2009 smart fortwo Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
April 17, 2009

The 2009 Smart Fortwo is in its element in inner-city streets, but in the suburbs or almost anywhere else, it’ll probably feel uncomfortably toylike.

TheCarConnection.com's editors drove the new Smart Fortwo in order to give you an expert opinion. TheCarConnection.com's car experts also researched available road tests on the new Smart Fortwo to produce this conclusive review and to help you find the truth where other reviews might differ.

The 2009 Smart Fortwo is more than just a novelty. The Fortwo is a very competent, fun-to-drive city car, but with so many caveats, most people would be best served by a hybrid or larger small car.

Joining the standard Smart Fortwo coupe and cabriolet for 2009 is the new BRABUS edition Fortwo. Also available in both coupe and cabriolet guises, the BRABUS receives elements meant to enhance the Fortwo’s styling and performance. From the outside, the BRABUS is recognizable by its 15-inch front and 17-inch rear alloy wheels, a reduced front skirt, a rear skirt that accommodates the model’s dual chrome-tipped exhaust pipes, and the addition of side skirts.

Both the standard and the BRABUS Smart Fortwo models are powered by a 70-horsepower, 1.0-liter Mitsubishi-supplied, three-cylinder engine with a five-speed automated manual transmission. The Smart BRABUS’s transmission has been tuned for improved shifting in urban driving situations, and the vehicle’s body lowered by 10 millimeters to enhance handling. The BRABUS also boasts sportier exhaust tuning and suspension components.

Review continues below

Inside the Smart BRABUS driver and passenger are enveloped in an ambient lighting package, including automatic driver and passenger footwell lighting. Leather wraps around items such as the three-spoke steering wheel, the handbrake, and the gearknob.

In any of the Fortwo models, the interior does feel rather basic, much like a small pickup cab at first, but with a surprising amount of headroom—even for those well over six feet tall—and decent legroom. However, 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.

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 2009 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 safe—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. At higher speeds, engine and road noise drown out conversation and the weak sound system.

With a 0-60-mph time of about 13 seconds the 2009 Smart Fortwo is on par with economy cars of a couple decades ago. Fuel efficiency doesn't completely assure that the 2009 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.

The 2009 Smart Fortwo coupe features a fixed roof, while the Cabriolet model 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.

The federal government tested the Smart and gave it three- and four-star ratings for frontal protection and five stars for side impact. The 2009 Smart Fortwo has also been crash-tested by the IIHS and earned top "good" ratings in frontal and side impact tests, with an "acceptable" rating for rear impact. The IIHS also crash-tested a Smart Fortwo in a frontal-offset test against the Mercedes E-Class and found that it did not fare well—going airborne and spinning around—which serves to emphasize that the Fortwo remains one of the lightest vehicles on the road and doesn’t always match up well with vehicles of other sizes. 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.

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2009 smart fortwo

Styling

The 2009 Smart Fortwo has a visual impact that far exceeds its physical dimensions.

No other car under $21,000 draws as much attention as the 2009 Smart Fortwo.

Cars.com reviewers attest that the 2009 Smart Fortwo "generates more interest among observers than some that cost 10 times as much." All Smart Fortwos feature a "silver or black strip that loops around the Fortwo's side," which Edmunds says is visual evidence of "the Tridion safety cell." The Smart Fortwo comes "in two body styles," according to Edmunds: "a hatchback Coupe" that "is offered in Pure and Passion trim levels" and a "convertible Cabrio" that "only comes in Passion." Edmunds also points out that the exterior of "the base Pure comes with 15-inch steel wheels," while the Passion trim adds "alloy wheels" and "a panorama glass roof" to provide some visual distinction. Automobile observes, "this street-legal Tonka toy is again very tall, very narrow, and very short." Kelley Blue Book states "the body panels are made of dent-resistant plastic," while Cars.com contends that the design "fuses wraparound panels and extended fenders in an extroverted, ultra-chic package."

Kelley Blue Book calls the overall interior styling "unique, but not as quirky as the car's exterior design might lead you to expect." Those same Kelley Blue Book reviewers also find that the "relatively compact instrument panel and open space where you'd expect a center console all contribute to an interior that feels less confined than that of the significantly longer and wider MINI Cooper." Cars.com reports "the cabin has a cartoonish look, with dimpled upholstery on the dashboard and kitschy plastic air conditioning controls" and a dashboard that "curves away as it descends." For those seeking a more customized interior styling touch, Edmunds notes "there are a number of monochromatic and two-tone interior options available to liven things up.” ConsumerGuide praises the Smart Fortwo's "simple and well laid out" controls, along with "easy to see" gauges and the "unobstructed" speedometer.

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2009 smart fortwo

Performance

The only redeeming performance quality of the 2009 Smart Fortwo is fuel economy, but even that comes at the cost of premium fuel.

The 2009 Smart Fortwo accelerates slowly and labors on the highway, but its frugal engine sips gas at a wallet-friendly rate that’s no better than a Toyota Prius.

Highway driving in the 2009 Smart Fortwo is a bit of an adventure, according to reviewers, and while Cars.com contends "maintaining 65 mph is within the realm of long-haul plausibility," they also note that "climbing an incline at that speed—or accelerating to anything higher—is dicey." The 2009 Smart Fortwo, in both coupe and cabriolet form, is available with just one tiny engine. Edmunds observes that a "1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that produces 71 hp and 68 pound-feet of torque" sits inside the Smart Fortwo, which is barely powerful enough to give the Smart Fortwo "a 0-60-mph time of 14.1 seconds." ConsumerGuide says that overall "acceleration is sluggish from a stop and is plagued by annoying bogging and surging at every shift." Furthermore, the Smart Fortwo's "90-mph top speed" and poor acceleration "qualify it as one of the slowest new vehicles on the road," according to Kelley Blue Book.

In reviews read by TheCarConnection.com’s editors, the only transmission available on the 2009 Smart Fortwo is universally derided. Kelley Blue Book says "the automated manual transmission" shifts "with all the grace of a backhoe," while Car and Driver remarks that the "five-speed" transmission is "a dog off the dime and characterized by the most laughingly goofy gaps between shifts" in full automatic mode. Moving to the "shift-yourself manumatic approach," Car and Driver finds that "the Fortwo can be driven more quickly, but it takes a lot of concentration." Edmunds describes the transmission as "a five-speed automanual" that "is shifted without a clutch pedal via a simple console-mounted stick (and column-mounted paddles on Passion models)."

Cars.com finds that the fuel economy "figures beat the most frugal subcompacts," though "premium fuel is recommended" for the 2009 Smart Fortwo. The EPA estimates that the 2009 Smart Fortwo will get 33 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway in either coupe or cabriolet form.

Once on the highway, Kelley Blue Book reviewers discover that "the faster you go," the "more skittish the fortwo becomes." Edmunds thinks the Smart Fortwo's "high-speed stability is also pretty good, although strong crosswinds can wreak havoc on its boxy shape." They also warn that "handling largely depends on how one equips the Smart Fortwo," as "a base Pure model with manual steering and narrow 15-inch front tires feels ponderous," while "upgrading to power steering and wider tires provides a more adept driving experience, and actually makes zipping through city streets fun." Kelley Blue Book agrees, stating that they had the most fun "in parking lots, where the car's micro measurements and sub-30-foot turning circle combine to deliver an almost comical sense of agility." ConsumerGuide says that the 2009 Smart Fortwo is "stiff and choppy over all but glass-smooth roads, with sharp bumps and expansion cracks causing abrupt vertical motions."

Another performance positive is the braking on the 2009 Smart Fortwo. When it comes time to stop, Car and Driver reports that the "excellent-feeling brakes" bring the hatchback to a full stop "from 70 mph in 167 feet," with "the ragtop nine feet later."

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2009 smart fortwo

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Smart Fortwo has a surprising amount of passenger space—for two—but cargo room is almost nonexistent.

Despite being hailed as an urban alternative, the 2009 Smart Fortwo offers little in the way of functional storage space. In this important category, especially for a car designed for urban driving, Cars.com finds that "cargo room in back measures just 7.8 cubic feet, less than a third the space the Cooper offers behind its front seats." ConsumerGuide also rates the 2009 Smart Fortwo well below the class average for cargo room, saying it is "meager overall" and claiming the "tiny glovebox offers barely enough space for an owner's manual." Kelley Blue Book reviewers feel the "open space where you'd expect a center console" helps contribute to the "less confined interior," but the lack of a console for storing small items might prove annoying.

When it comes to driver and passenger room, however, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com rave about the ample occupant space. Cars.com reviewers find that "headroom and legroom are entirely adequate." ConsumerGuide, which is typically very conservative with their praise, says the "seats are supportive, with good side bolstering," but the "narrow cabin means two adults ride almost shoulder-to-shoulder." They also point out that the "lack of a tilt steering column may compromise comfort for some drivers." As its name suggests, the Smart Fortwo can seat two inside its tall cabin and Edmunds reviewers note that although the interior is "certainly snug, the Smart Fortwo offers a surprising amount of space for two people."

ConsumerGuide feels that the "cabin materials are solid and well-assembled," but the "overall ambiance is budget, with lots of hard plastic and very few padded surfaces." The 2009 Smart Fortwo also features "standard cloth upholstery," according to Edmunds, which certainly doesn't offer any upscale pretense. Cars.com states that "build quality is respectable," and most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree—the materials left some reviewers wanting something a bit more upscale.

When it comes to excessive road noise, the 2009 Smart Fortwo is plagued with it. ConsumerGuide says that the ride is "never serene," and while "road noise is relatively well-muffled," the "wind rush is pronounced at highway speeds." They add that the tiny engine produces quite a bit of noise, and "engine note is always audible and rises to a loud groan under acceleration."

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2009 smart fortwo

Safety

With regards to safety, the little 2009 Smart Fortwo is, among many other things, proof that looks can be deceiving.

The 2009 Smart Fortwo may be small, but it's got a full suite of safety features and impressive engineering to boot. Crash tests show that the 2009 Smart Fortwo can hold its own in some pretty serious impacts.

The 2009 Fortwo coupe was recently tested by both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and both report impressive results. The IIHS, which typically has a more stringent rating system of the two, awarded the 2009 Smart Fortwo a perfect rating of "good" for both its frontal offset and side impact tests. NHTSA scores were the lower of the two, but still a respectable four stars for front driver impacts and three stars for front passenger impacts, as well as a perfect five-star rating for side impacts. However, NHTSA noted that "during the side impact test, the driver door unlatched and opened," which "increases the likelihood of occupant ejection."

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com register quite a bit of surprise at the high ratings, which Edmunds attributes to "the Tridion safety cell," a "cage of high-strength steel" that "allows the Smart car to withstand impacts as well or better than much larger cars."

Thanks to the Tridion system and the fact that all the safety features come standard on every trim level, Kelley Blue Book testers feel comfortable praising the Smart Fortwo's "impressive crashworthiness." Cars.com reviewers note "standard safety features include front and side-impact airbags—the latter extending upward to protect occupants' heads—as well as antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system." Jalopnik reviewers add that the 2009 Smart Fortwo "is safe," and "it feels safe, too," thanks to a "full retinue of airbags."

Car and Driver praises visibility from within the 2009 Smart Fortwo, proclaiming "the view out the windshield is panoramic." ConsumerGuide says that the Smart Fortwo's "upright driving position prevents occupants from feeling dwarfed by surrounding traffic" and affords "great visibility all-around." Despite its small stance, driver visibility from within the 2009 Smart Fortwo leaves little to be desired.

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2009 smart fortwo

Features

The price is low, and the features aren’t plenty; the 2009 Smart Fortwo is definitely an economy car.

Yes, it's an economy car, but the standard and optional features on the 2009 Smart Fortwo are still disappointing to many reviewers.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com all mention that the Pure comes with little more than four wheels and an engine. Cars.com notes "basic amenities like power steering and a radio are optional." While Edmunds points out that the Pure comes standard with "keyless entry, leather steering wheel and electric window defroster," the cheaper trim of the Smart Fortwo starts at only $11,590. The standard features list on the 2009 Smart Fortwo grows somewhat for the more expensive Passion trim level, which Cars.com says "adds a fixed glass roof, alloy wheels, power windows, air conditioning and a two-speaker CD stereo with iPod connectivity." The only difference between the Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe and Cabriolet is that "the Passion Cabrio adds an upgraded stereo with MP3-compatible in-dash six-CD changer."

You might expect an expansive options list to compensate for the minimal amount of standard features on the 2009 Smart Fortwo, but you’d be wrong. There is little available aside from adding the Passion's standard items to the Pure. The only other noteworthy optional feature is the available "two-tone paint," according to ConsumerGuide. There are a few conspicuously absent features on the 2009 Smart Fortwo, but Cars.com conjectures that perhaps the most glaring omission is that "cruise control is not available." Kelley Blue Book says that "the 2009 Smart Fortwo's options list includes heated leather seats, a fixed panorama glass roof and a sport steering wheel with paddle shifters."

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August 17, 2015
2009 smart fortwo 2-Door Cabriolet Passion

ita a great car and much bigger and fun to drive summer or winter.

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I have had this car for years great around town saves me so mush gas going back force to the office lots of room when i go to the store seat in front lays down if i would need more room for things I always... + More »
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May 16, 2015
2009 smart fortwo 2-Door Coupe Pure

Great for small town

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Small car that a tall person can even drive. It's funny how people stop me all the time to ask about my Smart. It isn't as wide as a regular car like a Civic but it's size makes it easy to park between all... + More »
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Styling 7.0
Performance 5.0
Comfort & Quality 4.0
Safety 8.0
Features 5.0
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