Permit me to disabuse you of the notion that the Smart Fortwo is an economy car. It seems to be singular in its mission: to be the best city car. The fact that it’s also enjoyable to drive is icing on this little cake.
The diminutive, third generation Lava Orange Fortwo Passion (the mid-tier of the option packages) drives like a featherweight boxer, but checks in at a decidedly hefty $20,595.
For the eco-minded, it can allegedly achieve an average 6.1L/100 on the highway, but I was too busy pushing it to enjoy the engine noises. What?
At the risk of gushing, the 898cc engine sounds like it’s a mashup of a half-six-cylinder boxer and a full-size diesel bus. It’s a joyfully raunchy, mechanical ruckus. I do wish the exhaust was a bit louder – far sportier cars don’t sound this satisfying.
I lost a few L/100’s eliciting its premium-fuelled song, and yet I still managed 6.5L/100 km in my time with the car (80% city) – all with the air conditioning running and a heavy-foot engaged. I think it would be easy to best the Transport Canada numbers if it was the mission. I did reset the counter at one point, and was maintaining 4.9L/100 at speeds of 100 km/h. Not bad for a car meant to zip through dense, city traffic.
The Twinamic six-speed dual-clutch automatic has exorcized the Jeopardy Song demons attributed to the second generation car; it is responsive, even in “eco” mode. The save-the-manuals crowd can rejoice – the Fortwo is finally available in Canada with a five-speed stick.
Initially, the Fortwo seemed intimidating to fling about due to the form factor and skinny tires (165mm wide in the front, 175 in the rear), but the car is decidedly neutral and can turn with an aggression that belies its top-hat stance. I imagine if one could (it is apparently un-possible) disengage the traction control, mad oversteer would be not just possible, but likely. I kept poking around for a button that, sadly, doesn’t exist. Even a traction control light would be welcome here.
The engine itself is rated for 89hp and 100ft-lb torque, but I don’t believe it – it has to be more, for both figures. The car gets up to 70-80km/h with deceptive motivation. Once the revs are above 2,000, the turbo feels to be pressurized enough to get the party going (peak torque starts at 2,500rpm) – even at highway speeds there is plenty of grunt. There’s no need to get out your daytimer to plan a passing maneuver.
Seating position is actually quite good and one can sit fairly low in the car. However, I was ready to accept the idea of taking a yoga class after a long drive – there simply wasn’t enough adjustability in the seat base for my freaky long legs. Another oddity – the steering column was not adjustable in any way on my test vehicle. A perplexing omission.
The steering itself is a bit on the light side, but it’s probably perfect for the targeted buyer. The turning circle is the pièce de résistance – it’s absolutely mind blowing. No hyperbole here – I’ve never been in anything with four wheels and windows that can cut a circle like this car. It turns itself around like an excited puppy.
Road noise is well controlled and I didn’t have to talk loudly with the occasional passenger at highway speeds. A Yaris this is not. Pavement imperfections, and even gaping potholes, while felt, were damped well. The sporadic, weapons-grade speed bumps of the city nearly match the wheelbase and caused a bit of bouncy behaviour. I firmly blame the children. (Or the car-hating politicians. – Ed.)
So, what’s wrong with it? No car can be perfect, and a few things bothered me here. The orange mesh dash material, while attractive, reflects brightly on the windshield on sunny days. The radio isn’t particularly powerful (the upper trim level apparently has a beefier setup), and some of the cutesy design features – like the dashboard tachometer and clock – are a bit odd. On the obvious side is the lack of cargo space, but, it is what it is. One either accepts it or complains. I’ll accept it.
In a world where automotive writers get to drive almost everything, and are happy to be rid of undesirable loaners (I admit it, we’re spoiled), the week with the Fortwo will be remembered as an enjoyable one, though I’d love to have one again with the three pedal setup to see it if I can channel my inner teenager and burn some rubber – if only the traction control will allow me.
2016 Smart Fortwo Passion
Base Price: $18,800
As Tested: $20,595
Notable Options: The $1,795 Passion trim includes alloy wheels, upholstery options, leather steering wheel, smartphone cradle, height-adjustable driver seat, mirror caps in tridion (body shell) colour. Twinamic dual clutch automated transmission, $1,400. Bodypanels in Lava Orange Metallic, $395.
Drivetrain: Rear engined, rear-wheel-drive 89 hp/100 lb-ft, 0.9-litre, 3-cylinder turbo, six-speed dual clutch transmission.
Performance: 6.5L/100 in mostly city driving, AC on, heavy foot.
VVUZZ Summary: If you truly value small footprint and a sublime turning-circle over all else, this is the car for you. May go down in history as the proto-city car.
Images courtesy of the author.