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PERFORMANCE | 6 out of 10
Feels woefully lackluster (and a little worrisome) on the highway
Transmission lurches through gear changes
Doesn't turn in with the same spontaneity as a Mini Cooper
The 2008 Smart Fortwo is small and far from quick. In fact, the only redeeming performance quality of the 2008 Smart Fortwo is the fact that it gets over 40 mpg on the highway, but even that comes at the cost of premium fuel.
The 2008 Smart Fortwo, in both coupe and cabriolet form, is available with just one tiny engine. Edmunds writes 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. Highway driving in the 2008 Smart Fortwo is always an adventure, 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 small three-cylinder engine on the 2008 Smart Fortwo comes with just one available transmission, and that transmission is universally derided in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. 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)." Kelley Blue Book says that "the automated manual transmission" shifts "with all the grace of a backhoe," while Car and Driver writes 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."
While a small engine definitely doesn't provide impressive acceleration, in this case it does offer the benefit of impressive fuel economy. The EPA estimates that the 2008 Smart Fortwo will get 33 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway in either coupe or cabriolet form. Cars.com finds that the fuel economy "figures beat the most frugal subcompacts," though "premium fuel is recommended" for the 2008 Smart Fortwo.
Like many cars with short wheelbases, the 2008 Smart Fortwo suffers from a rough ride, especially at highway speeds. ConsumerGuide says that the 2008 Smart Fortwo is "stiff and choppy over all but glass-smooth roads, with sharp bumps and expansion cracks causing abrupt vertical motions." Once on the highway, Kelley Blue Book reviewers find 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." Another performance positive is the braking on the 2008 Smart Fortwo. When it comes time to stop, Car and Driver writes that the "excellent-feeling brakes" bring the hatchback to a full stop "from 70 mph in 167 feet," with "the ragtop nine feet later."
The 2008 Smart Fortwo accelerates slowly and labors on the highway, but its frugal engine sips gas at a wallet-friendly rate, though it’s no better than a Toyota Prius.