The Short Game Gets an Upgrade
If you’re an urban commuter or daily life includes a lot of short city trips, the 2016 Smart ForTwo looks appealing. But it’s really an impractical form of transportation not designed for mass appeal and likely won’t attain it even with a new drivetrain, slightly larger dimensions, new styling and a new interior for 2016.
As the name suggests, this is a two-seater available as a coupe or, for those who like the feel of wind blowing their hair, a cabriolet. There’s also a battery-electric version arriving later this year.
Smart pricing was once aggressive, but not anymore. Prices start at $15,400 for the base Pure with a five-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automated manual is available for an additional
$990 on all models.
Standard feature highlights for the Pure include power windows, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity and streaming audio.
From there, the price jumps are significant for a two-seater. The Passion model is priced at $16,890, followed by the $18,240 Prime and the top of the range Proxy is a lofty $19,230. All prices include the destination charge.
New For 2016
The 2016 Smart ForTwo is the smallest car Americans will likely ever get into. The diminutive 106 inches from tip to tail remains the same; it’s still a shade over five feet tall, but it is now four inches wider, so it is more sure-footed.
Under the skin are the big changes. New is a rear-mounted 1.0-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine (no typo) driving the rear wheels. It produces a not very ferocious 89 horsepower and 100 pounds-feet of torque. Unfortunately, premium grade fuel is still required.
Smart says the new car will reach 60 mph in 10.5 seconds with the automatic transmission, 10.1 seconds with the manual. That’s a two-second improvement from the outgoing model.
Perhaps the biggest news is a new dual-clutch six-speed transmission that replaces one that likely turned away many prospective buyers. This new one is way smoother and gives predictable shifts.
Cute and Cool
The wedge-shaped Smart can be best described as cute and cool. Designers gave the 2016 edition a new look up front with a pronounced hood that gives the car a more substantial appearance.
But the ForTwo does come with an odd feeling when one notices that each of the doors runs almost the entire length of the car.
For a tyke of a car, the ForTwo’s cabin is very spacious. Slipping into the seats finds more than adequate headroom for the over six-foot folks with generous legroom to boot. The increased width means the driver and passenger no longer mingle their DNA.
Rear cargo space will surprise even the Costco shopper. The passenger seat does fold flat, opening up 12.1 cubic feet of space.
As for additional storage, it’s also sparse. There’s a small shelf above the glove box, a small bin by the passenger’s legs and two door pockets. Want a place to put your phone? For $100 you can add a dash-mounted cradle.
Of course the 2016 Smart ForTwo isn’t intended to be a vacation trip car.
A new dashboard design follows the trend of a floating tablet protruding from the center, and the dash has a mesh-like material meant to emulate high-quality running shoes. It looks and feels more like something in a car that’s twice the price. The feeling carries over to the steering wheel and gearshift, both of which are good size.
Visibility out front and the sides is excellent. Not so out the back because the rear glass is fairly small.
Smart has upped its technology game with the Cross Connect system. It’s a clever move that integrates smartphones as an extension of the car’s controls. Using a free app, users can control audio, navigation and phone functions. The app is also a guide to small parking spaces set aside for Smart cars.
With a car that casts a shadow somewhat larger than a golf cart, the question of safety comes to mind.
The safety cell around the passenger compartment is super strong. And the lower floor is part of a well-designed crash structure that uses the wheels, engine and axle to absorb and dissipate crash energy.
There are dual front airbags, plus side head and thorax bags. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes, an electronic stability control system and Crosswind Assist are standard.
Driving the Smart ForTwo
Large doors made it easy to enter and exit, and the seats were more comfortable than the ForTwo’s itty bitty size indicates. A large windshield and big side windows gave the feeling that I was in a compact size car. Then I looked over my shoulder and, whoops, I could almost touch the rear glass with my nose.
In the city the little two-seater easily squeezed through traffic openings and slotted into the smallest of parking spaces without the need of parking sensors or a rearview camera. Making a U-turn, legal or not, was accomplished in a remarkably tight 22.8 feet.
The 2016 Smart ForTwo didn’t zip from traffic light to traffic light, but I was content to go from place to place in a leisurely manner.
The ride was reasonably smooth. Hit any bump or the railroad ties I aimed for and there was no squeaks or rattles to be heard. But once on raggedy streets, the jostling was difficult to forgive.
Full throttle was required for freeway merging and once up to speed the car was more stable than the previous one thanks to its wider track. However, its mediocre power required some forethought before passing.
The highway ride quality was good for such a small, light car, but it was far too happy to follow freeway rain grooves. Intrusive road and wind noise were such that I could hardly wait to return to city streets.
Just looking at the small ForTwo and knowing it was powered by a three-cylinder engine, one could easily conclude that fuel economy would be in the neighborhood of 50 mpg, maybe more. But
that is not the case. The EPA rated our Passion test driver with the automatic transmission at 34 mpg city/ 39 highway/ 36 combined.
Those are commendable numbers for a small car and I found that sensible driving had a 40.1-mpg reward after driving 178 miles, 53 of which were on the freeway.
In The Marketplace
Since the Scion iQ has been discontinued, the Smart ForTwo has no direct competitor. Other small cars to consider include Honda’s Fit, the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta and Scion iA. Each is larger, has seating for five with greater cargo space, offers comparable fuel economy and is combatively priced.
The 2016 Smart ForTwo is a fashion statement and a half. If you can see the European charms of this cute, utilitarian two-seat urban transporter, put it on your shopping list. Its two-seat configuration means it is not the right choice for many, but a brilliant one for some.
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