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TheCarConnection.com has driven the 2010 Smart ForTwo to bring you this hands-on review that covers styling, performance, safety, utility, and features from on-the-road observations. TheCarConnection.com's editors also researched reviews from other sources to give you a comprehensive range of opinions from around the Web-and to help you decide which ones to trust.High Gear Media drove a manufacturer-provided Smart ForTwo to produce this hands-on road test.
Despite its diminutive size, the two-seat 2010 Smart ForTwo is a real car, rather than just a novelty. But while the ForTwo is a competent city car that's fun to drive on short runs or in urban traffic, many buyers will be better served by a more conventional small car or a hybrid. When traffic thins out and the roads open up to the beltways and interstates, the ForTwo's drawbacks-a hard ride, noisy interior, lack of power, and tense roadholding-become serious. Factor in middling fuel economy and the "wow" factor is quickly muted. At a starting price of $11,990 for the most basic model, the Smart ForTwo competes with subcompacts like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris-along with lifestyle cars like the MINI Cooper and perhaps even hybrids like the all-new Toyota Prius. But many Smart buyers likely want to make a statement with the Smart's unique combination of tiny size and style, which aren't directly comparable to those of any other car offered in the United States. The only change for 2010 is a new $80 armrest option.
The 2010 Smart ForTwo offers two basic models: a coupe with a fixed roof, and a Cabriolet that has two removable roof panels for a more open-air experience. With its slab sides and non-existent nose, the ForTwo looks wide for its length of less than 9 feet, and taller than some subcompacts. It's only from the side that you notice just how short it is-it's the stubbiest car sold in the United States. All Smarts have a silver or black slash running from the windshield post, along the roof rail through the rear pillar to the doorsill, effectively outlining the door opening. The total effect of the tiny car is guaranteed to draw attention, positive and negative. Last year, the BRABUS edition-available in both coupe and cabriolet guises-joined the Smart ForTwo lineup. The BRABUS features 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.
All 2010 Smart ForTwo models are propelled by a 70-horsepower, 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine supplied by Mitsubishi, driving through a five-speed automated manual transmission. In the Smart BRABUS, the transmission is tuned to improve shifting speed in urban driving situations. The BRABUS also boasts sportier exhaust tuning and suspension components, and a body lowered by 1 centimeter, all for better handling. Below 40 miles per hour, the peppy engine, low gearing, and quick steering make the 1,800-pound 2010 Smart easy to toss around town. While the transmission doesn't shift particularly smoothly, the ForTwo is a fun car to drive on tight city streets-never more so than when it's time to find a parking space. But the same features that make it so much fun in the city-the short wheelbase, negligible length, and quick steering-work against it on the highway. The quick steering and short wheelbase combine to create a twitchy, choppy, busy ride that's especially susceptible to crosswinds, bumps, and truck ruts.
Its 0-to-60-mph time of about 13 seconds puts the 2010 Smart ForTwo on a par with economy cars of two decades ago. Sandwiched between semis at 70 mph, the Smart ForTwo requires a brave heart and confidence in its crash-test results. Small size and fuel efficiency have to be very high on a driver's list for the 2010 Smart ForTwo to be worth the sacrifices in mixed use. And its EPA ratings of 33 mpg city, 41 mpg highway just aren't that impressive. Consider that larger and more capacious hybrids, including the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius, do better without the sacrifices, though admittedly they're pricier.
The interior of any ForTwo model feels basic, much like a small pickup cab, with a rather cheap and plasticky instrument panel and controls. The surprises are the remarkable amount of headroom-even for those well over six feet tall-and good legroom. However, particularly broad people may bump elbows or even shoulders, because the cabin is narrow. The driver sits upright on short seats, and the steering wheel is more horizontal than in most cars, resulting in a driving position rather like that of a commercial van. The cargo space behind the passenger area of this two-seater is disappointingly small, allowing only enough room for three large shopping bags in a row. The front passenger seat can be made to fold forward, but it's an extra-cost option. The BRABUS also adds leather wraps around such items as the three-spoke steering wheel, the handbrake, and the gear knob. At higher speeds, engine and road noise drown out conversation and the weak sound system.
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 despite adequate safety scores. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests the Smart ForTwo and gives it three- and four-star ratings for frontal protection, and five stars for side impact. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also crash-tests the ForTwo, earning the top "good" ratings for frontal and side impact results, along with an "acceptable" rating for rear impact. But tellingly, the IIHS crashes a Smart ForTwo against a Mercedes E-Class sedan in a typical frontal-offset collision. It finds that the ForTwo does not fare well-going airborne and spinning around-underlining that the ForTwo remains one of the lightest vehicles on the road, putting it at a disadvantage against vehicles of other sizes. Smart says the 2010 ForTwo's so-called Tridion safety cell provides occupant protection that rivals much larger vehicles, and electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and side airbags are all standard.
The Coupe is offered in two different trims: Pure and Passion. The Pure is the lowest, most fundamental equipment level, giving buyers only the very basics-not even a stereo. All 2010 Smart ForTwo models do have keyless entry, a rear defroster, and an outside temperature display. Most buyers will want to upgrade to the Passion model (the only trim offered for the Cabriolet), which includes a panorama roof, flashier alloy wheels, automatic climate control, power windows, and a two-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system (although it remains inaudible at speed). The sporty Smart BRABUS model adds such features as an ambient lighting package that includes lights for the driver and passenger footwells. Top-of-the-list options include electric power steering, which frankly seems superfluous on the Smart ForTwo, heated seats, a "premium" four-speaker sound system, and fog lamps.