December 2006
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Smart ForTwo
Smart ForTwo

SMART FORTWO
Tested model: Coupe "Passion," 0.8-liter three-cylinder, six-speed automatic
Test tires: Continental ContiEcoContact EP, size 145/65R15 72T (front), 175/55R15 77T (rear)
Price: $21,874 U.S. (in Canada)


Highs: Fuel economy, access, visibility, turning circle, easy to park, cute.
Lows: Transmission, acceleration, handling, agility, ride, noise, transmission, controls, seats only two, price, cargo area.

The Smart ForTwo is a tiny urban runabout that's considered fashionable in large European cities. After testing one that we bought in Canada for nine months, we've concluded it's not worth the hype. The Smart has two strong points: its cute looks and ease of parking. Otherwise, it's slow, it's noisy, it handles reluctantly, and it has the worst transmission shift quality we've ever experienced. Fuel economy, while good, is no better than that of the Toyota Prius--a larger, quicker, cleaner-emissions car. We do not have reliability data for the Smart.


THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE

The ride is harsh and fidgety, with pronounced stiff, rubbery impacts. The industrial-sounding diesel engine manages to drown out high levels of road and wind noise.

Consumer Reports Video
FIRST LOOK
Smart for two
Handling, usually a strong suit for small cars, feels clumsy and reluctant. Body lean is pronounced. The slow, unassisted steering is vague and requires large inputs. It is forgiving at its limits thanks to standard stability control. It posted a respectable speed through our avoidance maneuver. Its 29-foot turning circle is the shortest we've ever measured and is an asset in tight parking maneuvers.

The 40-hp, 0.8-liter turbocharged diesel engine delivers abundant noise and the slowest acceleration of any vehicle we've tested. The ForTwo took 23 seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph, almost twice the time of other small cars. (In fact, we almost ran out of track trying to get it up to 60 mph.) We've been getting 43 mpg overall. The small 5.8 gallon tank yields a short cruising range of about 200 miles. The six-speed automatic transmission pauses and lurches every time it shifts gears. The automatic mode selector button is not obvious on the side of the shifter. Changing gears manually brings the same behavior. There is no Park setting, so you need to put the car in reverse and set the parking brake like in a car with a manual transmission. Brakes brought short stops, but the bottom-hinged pedal was difficult to use for some drivers.


INSIDE THE CABIN
2006 Smart ForTwo's interior
The interior of the Smart uses lots of bright colors and whimsical shapes. Everything feels solid, but there is some exposed metal as well as visible screws and hard plastic.

Drivers sit high, in a commanding driving position. There is plenty of space for even tall drivers. Seats are comfortable and provide good support. Large drivers may find the buckets are too narrow, and passengers make do with less leg room. Wide doors and high seats make access easy. Large windows provide excellent visibility. Due to the height, you don't feel as vulnerable as you'd expect while driving. Only when you look back does it become clear how tiny the Smart really is.

Gauges are large and legible, but the tachometer is oddly placed in a pod that stands on top of the dashboard. Many controls are difficult to locate or operate. It's not even obvious how to start the car. No labels instruct that the shifter has to be moved to neutral and the unlock button pressed to deactivate the immobilizer. Several confusing levers and buttons operate the weak air conditioner and heater. The A/C control has two power settings: feeble and almost powerful enough.

Interior storage space varies, depending on how much is spent on optional accessories such as cup holders and coin trays. Our car had very limited interior storage and no cup holder. Surprisingly, the cargo area, behind the seats and above the rear engine, can hold two suitcases and a duffle bag.


SAFETY NOTES

Standard side-impact air bags supplement required front air bags and three-point safety belts for both driver and passenger. The safety-belt anchors don't adjust. Both belts are equipped with pretensioners and force limiters to reduce belt slack and forces in a crash. The side-impact air bag on the passenger's side will not deploy if that seat is unoccupied. Integral head restraints in both seats are tall enough to adequately reduce rearward head travel and whiplash injury. Daytime running lights are standard.

Since the Smart is currently not for sale in the U.S. and therefore not certified to U.S specifications, neither NHTSA nor IIHS crash tests have been performed. In a similar test to that of the IIHS, the European consortium of motoring clubs (Euro NCAP) awarded it 3 out of 5 stars.

Driving with kids. There is no provision for shutting off the passenger air bag, so rear-facing infant seats cannot be used. There is a top-tether anchor in the ceiling for front-facing seats, which can be secured using the safety belt.