2016 Smart ForTwo Second Drive [w/video]
The Micro Machine Gets Smarter
EngineTurbo 898cc I3
Power89 HP / 100 LB-FT
0-60 Time10.5 Seconds
Top Speed96 MPH
Curb Weight2,000 LBS (est.)
MPG32 City / 39 HWY
All of those problems have been addressed with the new ForTwo. But it's still not a car for everyone, and Smart knows that. Those who want it, want it. Those who don't can't be convinced otherwise. So instead of reaching for mass market appeal, Smart has, um, smartly updated its ForTwo in ways that make it more attractive to folks in the microcar mindset.
That starts with design. At 8.8 feet long, the 2016 ForTwo is the same length as its predecessor. That was one part of the car that absolutely could not change, according to Smart boss Dr. Annette Winkler. Instead, Smart widened the ForTwo by almost four inches, allowing for more space inside. The wheels can turn in sharper, too, so the Smart now boasts a 22.8-foot turning circle, which is wicked fun.
The shape hasn't changed, but the details have. Up front, there's a friendly face with larger headlights and LED running lamps. Around back, the taillights are larger and squared off. It's a more confident design than before, "more substantial than the Smart we've known until now," as European Editor Noah Joseph said in his First Drive of the Euro-spec ForTwo. Plastic body panels adorn the exterior (they're flexible and resilient to shopping cart dings), and some 40 different panel/shell color combinations are available, including a matte finish like you see here.
The Smart now boasts a 22.8-foot turning circle, which is wicked fun.
Most people don't think a car this small is in any way safe, but I promise, it is. Even more so now, thanks to increased high-strength material in the "Tridion Cell" frame. Don't believe me? Here's a video of a Smart crashing into a 5,000-pound Mercedes S-Class sedan. See for yourself; the passenger cell remains intact.
The cabin is much roomier, thanks to that increase in overall width. Shoving two people inside is still a cozy affair, but the two of you won't exactly be rubbing elbows. Instead, there's ample room for drivers of all sizes, with lots of headroom and hiproom. There are small storage compartments behind the seats and in the doors, and the cargo area has enough room to hold, say, a week's worth of luggage.
The level of standard equipment is vastly improved for 2016, with things like Bluetooth, air conditioning, power windows, a CD player, power steering, and cruise control now fitted to every Smart. That's kind of a weird list, I know, but none of those things were standard on the outgoing ForTwo. Seriously.
The ForTwo's cabin no longer feels like a penalty box.
New this year is the Smart Cross Connect infotainment system. It's displayed on your Android or iOS-powered smartphone, and uses a mounting dock right in the middle of the Smart's center console. All of the navigation, audio, and phone features work through your own mobile device, and it's a free app for any Smart customer. Sadly, the app was still in beta mode during my test, and it crapped out on me repeatedly, but Smart officials assured me that this will all be fixed in time for the car's launch this fall.
In general, the interior is rather nice. The material quality is better than before, and the overall design is more modern, not as dumpy as it was. A variety of textures and finishes complement the plastics, and while the design is quirky and cutesy, it's not over the top. The ForTwo's cabin no longer feels like a penalty box. Take a look at the new interior, as well as the smartphone integration, in the video below.
For me, and for a vast majority of buyers, the most noticeable improvement for 2016 is overall driveability. Put simply, the Smart doesn't outright suck to drive anymore. In fact, in some ways, it's kind of fun.
You can tell everyone you bought a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive Mercedes with a manual transmission.
Power comes from an 898cc, turbocharged, three-cylinder engine found under the cargo compartment. This compact mill churns out 89 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which is available as low as 2,500 rpm. That's not a lot of power, sure, but there's not exactly a whole lot of car to move around. The ForTwo still uses rear-wheel drive, and you can even get it with a really nice five-speed manual. Just think, you can tell everyone you bought a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive Mercedes with a manual transmission. That's worth at least 100 cool points, right?
The manual transmission is a lot of fun, with a nicely weighted, short-travel clutch pedal. The gear throws are a little long, but engagement is solid. You can pretty much drive the Smart like a diesel – throw it into second gear quickly after taking off, and a rush of torque will greet you until it's time to shift into third. The ForTwo isn't quick, of course – it takes 10.5 seconds to hit 60 miles per hour with the manual transmission – but there's ample power for getting around town and cruising on the highway. At no point was I flat-footing the throttle, even on the many uphill climbs of my drive route in and around Portland, OR. Or should I say, my scavenger hunt. Watch my On Location video at the end of the review for an explanation.
A six-speed, dual-clutch Twinamic automatic is available for folks who don't want to row their own, and while it's not perfect, it's far, far better than the old automated manual transmission (hooray!). My test car exhibited some wonkiness with shifting into first and second gears – a little abrupt, and not smooth – but 90 percent of the time, the Twinamic trans was flawless.
The Smart drives like a more grown-up car.
The Smart obviously excels in city driving. The tiny turning circle means you can whip the ForTwo in and out of tight spaces with ease, though I find the steering a little vague, especially on center. (Confession: I actually really liked the steering on the old ForTwo, and this new car's helm isn't quite as crisp.) There's more suspension travel in the new Smart, and the 15- and 16-inch wheels ride on tires with more sidewall than before. This means the overall ride quality is smooth and compliant, and the majority of pavement irregularities are soaked up. Weirdly, there's a lot more body movement than before. The car pitches and dives, and rolls from side to side, almost comically at times. It's not unusual for this size vehicle – the Scion iQ did the same thing – and it's a tradeoff I'll accept for improved cruising comfort.
Really, the Smart drives like a more grown-up car. It's even quieter, and with the interior improvements, a nicer vehicle to spend time in. Even on the highway, the Smart is composed and confident, and Mercedes' excellent Crosswind Assist functionality helps keep the little guy sure-footed while threading the needle between slow-moving semi trucks. One sour note, though: despite its small size and tall glasshouse, rearward visibility is compromised. The blind spots may be small, but those thick B-pillars completely kill your sight lines.
Fuel economy is improved for 2016, but not by much. Dual-clutch models are rated at 33 miles per gallon city, 39 mpg highway, and 36 mpg combined. The manual transmission drops the city rating to 32 mpg, but keeps the other numbers intact. The big takeaway, though, is that the Smart still can't hit the all-important 40-mpg mark. Bummer. And kind of shocking.
From a value standpoint, it's still hard to recommend a ForTwo.
That's one of the reasons why, despite its improvements, the Smart ForTwo will continue to be a tough sell in the American market. Prices start at $15,700 for the Pure model, including $750 for destination. Prime and Passion trims can be had with lots of options and packages (including a Sport pack, naturally), and the Proxy trim rounds out things up top, cresting $20,000 with all the boxes checked. That's not a huge jump compared to the outgoing Smart, but remember, we live in a world where you can get more functional, more efficient, better-driving cars for less money. From a value standpoint, it's still hard to recommend a ForTwo over pretty much anything else. For 95 percent of buyers, a Honda Fit makes a lot more sense.
But again, Smart knows this. The ForTwo is a lifestyle choice, a second car, or something to be used once in a while, as we've seen with the successful Car2Go sharing program. Besides, the company isn't touting the ForTwo as a one-size-fits-all answer to folks who need miniscule mobility. The new Smart car is a whole lot better than its predecessor, and it moves the ForTwo from "do not buy" status to something you actually might consider. As far as I'm concerned, that's good enough.
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