Ride Review: smart forTwo

By Randy Stern January 23, 2014

Categories: Our Homes, Vehicles & Rides

2013 smart forTwo Passion Coupe - Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz USA LLC

2013 smart forTwo passion coupe – Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz USA LLC

The smart forTwo is being marketed as the “uncar.”

That is interesting considering it has four wheels, an internal combustion engine (or an electric motor), a steering wheel and passes muster for being a car in all 50 states.

However, the French-built city car from Daimler AG will surprise you. Many people have ridiculed the smart for being too small for American roads. The engine is too weak, we said. We even pointed out that there might be a lack of cargo space for even grocery shopping runs.

The first surprise is the space. For a two seater, there is enough room for larger-framed people. Legroom is great, as is headroom. The seats are comfortable and supportive. You get a great view of the small instrument binnacle and the steering wheel is the right size. Better still is your outward vision – a large windshield giving you a clear view of what is front of you.

One thing you will notice is how you get into the smart. Most cars you step into the front seat – you feet going deeper than the doorsills. The smart has a truck-like step-in. The floor is built as part of the tridion safety shell with no step-in beyond the doorsill. In a way, this works.

Switches are a bit funky for the design, but are easy to use and good to the touch. Once you understand the workings of these switches, the smart becomes rather easy to use and drive. That is, if you do not mind the small rearview mirror. That is the only downside of the cabin.

Another surprise is the cargo hold. While the tailgate opens up two ways – the glass up and the bottom does down – if does accommodate quite a bit behind the seats. A mid-sized roller bag and a carry-on would work well. A week’s worth of groceries would work fine back there, too. Even raiding the mall for a new wardrobe would fill the cargo hold of the smart.

Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz USA LLC

Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz USA LLC

The model tested is the pure coupe. Even in the lowest model, you do get air conditioning. Plus, there are enough passive and active safety features that will keep you locked into the tridion shell. If you do not like just basic equipment, the passion coupe offers a whole host of upgraded equipment – power windows, cruise control, trip computer, optional navigation system and other luxury options.

Regardless of model, the one thing that will surprise you is the driving experience. There is a 70 horsepower 1.0liter three-cylinder in the extreme rear of the smart forTwo. However, you will be surprised how well it holds in traffic. The five-speed smartsfift automated gearbox works well – except for a few spots were the shifts “drop” in city traffic. Also, expect a long first gear transition when starting off in catching up to traffic.

Believe it or not, the smart is happiest at 40MPH. It buzzes along at speed, selects the right gear and just propels you onward. It is stable – something of a fear for potential smart owners. That stability comes from the wheels stretched out to the edges of the tridion shell – giving it a nice ride-handling mix that is right for the city. The steering is good – great feel and reaction. Once you mastered the brake pedal coming from the floor – you will find that the smart forTwo stops very well.

The biggest surprise of them all is something of a factor in living in the northern climes – the smart is great in the snow. The forTwo pure coupe has anti-lock brakes and Daimler AG’s Electronic Stability Program. You will find not only great traction on snow, but an uncanny ability to get out of unplowed parking areas with ease. Based on a previous reviewed vehicle – the smart’s snow traction is far superior to another “cute” compact contraption not to be named in this piece.

If you are looking to buy one, prices start at just over $14,000. You also have plenty of upgrade options in both the pure and passion coupes that will bring prices up into the subcompact car range. You could also choose the cabriolet, with a folding roof above the cabin or select the electric drive model, if you wish to simply go without gasoline. In fact, the electric drive is the lowest-priced electric vehicle on the market – but only available in eight states at the present time.

We forget that the smart forTwo is indeed a car. You will find how surprising the smart is when you get to know one better.

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