The 2014 Smart ForTwo comes in two distinct personalities: gasoline and electric. Sadly, the electric model--which arrived last year--is what the Smart always should have been, but it's almost twice the price of the base gasoline version.
The gasoline Smart ForTwo is powered by a 70-horsepower 1.0-liter three cylinder engine, mounted flat between the rear wheels, and powering them through an automated manual transmission with five speeds. The transmission is the least pleasant one we've driven, shifting abruptly and slamming the car back and forth as it decouples power and then clutches it back. It takes an experienced foot modulating the accelerator to keep the car civilized in cut-and-thrust urban traffic.
And that's where the ForTwo is at its best. It's easy to toss around town--not to mention park in the tiniest imaginable spaces. At speeds below 40 mph, the engine feels peppy and the shifting--if you can modulate it--keeps the engine in its power zone. Without an engine between the front wheels, the turning circle is tight, and light steering lets you hustle the Smart around corners and among lanes almost as fast as any other vehicle.
Switch to the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, however, and the experience gets much better. With 55 kilowatts (74 hp) of peak power available from the electric motor, or 35 kW (47 hp) on a sustained basis--and no transmission at all--the electric Smart accelerates smoothly and quietly up to speed, with no engine howl or slam-shifting. In the stoplight drag races, it performs decently, taking less than 5 seconds from 0 to 37 mph. And with an EPA-rated range of 68 miles combined, it will do a day's errands in the city handily.
The electric car is a few hundred pounds heavier than the gasoline version, but the battery is in the floorpan, so the handling is more planted--if a bit more ponderous. While all electric Smarts come with electric power steering as standard, you'd barely know it--the ForTwo Electric Drive steers heavy.
Outside the city, though, the Smart gets grimmer with either powertrain. The 0-to-60-mph sprint takes an agonizing 13 seconds in the gasoline car (11.5 seconds in the electric)--which is equivalent to 1980s economy cars. On the highway, its short length, minimal wheelbase, and quick steering make the ride choppy and twitchy. There's very little power on reserve for sudden maneuvers, and it's surprisingly susceptible to crosswinds, road grooves, and potholes at speed. Finally, it will take nerves of steel to pilot a Smart on the highway when sandwiched between semis.
In the end, tiny dimensions--or that ineffable Smart character--have to be more important to you than speed, ride comfort, or gas mileage. If you value all of those things and want a balance among the, you may find the Smart ForTwo isn't worth the sacrifices you have to make.