Just as the name smart fortwo tends to befuddle spellcheck, the first edition of Mercedes-Benz’s Smart car to hit U.S. shores perplexed many here. The concept of driving a pint-sized city car designed for European cities in a country famed for its wide-open spaces made the Fortwo an automotive oddity at best.
The all-new 2016 Smart Fortwo is still tiny, and it continues to be more appropriate for the likes San Francisco or East Coast urban environs than say, Minot, North Dakota. But thanks to myriad updates, the new Smart is now a bona fide four-wheeled commodity, a car finally worthy of true consideration.
Exterior design aids the new image. While the car’s overall length is unchanged, the 2016 Fortwo is about 4 inches wider than before, with fender flares front and rear that lend the car a more planted look, so it no longer appears to be running on its tippy toes. The added roundness of the shape plus the larger headlights and taillamps add to the new model’s persona. To be blunt, the Fortwo now looks like a real car.
The previous Smart’s interior was logical and very useable but not necessarily attractive. The 2016 Fortwo’s cabin appears to have been sculpted rather than just laid out. It’s not only appealing to the eye, but it also brings a sense of being in a normal rather than somewhat utilitarian vehicle. Factor in the added width, and it is now a comfy ride for a pair of adults. The passenger seatback can be folded forward to accommodate longer cargo more Boogie Board than surfboard, but it’s a useful feature nonetheless.
The optional multi-function steering wheel in our test car handled most immediate needs. A useful tach/clock combo sprouts from the left side of the dash. That said, the speedo could be easier to read and the HVAC controls are a bit low down on the center stack for quick use in crowded urban traffic.
The 2016 Smart Fortwo’s infotainment system sits high on the car’s center stack, and for $100 you can buy a bracket to hold your iPhone or Android phone of choice in front of it. Download the free Smart Cross Connect app, pair your phone up via Bluetooth and several added functions become available, including vehicle information, radio controls, and a navigation system, plus cool features like a locator for secret tiny places to park your Fortwo. The navi software we used was a beta edition, so hopefully it will be further refined. At this point it requires too much attention for use in a crowded city scene. For folks not used to living with their smartphone, it may be best to hold out for the upcoming, 7-inch in-dash, swipeable touchscreen option.
The powertrain highlights of the new 2016 Fortwo start with the optional dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the atrocious automated manual of last model. A five-speed manual is standard. Also new is an all-aluminum, turbocharged three-cylinder engine. The 0.9-liter engine pumps out 89 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque available at 2,500 rpm. Other related numbers: 0-60 in 10.1 seconds with the manual, 10.5 for the automatic. Fuel economy: 33 city, 39 highway, 36 combined when paired to the automatic. Top speed? A go-there-if-you-dare 96 mph.
Once again the engine is encapsulated under the cargo shelf in a rear-drive layout. As before, at the core of 2016 Fortwo is the car’s rigid “tridion” cell of high-strength steels that cocoons the cabin. With a vehicle as small as the Smart, safety has always been a primary concern, especially here in the U.S. where giant trucks and SUVs clog the roads. Smart is quick to point out that it has done successful frontal collisions of the 2,053-pound Fortwo against the likes of C- and S-Class models. It helps that the Fortwo comes with eight airbags.
Underpinning the car is a new McPherson strut front suspension and a DeDion design at the back. Naturally, ABS, ASR, and ESP are included, as is Crosswind Assist, which helps keep the small-but-tall auto from getting crossed up when the wind whistles hard. A sport suspension is optional.
The 2016 Smart Fortwo has no trouble proving its reputation as a city car. With a turning circle reduced to 22.8 feet (curb to curb), it almost seems to swivel in its wheelbase. Effort with the variable-ratio, electric-assist steering is best termed “urban light,” and you can easily maneuver in places where you’d be curbing wheels in larger cars. Its 89 horsepower seems to be about right for city driving once you get used to the noticeable turbo lag. And, of course, there’s the chance to park parallel with or perpendicular to the curb. This car has always been happy city dweller.
Having lauded its city character, we have to add that the 2016 Fortwo can be reasonably fun on level, twisting roads. Don’t expect steering feedback and again anticipate the turbo lag, but we’d bet you could chase down any one of a number of small-but-prized sports cars from the past. What we can’t imagine enjoying in the Fortwo is climbing over the Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevadas on Interstate 80 or facing a day of 500-plus miles deadheading across southern Texas on Interstate 10. Then again, that isn’t what the Fortwo was designed to do.
It was designed to come in at low price, which happens to be $15,400 to start. Included are such items as power windows, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, and handy little sunglasses boxes over each door. There are four equipment levels — Pure, Passion, Prime, and Proxy — and the expected long list of options. Add $990 for the automatic transmission.
There will be more Fortwos in the future. The Cabrio version was just announced. An electric version is timed for next year, plus a factory-authorized Brabus edition. Whether the latter will be just for looks or with added oomph is unclear at this point. One Smart we won’t see here is the four-door Forfour body style. It wasn’t designed to meet U.S. regulations and, besides, spellcheck would have a fit.
2016 Smart Fortwo Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Price: $15,400
- Engine: 0.9-liter turbocharged DOHC 12-valve inline three-cylinder/89 hp
- Transmission: 5-speed manual, 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Layout: Two-door, 2-passenger, rear-engine, RWD coupe
- EPA Mileage: 33/39 city/highway
- Suspension: struts, springs
- Brakes F/R: discs/drum
- Tires: N/A
- L x W x H: 106.1 x 65.4 x 61.0 in
- Wheelbase: 73.7 in
- Headroom: N/A
- Legroom: N/A
- Shoulder Room: N/A
- Cargo Room: 9.2 cu-ft
- Weight: 1,984-2,053 lb
- Weight Dist. F/R: N/A
- 10.1-10.5 sec
- Top Speed: 96 mph