There aren't many people for whom a Smart ForTwo is a good purchase decision. But if parking is at an extreme premium where you live, it might be a very good option. However, you better be sure that you're OK with a slow two-seater that gets surprisingly low fuel mileage (33/41 mpg city/highway, per the EPA), rides like a buckboard, and costs about the same as several "real cars" with a back seat, namely the Nissan Versa, the Chevy Aveo, the Kia Rio, and the Hyundai Accent.
The fancified ForTwo "Passion" that we tested stickered for a hair under $17,000, which can get you into an even greater number of solid competitors. That's not to say that the Smart is a throwaway option. The interior features obviously cheap materials, but they're not offensive and fit well with the car's character. The ForTwo also offers a growly engine note, swappable body panels, and distinctive styling inside and out.
The ForTwo's luggage space (in front of the rear window, on top of the rear-mounted engine compartment) should actually be more than sufficient for a week's worth of grocery shopping for a two-person household, but Costco runs are definitely out of the question. Legroom is quite good -- I'm five-foot-six and had to move the seat up quite a bit to reach the pedals. I love the transparent roof (standard on the Passion trim level); it makes the car feel larger and more welcoming but keeps the cabin quieter than an open convertible top. Not surprisingly, the cockpit still gets fairly loud on the highway, but it's not as bad as I expected. The sequential-manual transmission's constant between-gear hiccups are quite unpleasant, however, as are the touchy, strange-feeling brakes, the giant dead spot in the steering wheel's on-center position, and the shockingly low handling limits -- the stability control light flashed several times when I wasn't even pushing the car very hard.
I'd be willing to bet that the ForTwo has the longest door-to-car ratio ever. These doors seem every bit as long as a Ford Mustang's, making it tricky to get out of the Smart in tight side-to-side parking situations. Those folks parking Smarts nose-in amid lines of parallel-parked cars have got to be damned skinny!
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor