, with the engine mounted on its side, between the back wheels. Now equipped with a turbocharger, the 0.9-liter three-cylinder develops 89 horsepower, plus 100 pound-feet of torque (versus the previous 70 hp and 68 pound-feet). A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a 6-speed dual-clutch automated transmission optional.
Gas mileage is not as thrifty as you might imagine for such a small car: The 2016 Smart fortwo is EPA-rated at 32/39 mpg City/Highway, or 35 mpg Combined, with the standard 5-speed manual. With the optional 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual, it’s rated 34/39 mpg, 36 mpg Combined. As with the previous generation, Premium gasoline is required.
Few cars come anywhere close to the Smart fortwo’s maneuverability, with a 22.8-foot turning circle (curb to curb). In addition to urban capabilities, the redesigned model has become way more capable in highway driving. Standard Crosswind Assist, for instance, helps keep the car in its lane when gusty side winds blow, automatically steering and braking to counteract sideways motion.
Forward-collision warning is optional. A rearview camera and dashboard-mounted navigation will be offered in the 2017 model year.
A redesigned Electric Drive model and a fabric-roof Cabrio will arrive for 2017. Meanwhile, the battery version continues to use the first-generation design for 2016.
The new structure contains about 75 percent high-strength steel. The redesigned model has not yet been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Made in France, Smart cars are part of the Mercedes-Benz group. Eight airbags are standard.
The 2016 Smart fortwo comes in four trim levels. A manual transmission is standard, a dual-clutch transmission is additional ($990).
Smart fortwo Pure ($14,650) includes automatic climate control, cruise control, power steering, power windows, steering-wheel controls, Bluetooth, LED daytime running lights, and 15-inch steel wheels. Passion ($16,140) gets a two-tone interior (black/orange, white, or grey), heated power mirrors, retractable cargo cover, and alloy wheels. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Smart fortwo Prime ($17,490) adds black leather seats, a silver safety cell, heated seats, panoramic roof, exterior LED lighting, foglamps, and rain/light sensor. Proxy ($18,480) gets a white Tridion safety cell and vibrant blue/white interior, plus 16-inch alloy wheels and an eight-speaker, 240-watt JBL sound system.
Edition #1 package has an orange Tridion safety cell with white body panels, black 16-inch wheels, LED lighting, and panoramic sunroof. Upholstery and dashboard blend black, grey, and orange.
Recognizable as a short but tall Smart car, the fortwo has a blunter nose in a more traditional front end than before. Outlining the slab-sided body structure, the distinctive Tridion safety cell is typically of contrasting color. In addition to helping identify the car, it highlights the strong structure.
For 2016, only the solid-roof Coupe body is offered. Continued from the first-generation are fixed windows to the rear of each door. A bulge above the beltline holds the door handle. The grille features a pattern of various-size hexagons. At the rear, the upper half of the split tailgate opens, while the lower portion folds down.
Changes are more substantial inside, yielding a modern look, far removed from the original utilitarian cabin. Coarse-grained fabric surfaces decorate the dashboard and doors. Seats may have cloth or leather upholstery. The tachometer occupies a pod atop the dashboard.
Headroom is ample and leg space adequate, even for occupants over six feet tall. Comfortable front seats have cushions that are a tad short. A high seating position helps visibility. Only when backing up are you likely to become aware of the cabin’s shortness.
At 9.2 cubic feet, the cargo bay nearly matches the Fiat 500 and beats the Mini Cooper. The cargo cover may be removed and stored behind the seats. Storage space is restricted to door pockets, twin cupholders, and a drawer under the console.
First-generation Smart cars had problems with ride comfort, noise, and dual-clutch transmission operation, but the redesigned car is quieter and smoother. For such a small car, noise is effectively suppressed. Additional power, plus a turning circle that’s even tighter than before, make it a proficient urban wanderer. Better yet, highway travel feels way more secure.
For the first time, a manual gearbox is available. Still, about four-fifths of buyers are expected to pay for the automated dual-clutch transmission. Partly because the manual gearbox has surprisingly long throws between each gear, with a rather loose shift gate, we think the dual-clutch unit is the better choice. Its shift points nicely matched the tiny engine.
Despite weighing some 200 pounds more, the 2016 Smart accelerates more briskly than its predecessor, though it’s still leisurely. With the manual transmission, we had to rev the engine relatively high to start off smartly.
Overall, handling is good, as the car grips the pavement tenaciously. Traction control limits potential problems that can occur in a tall, rear-engined car with such a short wheelbase.
As for agility, a fortwo can make a U-turn nearly anywhere. You can also maneuver sharply through urban traffic, then slip tidily into parking spots that couldn’t begin to hold a conventional mini-sized car.
Ride comfort is noticeably improved, helped by a wider track and slightly longer wheelbase. Stability is better, and the current model absorbs pavement irregularities with greater ease.
The 2016 Smart fortwo retains its visual identity, while upgrading the interior. Performance and road behavior have improved substantially, increasing its ability to provide comfortable highway trips, as well as ease through commuter traffic. Still, plenty of five-passenger cars are cheaper. Many deliver better gas mileage and, unlike the Smart car, don’t demand Premium gasoline.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.