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Road Test: Smart Fortwo Coupe 1.0 Passion 2dr

£11,195 when new

Car specifications

Budget
£11,195
Brake horsepower
71bhp
Fuel consumption
56.5mpg
0–62 mph
14.40s
CO2
115g/km
Max speed
94Mph
Insurance Group
3E

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The original Smart ForTwo packed a surprising amount of disappointment into such a small wheelbase. More saddening than its grotty road manners - clunky ride, head-tilt robo-gearbox, sloppy steering - was how those grotty road manners served to fatally detract from what was a beautifully packaged, borderline revolutionary concept: rear-engined, two seats, impossibly compact wheelbase. A concept that could have sparked a revolution in the make-up of our city streets, have ended our obsession with oversized, over-engineered-for-purpose cars. But so unpleasant was the ForTwo to drive that it allowed everyone to say: “See? Told you. This whole microcar idea is a pile of pigeon guano. Pass me the keys to my Range Rover, I’m off to spend three hours failing to find a parking space big enough.”

But now there’s an all-new ForTwo, one that finally promises to be the car Smart assured us it would be way back in 1998. Developed with Renault - it shares much with the new Twingo and Smart’s very-soon-to-arrive ForFour - the ForTwo retains the two-seat, rear-engined configuration and 269cm length of its predecessor, but swells in width by 11cm. The engines are all-new: a 71bhp 1.0-litre 3cyl turbo and a 90bhp 898cc unit of the same configuration. And, mercy of mercies, Smart has ditched the woeful robotic transmission of the old ForTwo, slotting in its place a 5spd manual ‘box. A Renault-sourced 6spd DCT is a £995 option.

It’s no longer horrid to drive. With new suspension - MacPherson struts up front, de Dion axle at the rear - this ForTwo feels far better planted on the road than before, absorbing bumps and bends without tilting alarmingly, cruising quietly at speed. If you were ordered to drive one from, say, London to Edinburgh, you might not jump at the chance, but you wouldn’t be popping painkillers in preparation for the inevitable suffering. It’s still not what you’d call a focused drive, mind: presumably to mitigate against potential toppliness, the steering - though far better than before - still errs towards the lazy, while big crests set it pitching on its wheelbase. That’s physics - can’t do much about that.

The new gearboxes are a revelation, by virtue of being, well, gearboxes rather than mobile torture devices. The 5spd manual works like a 5spd manual, though the double-clutcher - albeit approximately eight million per cent better than the departing automated manual - is merely acceptable by class standards. In standard Eco mode, Smart has engineered in a surprising degree of what feels like clutch-slip, we’d guess in a bid to iron out any unseemly jolts that might set the ForTwo rocking its springs. Things are better in Sport mode - especially if you override the changes using the gearshifter (no steering-wheel paddles here) - but unless you’ve a) an auto-only licence or b) an aversion to left-foot labour, we’d recommend saving a grand and sticking to the manual.

If you’re hoping the ForTwo has finally fulfilled its potential as the world’s shortest drift car, think again. There’s nothing in the way of outright fun to be had here, but the engines are at least utterly inoffensive. The perkier turbo commands a premium of around £600, but it’s probably not worth it. The base 3cyl is hale enough to haul anything you might reasonably fit in a ForTwo, and offers fractionally better economy into the bargain. And, let’s be honest, anyone buying a ForTwo for sports-car-bullying performance probably ought to reassess their priorities.

The priority for a ForTwo buyer will surely be wiggling down impossibly narrow city streets, and to that end it remains unsurpassed. This car is a joy to finagle into microscopic parking spaces, that slight increase in width doing nothing to affect the Smart’s magnificent manoeuvrability. The turning circle - the narrowest of any car on sale, no less - is hilariously tight, allowing you to spin virtually in the
width of the car.

Much as before, then. And, much as before, the ForTwo is no budget offering, particularly not on a pounds-per-square-metre basis. Prices start at £11,125 for the 71bhp engine with manual gearbox (which is the one you want, anyhow), getting you 15in alloys, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control and, um, that’s about it. If you want your ForTwo with a decent smattering of kit, you’re looking at spending over 12 grand. You could get a bigger, better-equipped Skoda Citigo for less. But you don’t buy a ForTwo because you want more for less: you buy it because, to some extent at least, you want less for more: the ability to smugly park where most can only dream.

And, now, the ability to tackle medium-length journeys without inflicting lasting psychological damage on driver and passenger. The new Smart ForTwo is very, very much better at impersonating a car than its predecessors ever managed, but is that enough? The world has moved on in the 16 years since the introduction of the original ForTwo and, unless you’re an urbanite faced with a very specific set of parking demands (owner of a Notting Hill organic cupcake boutique with an off-street space a fraction under three metres long?), TG struggles to see why you’d plump for the little Smart over, say, one of the Citigo/Up/Mii trio or Renault’s new Twingo, all of which squeeze two more seats and a whole lot more practicality into less than a metre of extra length. It’s no longer a crushing disappointment, the ForTwo, but it’ll remain niche purchase rather than urban revolution.

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