Smart fortwo: bigger and better built - but gearbox niggles have not been resolved

CULT car the Smart fortwo has been redesigned from the ground up - but fans of the tiny city car need not worry because its distinctive looks have barely altered.

A subtle upgrade to its appearance has taken place though and because of tightened safety requirements the fortwo is now four centimetres wider and almost 20 centimetres longer - which in a car measuring just under 2.7 metres is quite a lot indeed.

The changes not only boost luggage capacity from a minute 150 litres to a far more practical 220 litres but also, says Smart, iron out the original's bouncy ride by allowing engineers to design the car with a longer wheelbase.

And out on the road, the new car does indeed feel a lot more civilised. But it's still a long way from owning and driving a traditional supermini - and the MPV-style driving position and still astonishingly short dimensions really do take getting some getting used to. In fact that raised driving position could leave the driver thinking they are behind the wheel of a people carrier - until a quick glance of the left shoulder reveals the rear windscreen within centimetres of the nose.

The car's notorious semi-automatic gearchange has been redesigned. However, but for some mysterious reason many of the niggles still remain.

Much like the old model, the new system eliminates the need for a clutch and the driver simply pushes the gear lever up or down to swap cogs (owners of the sportier passion models also get steering wheel-mounted paddles as standard).

Smart claims "shift delays" have been cut by more than half compared to the previous model - but the change from first to second gear in particular is still frustratingly slow and, as in the original, all five gear changes are accompanied by an annoying jerkiness.

That's a real shame because the interior of the new car has really been moved up a grade, with better quality plastics, fabric-covered areas on both the dashboard and door panels and a greater feeling of space.

The latest Smart comes with a new one-litre engine available in either 61bhp, 71bhp or 84bhp states of tune. An 85mpg 45bhp diesel offering is also due to arrive in the UK in left-hand drive form later this year. The 1.0 litre emits 112g/CO2 which puts it in the £35 a year road tax bracket.

There are three model in the range - pure, pulse and passion - and every model comes with electronic stability control. Disappointingly, electric power-assisted steering remains on the options list for all models.

Despite the gearchange grumbles the new Smart is still a hoot to drive about town where its small size really does come into its own when you're hunting for a much-prized parking spot. And the 71bhp engine tested delivers enough go to make regular motorway journeys a totally realistic proposition.

But with narrow 155/60 15-inch tyres at the front and larger 175/55 15-inchers at the rear, the Smart is never going to be that much fun around the twisty bits.

With a host of electronic gadgets to keep the Smart and its driver in check - perhaps most noticeably the steering set-up which dramatically gets juggernaut heavy if you try to whiz around a corner too enthusiastically - the little car is at its best at more moderate speeds.

The £8,540 passion model tested might only have room for two but, power steering aside, it packs in enough standard equipment for a whole family - with a glass panoramic roof, air conditioning, ESP, electric windows and alloy wheels all coming in the price.

The latest smart fortwo has enough quality to retain its cult following but it's a real shame that Smart didn't take the opportunity to banish those gearbox niggles once and for all. - Neil Greenfield


marthyj said...

I think this is one of the most compact cars ever built today. I like the Pure one.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I am considering buying a Smarty, but too unsure...after years of Volvo. Since you've owned the car for a while, any suggestions?
Eugenia eugenia.

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