Smart Fortwo Test Drive: 45.9 MPG

by Benjamin Jones on June 10, 2009

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To most, the Smart Fortwo is the tiny little city car that you might see parked sideways on the street two to a spot or stuck in traffic somewhere around the city, but to EcoModders the Fortwo presents entirely different possibilities in terms of gas mileage.

The small car has a tiny body, 1.0 liter, 70 hp engine, and the ability to purchase a completely stripped down version. All of those things naturally appeal to EcoModders trying to get the best gas mileage out of a new car without buying a hybrid.

In this review I will go over some of the pros and cons of the Fortwo from a buyer’s perspective, and in a later post I will address some of the ecodriving tips that can be used to get the best gas mileage with the Smart Fortwo.

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Fuel Economy (Pro)

My test drive took me around low speed, town, city, and highway driving of all sorts. I made an honest effort to ecodrive the Fortwo, but at the same time did not go easy on figuring out exactly how fast the car could accelerate from a stop. Overall, I would not say I ecodrove the car seriously. In fact, I wasn’t even using real-time fuel economy instrumentation, so I know it could be better.

Nevertheless, I was happy to see the 45.9 mpg result I got from my test drive. Smart’s critics in the U.S. tend to stick on the lack of diesel and the surprisingly low fuel economy rating for the car, so I wasn’t expecting much. However, the Smart Fortwo clearly gets impressive fuel economy by most standards, and has the potential for even better mileage in the right hands.

Definitely one of the car’s biggest pros.

Safety (Pro)

Smart knew it was going to have its work cut out for itself making the public think the Fortwo was safe despite its size. To do this, they made theFortwo ┬ánot only safer, but safer than average. The Fortwo has great front and side ratings, due primarily to the car’s ability to transfer impact forces around the cabin. You can see this tech on display in every Smart showroom and read crash survivor stories from Smart drivers here.

Drives Like an SUV (Pro)

The Fortwo is designed with high seating to give the driver a commanding view of the road. When driving the Fortwo I was sitting up higher than most sedan drivers and really felt quite a different driving experience than I am used to. For many drivers, especially those who like the high driving position for visibility, will think this is a huge plus for the Smart. It definitely gives it a much more commanding feel from the inside than you would expect seeing it from the outside.

Drives Like an SUV (Con)

However, depending on who you are, you might not like sitting so high up. For certain drivers this means feeling less connected to the road and a less pleasurable driving experience. Really, this is a personal thing. While I may prefer a lower ride for myself, I think most people will consider the ride height a pro.

Rear Visibility (Con)

The seats in the Fortwo have high backs, which means that the rear view mirror has to squeeze through a small opening to provide rear visibility. However, the rear view mirror does do a good job, and I wouldn’t consider it a problem. Unfortunately, there are the usual blind spots to the rear and sides that seem particularly difficult to surmount while driving the Smart. I am used to turning and checking what I can’t see with my mirrors, but this doesn’t work in the Fortwo and is a little disconcerting.

Easy Ingress & Egress (Pro)

Though I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me by others, the Fortwo is quite a lot easier to get in and out of than most cars. The seats are at just the right height for the average person and made it easier for my grandfather and mother to comfortably get in and out of. The Fortwo strikes a good height balance between the typical sedan and SUV.

Tight, Hypersensitive Steering (Con)

While I am not usually one to complain about tight steering, the Smart Fortwo seemed a little twitchy to me. In regular, low-speed, city driving, this wasn’t any problem. In fact, I didn’t even notice this until I got on the highway, where at 60 mph I could feel the car moving around under me. Steering is something I am very picky about, but this still isn’t a deal-breaker, as the problem is quite minor.

Price (Con)

The Smart Fortwo I test drove sold for $15,000. When compared with a good deal on a Civic or Corolla, this seems like a lot. Especially for less seats and less options. You can get the Fortwo for as low at $12,000, but very, very few people actually buy the car at this price due to lack of options. This isn’t necessarily a budget car for someone trying to save a lot of money; it is more of a second car for a family commuting to work or adding another driver to the household.

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Storage (Con)

During my test drive I had the good fortune of needing to haul a large box of scooter parts to the UPS store for shipping. However, it was quite a pain to get into the car. Even moving the passenger seat as far forward as I could, I couldn’t get it in the back. Smart has cleverly designed fold-flat front seats, so I was able to wedge the box in with the seat down. Even so, it still blocked all vision through the rear view mirror. My other car is also a two-seater, so I know what it is like to have to cram things in, but I could fit the box in my back hatch easily without obscuring my field of vision at all.

While the smart would make a good grocery-getter, I could never take it back and forth to college or to bicycle races as it doesn’t have the interior space for one cyclist and bike, let alone two of each. This may rule out the Fortwo as an only car for many active, outdoorsy types.

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Engine Position (Pro)

Unlike most cars, you’ll find the engine in the rear hatch under the spot where you would normally put your groceries. It is easy to get to and all the normal fluids and things are easily accessible, making the sorts of everyday service you would prefer to do yourself quite easy, and even clean. No more messy engine compartments.

EcoDrivability (Pro)

More to come on this in a later post on how to get the best mileage from the Smart Fortwo, but the car definitely has the possibility to surpass the EPA’s fuel economy ratings when driven by the right person.

Automated Manual Transmission (Pro)

Unlike your common slushbox, the Smart Fortwo has an automated manual transmission that can be shifted by computer or manually with the gear selector or wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The paddle shifters may get a bit confusing if you like to shift while turning, but overall they make the driving experience much better. You can shift up earlier than you would ever expect in an auto and shift down early for engine braking. The transmission even disengages its auto-creep function when you are stopped at lights.

Transmission Gearing and Shifting (Con)

To get speed out of the Fortwo’s 1.0 liter, 70hp engine, the car has quite short gearing. This means revving up quickly and shifting often if you want to drive efficiently. There is also a quite pronounced lurch as the car makes it into second gear regardless of what rpm you are shifting at. This was the first thing I noticed about the car when I drove it and one of the biggest complaints I have heard from owners and test drivers.

Cool Factor (Pro)

During my test drive I got lots of looks. I was even stopped in a parking lot and asked about the car. It’s been out on the market for a while, but to most it is still a novel car. Lots of people like the sort of attention that the car garnishes, and if you really want to be on the cutting edge of eco-cool and small footprint driving, this car will give you that feeling.

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Interior (Pro)

The Smart Fortwo has very nice fit and finish. The seats feel good and everything seems to be where it should be. The interior is definitely one of the things that would set the car apart from other vehicles with lower price points.

Accessories (Con)

Even though Smart’s wide range of accessories for customizing their cars may seem impressive, you get the opinion that buyers are getting nickel and dimed when it costs $75 for a fuel cover matching the paint of the rest of the car. Even more for a matching grille trim piece.

Overall: Thumbs up

I know I may sound pretty critical of the car, but if you don’t take a critical approach to things everyone would get a good review and there would be no way to tell the difference between the good and bad products. Nevertheless, Smart has put together a good car. It may not suit everyone and every purpose, but it has carved a niche for itself and it does a very good job in that position.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rob July 12, 2009 at 6:40 pm

While I agree with your points in general, a BIG con, in my opinion, is the recommendation for premium fuel.

My initial writeup on the SmartForTwo is at:

http://hamiltonianfunction.blogspot.com/2009/05/smart-car.html

Rob

2 mohammed March 7, 2011 at 3:03 am

i want know about this car plz….

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