Completely redesigned, it was all-new for 2016, so the 2017 Smart ForTwo carries over unchanged.
The big news for this tiny car for 2017: Smart ForTwo Cabrio is back, with a power-controlled cloth roll-back top. It’s a teensy roadster.
This is the second year of a redesign of the Smart ForTwo that made it four inches wider and extended the wheelbase a touch, without making it longer. It also got more standard features and an array of options. There are four models, Pure, Passion, Prime, and Proxy.
Bottom line on Smart: If parking in tight spaces is your highest priority in owning a car, then Smart is for you. With a turning circle of 22.8 feet and length of 8.8 feet, the Smart ForTwo will squeeze easily into the small spaces of a big city. If you never need cargo space, the Smart is for you. If don’t mind paying for high-octane premium fuel to get 89 horsepower, the Smart is for you.
The Smart uses a turbocharged 0.9-liter three-cylinder engine mounted between the rear wheels and lying on its side. It makes 89 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque, with a 5-speed gearbox standard, or available 6-speed dual-clutch automatic. Smart says four out of five buyers take the automatic. It accelerates from zero to sixty in 10.1 seconds.
EPA-rated Combined city and highway fuel mileage is 35 miles per gallon.
We’re not sure why the Smart Fortwo hasn’t been crash tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). All models come standard with eight airbags, as well as electronic Crosswind Assist, which helps keep Smart straight in the wind. Forward-collision warning is available as an option.
We found the build quality to be good, with no squeaks or rattles. The Smart ForTwo is built in France.
Smart ForTwo comes with power windows, central locking, LED daytime running lights, cruise control, power steering, steering-wheel controls, CD player, Bluetooth.
The Tridion safety cage determines the perky styling with snub nose. The short hood doesn’t slope so much, so from the driver’s seat it looks like a bigger car. Because it’s tall for its short length, and slab-sided except for a beltline bulge, and because wheels stretch the outside corners of the vehicle, it can sometimes appear to be wider than it is long.
The Cabrio retains the roof’s crossbar between the rear pillars, but the beams over the doors can be removed to expose more of the sky. The Smart trademarked Tridion safety cell is strong from the windshield along the roofline to the rear pillar wrapping the door.
It doesn’t really have a grille, just hexagonal holes in the sheetmetal in front. LED running lights make it appear it’s doing its best to be seen. The side windows have no frames, and the hatch is split horizontally, like the tailgate on an old-school SUV.
The second-generation Smart finally has a simple, modern interior that comes in a number of colors. There’s a small instrument panel behind the steering wheel, and a 3.5-inch color display with bits of information, as well as a touchscreen display at the central console with some knobs and dials. The tachometer is squeezed on top of the dash next to the windshield pillar.
The dashboard and door inserts are covered with a coarse-grained cloth surface, while the seats come in cloth or leather, with contrasting stitching available. You can turn the tiny cabin into your happy space, with the eight-speaker, 240-watt sound system. You could add smartphone integration, navigation system with real-time traffic and weather data, and the ability to turn things on and off in your car from a distance, using the Cross Connect app.
The seats are comfortable if a bit short, and they’re high so visibility is good. Surprisingly, there’s still ample headroom and adequate legroom, even for tall people. The engine sits under the high floor behind the seats, and there’s a retractable cargo cover behind the seats. Cargo space is 9.2 cubic feet, which is more than the Mini Cooper’s 8.7 cubic feet, and less than the Fiat 500 with 9.5 cubic feet.
Interior quality is not first rate and there is a lack of cargo/storage space. Two cupholders, small door pockets, a clever drawer under the center console that slides open into the passenger footwell. Instead of a spare tire there’s tire sealant with inflator, stored under a cover under the feet of the passenger.
The cabin is mostly quiet, except there’s tire noise when the road surface is coarse, and if you’re revving the engine real high, forget about having a conversation. Inconveniently, the Smart engine works best at high revs.
Compared to the previous Smart, the ride is great. The suspension soaks up way more bumps. Its acceleration is livable, at 10 seconds from zero to sixty. Its 89 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque are a huge increase over the 70 and 68 of the first-generation Smart. The handling is good, for a car with a high center of gravity, heavy rear end, and very short wheelbase. Mostly it feels secure at highway speeds; only one of our testers was terrified behind the wheel. Because the little engine has to push at and above 70 mph, passing semi-trucks on the freeway takes nerve and planning.
Would we take the Smart on a road trip? Sure. But that’s us.
We would be among the four out of five buyers who choose the dual-clutch 6-speed automatic transmission. The standard manual 5-speed has long throws and a loose gate, and because there isn’t much early torque, you have to slip the clutch some to get the Smart going. The engine is most responsive from 4000 rpm to redline 6500.
The shift points of the 6-speed dual-clutch are matched well to the engine.
The Smart grips well, on its 16-inch rear and 15-inch front tires. The electronic traction control is aggressive, because a car with dynamics like this can be tail-happy. You can’t turn it off. The internet is alive with a video of some fool and creative mechanical genius who put a 250-or-more-hp 1.3-liter turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle engine in a Smart.
When the Smart was widened, the wheelwells were reshaped to allow sharper turning, so you can make a quick U-turn in a city street to snatch that parking space on the other side.
The bar for the 2017 Smart isn’t that high. This latest version is way better than the old Smart. What the Smart has going for it is that some people find it cool and cute. Practically speaking, for $16,000, the cost of a bare-bones Smart, you can get a number of great cars with competitive fuel mileage.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with driving impressions by The Car Connection.