Innovation is rarely cheap, but for such a small car, the Smart ForTwo has been a mind-bendingly expensive good idea. An exact figure has never been publicly disclosed, but this little tub of a thing has lost Daimler many billions since it launched the first one in 1998.
So it would have been easy for the board to lose their bottle and pull the plug, but whatever the cost of development and production it always felt like a car that modern, chaotic, cramped urban life needed. Now, with this new model, Daimler hopes to have turned the corner.
Click here for our first news and photos of the 2015 Smart Fortwo.
Smart ForTwo review: is the new one better?
More refined, better built and even more able to nip its occupants into gaps with maddening smugness, the ForTwo is effectively a cut-and-shut new ForFour or Renault Twingo, which is where a lot of the development cost has been subsumed, by using the same three-cylinder engine configurations and similar underpinnings.
The ForTwo’s styling is less cute than before though, having grown from its iconic one-box design into a more conventional ‘one-and-a-half box’ silhouette, necessitated by its lineage to the larger cars and the need for better crash protection.
In fact, the bulbous features make it look as though it has been wrapped in one of those ugly rubber cases you can get for iPhones. Handy when accidentally nudging into hard things, but a less endearing aesthetic for it.
Fortwo specs, dimensions… it’s still a tiny city car
The track and overall width is 100mm wider than previously but the car’s overall length remains the same. In the cabin the extra space, and the better use of it, is apparent. Driver and passenger do not have to be intimately engaged to feel comfortable next to each other any more, thanks to more generous shoulder room, while it is a notably classier place from which to swear at bus drivers.
The utilitarian plastic knobs and hard surfaces have been replaced with nicely detailed and trimmed oblong sliders and soft-touch surfaces with LED backlighting. Even the doors shut with a thump now rather than clang, like a real car.
Two improvements to the driving experience are immediately noticeable: the ride quality is vastly better and so is the gearbox. The suspension deals with sharp impacts far more compliantly than before, due to increased spring travel and deeper tyre sidewalls, although you would never call it a soft car. And that short wheelbase means the car still bonks as one entity over bigger obstacles such as speed bumps.
Also, nearly all the cars at launch featured the new five-speed manual (using a Renault Megane gearknob, if parts-bin spotting is your game) but a couple of pre-production autos were on hand to help prove it’s not going to be as bad as before.
In the old car, that curmudgeonly gearbox became less crotchety with age, but the new twin- clutch unit is much smoother from the outset. And a Smart feels like a car suited to a good auto transmission – just stick your foot down and whizz into gaps with no delay.
The Smart’s natural habitat: urban roads
In town, neither the 70bhp naturally aspirated nor the 88bhp turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine get a chance to show off their limited performance, but both feel sprightly enough to allow plenty of lane-swapping cheek, even if they aren’t going to win any light-to-light drag races. As you might expect, the ForTwo changes direction fairly sharply, feeling nicely secure as it does so thanks to its four-square stance. The Twingo and ForFour, and the previous ForTwo, have turning circles a pole dancer would be proud of, but this ForTwo makes them all seem lumbering, finding itself pointing the way it came in a space of less than seven metres.
There are three trim levels. All sound like retail park nightclub chains; passion, prime and proxy. Other trendy offerings include an app with which latte-grabbing anarchists who’ve found an odd space into which to cram a Smart can take pics and post their locations for other Smarties to use.
Over the years, with 1.6 million sold, the ForTwo has become a staple of urban life alongside mad tramps and filthy pigeons, and created a successful subculture all of its own among owners. With this iteration it might finally make Daimler some money too.