- Electronic stability control comes standard
- Better seating space than some exotics
- Park it anywhere
- Steering is quick and responsive
- No freeway passing power
- Fuel economy should be better
- Jittery, busy ride
- Does not inspire confidence on the highway
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.
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.
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.