2017 smart fortwo Review

Consumer Reviews
2 Reviews
2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
June 12, 2017

The 2017 Smart ForTwo is the easiest car to park that you can buy, but if you have other needs, four-seat cars can offer more cabin space, equal fuel economy, and more flexibility.

The 2017 Smart Fortwo is the second year of a complete redesign for the tiny two-seat car, and this year the Cabrio soft-top convertible has rejoined the lineup. Both body styles remain at 8.8 feet long, but they're wider and more modern than the previous generation, with a better array of standard and optional features.

The Fortwo can be ordered in four different trim levels—known as Pure, Passion, Prime, and Proxy—and the company offers a wealth of options that make it unlikely Smart drivers will see a car identical to the one they've ordered.

The little Smart minicar is perfect for buyers who need a car that's easier to park on crowded streets than any other vehicle sold in the U.S. But its two seats and very limited cargo space, not to mention fuel economy that's decent but hardly exceptional, mean it's significantly compromised for pretty much everyone else.

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Its overall rating reflects those limitations; we score it at 5.2 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

Smart Fortwo styling and performance

The lines of the 2017 Smart retain the perky styling, snub nose, and passenger compartment outlined by the Tridion safety cage, usually in a contrasting color. The wheels sit at the very corners of the vehicle. But the front end is more clearly defined now, and the short hood is less beveled than before, giving better pedestrian protection. The "grille" between the lights is no more than a blanking panel perforated with holes, and all Smarts have LED running lights.The door windows are frameless, and the tailgate is split horizontally: upper portion opens for access while the lower half flips down to provide a useful temporary surface.

The second-generation Smart finally gets a modern interior. It's still simple, but different trim colors and a variety of rounded shapes give it a more substantial feel. A small instrument cluster behind the wheel has the usual gauges, and two eyeball vents sit on top of the dash. A touchscreen display sits slightly proud of the central console.

A turbocharged 0.9-liter 3-cylinder engine, making 89 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque, is mounted between the rear wheels. A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard, and a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission provides automated shifting for those who prefer it. (Smart says four out of five customers will order the automated option.) Combined EPA fuel economy is 34 or 35 mpg, slightly lower than last year due to changes in the EPA test calculations. Smart says 0-to-60-mph acceleration is 10.5 seconds for the DCT, 10.1 seconds for the manual.

The 2017 Smart feels like a compact car behind the wheel, if you don't look over your shoulder. The turning circle is an astoundingly small 22.8 feet from curb to curb, or 24 feet between two walls. That makes the Fortwo pretty much the most maneuverable car you can buy, and a perfect urban warrior. Thankfully, it's now more capable on the highway than the old one was, and the ride is quieter and smoother under almost every circumstance. Given its small size, noise is well suppressed for such a small car, and it's simply a much more pleasant vehicle to drive or ride in than the first generation.

Comfort, safety, and features

The Fortwo hasn't yet been rated for crash safety by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. All models come standard with eight airbags, and a standard Crosswind Assist function keeps the Smart straight during side winds. Forward-collision warning is available as an option.

Beyond the base ForTwo Pure, the Passion, Prime, and Proxy trim levels provide a mix of different features, using interior trim and fittings to give the different models distinct characters. All new Smarts include power windows, central locking, LED daytime running lights, cruise control, power steering, and audio and other controls on the steering wheel. The audio system includes a CD player, Bluetooth streaming for playing music and hands-free commands. The instrument cluster includes a 3.5-inch color display, and a trip computer and an exterior temperature display are also standard.

A top-end JBL sound system with eight speakers and a 240-watt amplifier should provide substantial sound in the small cabin. Other infotainment options include smartphone integration and a navigation system with real-time traffic and weather data. The Smart Cross Connect app lets owners access their car and other useful functions while away from the vehicle.

Pricing starts below $16,000 including delivery, and Smart says a fully loaded model with multiple high-end options runs between $20,000 and $21,000. The Cabrio model with a roll-back cloth roof has been added this year; a redesigned Electric Drive version joins the lineup soon.

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2017 smart fortwo

Styling

The 2017 Smart Fortwo has a more substantial, less toy-like look to what's still a tiny car, and its interior is now up to date

Now in the second year of a full redesign, the 2017 Smart Fortwo retains its tiny proportions and cheeky appearance. It now has a blunter, more traditional nose, and it's wider than the last version, which gives it more presence on the road—especially from the front, where you can't see its truncated shape. It does well within some challenging parameters, and offers a notable improvement over the previous generation, so we give it an average rating of 5 for design. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

The Fortwo remains a cute, short two-seater that stands slab-sided and tall, and may appear wider than it is long from some angles. It's still quite obviously the shortest car sold in the U.S. Its lack of length is most obvious from the side, where its snub nose comes into relief. The fixed-roof Coupe body style has been rejoined this year by the Cabrio model, with its power-operated cloth roof that rolls back to offer open-top driving. To keep the structure stiff, it retains the crossbar between its rear pillars, though one of three ways to open the top includes removing the beams over the doors to increase the sense of openness.

The Smart's trademark "Tridion" safety cell generally comes in a contrasting color (there are four) to the body panels (which can be ordered in dozens of shades). It outlines the Smart's body structure, and underlines its strong structure, from the windshield post along the roof side, down the rear pillar and wrapping around under the door. It instantly identifies the car as a Smart—not that its size wouldn't—and provides an effective design flourish with a subtext.

The rear light shape is now a square with rounded corners, rather than the previous pair of round lights, and the grille is pierced with a pattern of hexagons in varying sizes forming a screen that adds visual interest—echoed in light patterns and other subtle exterior elements. As before, other exterior flourishes include the fixed window pane at the back of the door and the kicked-up belt-line bulge that contains the door handle.

Inside, the 2017 Smart has a modern cabin, albeit a simple one. But the previous generation's grim, stark, utilitarian Nineties appearance has given way to a modern design offering up-to-date amenities. A small instrument cluster behind the steering wheel has a digital display in the center with a speedometer around its outer edge, but the tachometer sits in its own pod on top of the dash just inboard of the base of the driver's windshield pillar. Stylists used a coarse-grained cloth surface on the door inserts and dashboard, and the seats come in cloth or leather, with contrasting stitching in some trims.

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2017 smart fortwo

Performance

The 2017 Smart Fortwo feels much more confident on the highway, but it's hardly fast; again, turning circle and parking ability are its standout features

The 2017 Smart Fortwo isn't one of the faster cars you can buy, but its performance is enough to make it a functional urban warrior and it's now tolerable on highways too, a vast improvement over the previous generation. It's still a little compromised, and the all-electric version (with its better acceleration) won't arrive until next year, so we give it a 3 out of 10 for performance, slightly below average. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

The layout remains the same, with a 3-cylinder engine lying on its side between the rear wheels—with rear-wheel drive—but the 0.9-liter unit is now turbocharged for the U.S. market. That gives it a rated output of 89 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque, notably more than the previous 70 hp and 68 lb-ft of the previous model. Base Smarts come with a 5-speed manual gearbox, but Smart says eight out of 10 buyers will opt for the 6-speed automated dual-clutch transmission (which adds $990 to the cost). The company quotes 0-to-60-mph acceleration of 10.1 seconds for the manual, and 10.5 seconds for the DCT, again a notable improvement over the first generation.

We'd deem the DCT the better of the two transmission choices, even if it's slightly slower. Usually manuals are better in small cars, but the Smart's 5-speed had surprisingly long throws and a slightly loose gate, whereas the shift points of the DCT have been well-matched to the engine tune. Slipping the clutch while revving the engine was required to get enough power for the manual-gearbox car to move out before its turbo spooled up from idle. The little Smart was most responsive when the driver kept engine speeds very high, from 4000 rpm to the rev limit of around 6500 rpm.

Handling overall is good; the car grips well on 15- or 16-inch tires, which are larger in the rear than in the front. As a Smart engineer said, the car's traction control is "rather strict," and the driver cannot switch it off. That's to ensure that the ForTwo remains "fun to drive, but not beyond," meaning that it's required to tame potential misbehavior or any oversteer in what is still a tall, rear-engined car with a pronounced rear weight bias and a very short wheelbase.

Smart is justifiably proud of the new car's minuscule turning circle. The 4-inch increase in width allowed its engineers to provide deeper front fender wells for sharper wheel angles—they can now pivot to 45 degrees—for a turning circle of just 22.8 feet. It's one of the car's genuinely grin-inducing factors. With its 8.8-foot length, you can do a U-turn just about anywhere—or do complete 360-degree circles within the width of an average two-lane road. In urban traffic, it takes a while to get used to just how short the Smart really is, but it can be maneuvered and parked like no other vehicle once a driver learns the limits of the car's body.

Thankfully, the Smart now feels confident and secure at highway speeds, and it's surprisingly smooth and quiet on most road surfaces. Driving the old Smart between semis at 70 mph required nerve and a lot of pre-planning, because it simply ran out of steam at those speeds. The new Fortwo has more power in reserve, though it's far from a muscle car. Still, we wouldn't shy away from taking it on a longer road trip. Most Smarts likely won't be used that way, but it's reassuring to know they could be.

Fuel economy is only so-so given the Smart's small size. By far the most energy-efficient version will be a new battery-powered Fortwo Electric Drive model, which is expected to be shown in late 2016 and arrive on the market next year.

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2017 smart fortwo

Comfort & Quality

The 2017 Smart Fortwo is no longer primitive and outmoded, but it remains basic transportation with a couple of interesting quirks.

The 2017 Smart Fortwo offers surprising space for two people in its cabin, though it remains a relatively basic car better suited for urban jousting than long-distance road trips, in part because it has very little capacity for luggage or cargo. We rate it at a below-average 4 for its capacity and quality; it's not bad, but other cars offer better flexibility under more circumstances. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

There's no denying the second-generation Smart is a far more pleasant vehicle in which to spend time than its predecessor. The two seats are comfortable, if a tad short in the lower cushion, and there's ample headroom and adequate leg room, even for adults more than 6 feet tall. Occupants sit high and upright, not low to the ground, and outward visibility is good. Only when reversing is it obvious that the car ends about 2 feet behind the driver's shoulders. The engine sits essentially under the high load-deck floor, just behind the occupants' backsides.

This obviously poses a huge challenge for any cargo, though Smart has done its best to make the limited amount of space usable. The Fortwo's cargo bay holds 9.2 cubic feet of goods, more than the Mini Cooper (8.7 cubic feet) and roughly the same as the 9.5 cubic feet in a Fiat 500. Cleverly, the car has a second set of mounting points built in that let a driver remove and store the retractable cargo cover behind the seats, just ahead of the load floor and at the same height, so you can carry the cover with the car rather than removing it.

Still, interior storage is limited to two cupholders, a pair of smallish door pockets, and a clever sideways drawer under the console that opens into the passenger footwell. There's no spare tire, just tire sealant and an inflator, stored under a fake toeboard in the passenger footwell. Exceptionally tall passengers will benefit from removing them, which gives 4 or 5 extra inches of legroom if needed.

The ride of the new Smart is notably better than its predecessor, with a wider track and a marginally longer wheelbase improving stability. The new car's vastly better suspension is more capable of soaking up road irregularities and sailing over speed bumps in a controlled fashion. Under most circumstances, the Smart was surprisingly quiet; only particularly coarse road surfaces and revving the engine to its limit made the cabin noisy enough to require raising voices.

The interior materials and design of the new ForTwo are also a huge step up from the previous generation. Coarse-weave cloth surfaces, hard plastics, and either cloth or leather for the seats look modern enough, and they complement a conventional dashboard with a small instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. A central display panel looks like an LCD screen, but also holds knobs and dials for some cabin controls. With a conventional console, the Smart now has a modern interior that's basic but no longer plain, grim, and utilitarian. The build quality on the early-production North American-market Smarts we drove was good, with no apparent quality issues, squeaks, rattles, or other flaws. All Smart ForTwo models are built in Hambach, France.

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2017 smart fortwo

Safety

There isn't enough safety-test data available for the 2017 Smart Fortwo to let us rate it accurately.

The 2017 Smart ForTwo doesn't have enough safety ratings for us to rate it properly. It  hasn't been tested for safety at all by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and only partial ratings are offered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which gave it two ratings of "Good," its top tier, for side crash and moderate-overlap front crash tests. The IIHS offers no ratings for other tests in its full suite. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

All Fortwo models, whether coupe or cabriolet, are built around a very stiff Tridion safety cell—which can be highlighted with optional colored exterior panels. The structure now contains about 75 percent high-strength steel, of various grades, and every 2016 ForTwo has eight airbags as standard. These include driver and passenger bags in the dash, knee bags, and shoulder/side bags mounted in the seat, plus side curtain bags that cover the window glass.

A rearview camera is expected to become available this model year, when an in-dash navigation system becomes available. Meanwhile, Smart has added a new electronic safety feature called Crosswind Assist, which automatically steers and brakes the car to counteract sideways motion that could push the car out of its lane in gusty conditions. It's adapted from a similar system fitted to the tall Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, but we haven't been able to observe its effects on test drives so far.

Still, Smart offers none of the newer electronic safety systems found on the much pricier vehicles in the Mercedes lineup. Those include adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and correction, and automatic crash braking. To be realistic, however, a blind-spot monitor system would likely be superfluous on a car this short, since the rear bumper is just 2 or 3 feet behind the driver.

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2017 smart fortwo

Features

The 2017 Smart Fortwo stays true to its basic transportation roots, but at least its features are more or less modern now

The 2017 Smart Fortwo is offered in four different levels of trim, and buyers can choose from a further variety of factory and dealer-installed options that offer at least a chance that no two Smarts will be identically configured. We give it a baseline score of 5 for its features. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.) The four trim levels are dubbed Pure, Passion, Prime, and Proxy.

The base Smart Fortwo Pure comes with cruise control, power windows, automatic climate control, a multifunction steering wheel, and Bluetooth streaming as standard. It also has LED running lights and a small 3.5-inch color display in the instrument cluster. You'll identify the base car, though, by its silver hubcaps over 15-inch steel wheels, since the higher trim levels have various designs of alloy wheel standard.

Among the Passion, Prime, and Proxy trims, Smart says they're mean to give three different personalities to the car. The first is modern and stylish, the second is classic and elegant, and the third is meant to indicate innovative and trendsetting.

So the Passion offers two-tone interiors—black with orange, grey, or white—plus powered and heated door mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a retractable cargo cover. The Prime comes with grey accent stitching on its black leather seats, leather wrappings for both the steering wheel and gear knob, and a silver Tridion safety cell and grille. It has a longer list of standard equipment, including heated seats, a panorama roof, exterior LED lighting, fog lamps, and a rain and light sensor. Finally, the Fortwo Proxy package offers a Tridion safety cell and grille in shiny white, and a vibrant, startling blue and white interior. Included in its equipment list is the Sport package, providing 16-inch alloy wheels as standard, and also the premium 240-watt JBL sound system with eight speakers.

Finally, Smart is very proud of its Cross Connect app for smartphones (Android and iOS), offered free to buyers of the new ForTwo. While the app is free, the cradle to mount the phone to the center display screen is $100. The Cross Connect app has two modes, one for while the car is moving, when the phone is horizontal, and the other for when it's stopped, when the driver rotates it to vertical. The app offers five functions now, with more that can be added later on when updates are released.

They include an EcoDrive function offering the owner tips on economic driving and warnings when the car exceeds the prevailing speed limit. Then there's the Fuel Economy function, which grows trees if you're driving gently and turns the forest into a desert if you're profligate with your fuel. A Navigation mode uses the app to provide mapping and routing; it'll also play Music from the phone; and finally, the Radio function syncs to the car's presets and lets you control the audio from the phone rather than the dashboard. The Navigation seems to offer the most value, since it substitutes for an in-dash navigation system (which Smart will also offer). Finally, the Smart Spots function crowdsources the locations of parking spaces into which only a Smart can fit. There are dozens for most of the major cities where Smart is popular, and hundreds for San Francisco. Drivers can photograph a new space and upload the photo, which will be validated by Smart and then added to the map.

Still, the beta version of Cross Connect that we tried was significantly slower than the driving instructions provided by Google Maps on the same phone. That made it hard for us to imagine why anyone who's ever used mapping via Google wouldn't do that instead—ignoring Cross Connect but mounting the smartphone in that  $100 cradle.

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2017 smart fortwo

Fuel Economy

The 2017 Smart Fortwo gets a combined 35-mpg EPA rating with the direct-shift automatic transmission—not bad, but far below what people seem to expect

When fitted with a dual-clutch automatic transmission, the 2017 Smart ForTwo earns an EPA-rated 35 mpg combined, while Smart Fortwo models with the five-speed manual gearbox earn 34 mpg. Those combined ratings are each 1 mpg lower than the comparable figures for the same car in 2016, reflecting revised calculations required by the EPA that have slightly lowered ratings for many cars this year despite no changes at all to their running gear.

Specifically, the 5-speed manual comes in this year at 31 mpg city, 38 mpg highway. And the 6-speed automated direct-clutch transmission rates at 33 mpg city, 38 mpg highway. We assign the little Smart a green rating of 9, its highest score. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

A 35-mpg rating, or just two-thirds of that for the much larger Toyota Prius Eco, will likely come as a huge shock to those who assume such a small car must deliver phenomenal mileage. The Smart may come with obvious compromises in space and comfort, not to mention perceived security on U.S. streets and highways, but they're not offset by sky-high fuel efficiency. The laws of physics prevent that, unfortunately, which is why Smart isn't particularly advertising the car's fuel economy as a major selling point.

Regrettably the Smart still requires premium fuel (at least 91 octane) to obtain the quoted performance figures. In the small-car segment, its fuel economy is on par with the more capacious and far more flexible Honda Fit, which was also re-rated for 2017 and comes in at 33 mpg combined or 35 mpg combined depending on transmission. 

A new generation of the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive should be unveiled in late 2016, and will probably arrive at U.S. dealers as a 2018 model. Until then, the existing electric Smart remains available in the old body style—earning an official 68 miles of driving range, and a 32 kwh/100mi (or 107 miles per gallon equivalent) rating.

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February 6, 2017
2017 smart fortwo prime coupe

Great Car and a Niche Car

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Let's begin by pointing out this Car Connection review of the 2017 smart is missing the point...entirely. Yes, the smart is pricey for its size - a realtor would say the price/square foot is high - but what... + More »
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December 27, 2016
For 2017 smart fortwo

Better mileage that my M-Class Mercedes!!

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It's terrific for what it is! Didn't find anything bad about it! Ready for a second in 2017
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$14,650
MSRP based on pure coupe
 
5.2
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 5
Performance 3
Comfort & Quality 4
Safety N/A
Features 5
Fuel Economy 9
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