- Very quick, responsive steering
- Parking nirvana
- More seating space than a Ferrari
- On the highway, it’s a penalty box
- Busy, bumpy ride
- Disappointing fuel economy
The 2008 Smart Fortwo is a very competent, fun-to-drive city car, not just a novelty, but with so many caveats, most people would be best served by a hybrid or larger small car.
The diminutive 2008 Smart Fortwo, the smallest mass-market car sold in the United States, is making its debut in the States for 2008, although it follows a design that's a decade old.
All U.S. Fortwo models are powered by a 70-horsepower, 1.0-liter Mitsubishi-supplied three-cylinder engine, with a five-speed automated manual transmission. Like many sportier cars with automatic transmission, it can be shifted with handy paddle shifters alongside the steering wheel or just left in Drive.
The interior in the 2008 Smart Fortwo feels very basic, much like a small pickup cab at first, but a surprising amount of headroom--even for those well over six feet tall--and decent legroom, though large or lanky people will be bumping elbows or potentially shoulders because the cabin is so narrow. The driving position is quite upright and vanlike, with short seats, and the steering wheel sits more horizontal than most cars. The instrument panel and controls feel rather cheap and plasticky. In back, cargo space is disappointingly small for the two-seater, with only enough room to wedge three large shopping bags in a row; the front passenger seat can fold forward, but it's an option.
The 2008 Smart Fortwo has, no joke, two different personalities behind the wheel. At city speeds of 40 mph or less, the 1,800-pound Smart feels very peppy around town due to its low gearing, peppy powertrain and quick-ratio steering. Although the transmission doesn't always shift smoothly, it's a fun car to drive on tight city streets, especially when it comes time to park.
But those same features that make it feel so in its element in the city--the quick steering, short wheelbase, and short overhangs--all work against the 2008 Smart Fortwo on the highway. Although the seating position is on the level of other cars, the lack of much car in front or behind the driver fosters a feeling of vulnerability--even if it is quite a safe car--while the steering and short wheelbase combine to create a choppier, busy ride with twitchy steering that's especially susceptible to crosswinds, bumps, and truck ruts. What's more, engine and road noise become prominent.
To the point, the Smart doesn't have the acceleration of most other vehicles; its 0-60-mph time of about 13 seconds is on par with economy cars of a couple decades ago. Fuel efficiency doesn't completely assure that the 2008 Smart Fortwo is worth the sacrifice if you're not planning to be in tight urban spaces most of the time; EPA ratings are 33 mpg city, 41 mpg highway.
Two different body styles of the 2008 Smart Fortwo are offered: a Coupe with a fixed roof, and a Cabrio model that has two removable roof panels that allow a more open-air experience. The Coupe is offered in two different trims, Pure and Passion. The Pure gets you only the most basic equipment, with not even a sound system, but it does have keyless entry, a rear defroster, and an outside temperature display. Most will want to upgrade to the Passion model, which gets flashier alloy wheels, a panorama roof, power windows, automatic climate control, and a two-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo. Top options include electric power steering (which isn't really needed on the Smart), heated seats, fog lamps, and a "premium" four-speaker sound system.
Perhaps because the Smart is so small, safety features are emphasized. The so-called tridion safety cell provides occupant protection that rivals much larger vehicles, Smart says, and electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and side airbags are all standard. The 2008 Smart Fortwo has not been crash-tested in the United States, but current and previous versions of the model have done very well, netting four out of five stars in Europe's Euro NCAP test.