Our landscapes are changing. More people than ever live in dense urban areas, and automakers are keen to respond to the changes. Visit a major international auto show and you'll see concepts designed for city life -- small, nimble and efficient. The automaker may be ahead of the game, as the little smart fortwo has been available in the U.S. since 2008. But the 2014 smart fortwo now faces competition from other brands keen to take a bite out of its small but growing city-focused market.
Smart has responded to the competition with a fully electric model, the fortwo electric drive, which debuted last year. Beyond that, the conventionally powered fortwo comes in two forms -- a fixed-roof coupe and a cabriolet model with a retractable fabric soft-top. Both offer city dwellers a unique way to cruise around in high style.
What's New for 2014?
The fortwo is unchanged for the 2014 model year.
What We Like
Easy to maneuver and park; fuel-efficient; low base price
What We Don't
Limited use beyond the city; pricey with desirable options
$13,800-$18,500 (gas-powered); $25,500-$28,500 (electric)
Gasoline-powered fortwo models offer one engine and transmission option: a 70-horsepower 1.0-liter 3-cylinder mated to a 5-speed automatic. Expect 34 miles per gallon city/38 mpg hwy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Drivers who prefer the all-electric fortwo electric drive get a 74-hp fully electric motor capable of traveling around 70 miles between charges. It's good for 122 mpg equivalent city/93 mpge hwy, though it doesn't use any gasoline.
Standard Features & Options
The smart fortwo is offered in two trim levels. Only the coupe comes in the base-level "pure" trim, and only with its gasoline engine. Step up to the higher-end "passion" model and you can have your pick of coupe or cabriolet, and gasoline or electric.
The pure ($13,800) includes keyless entry, an automatic transmission, power locks, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and basically nothing else. Yes, you'll have to pay extra for cruise control, a stereo and even air conditioning, and we highly recommend doing so.
Step up to the passion ($15,500 for the coupe and $18,500 for the cabriolet, or $25,500 for the electric coupe and $28,500 for the electric cabriolet) and you get a more sensible equipment list that includes automatic climate control, power windows, power mirrors, a driver's armrest, shift paddles for the automatic transmission, and a stereo with an auxiliary jack and a USB port.
The fortwo's options list is surprisingly long, and it includes items from leather upholstery and heated seats to a navigation system, a 7-speaker surround sound system, LED daytime running lights and fog lights.
Despite its small size, the fortwo gets good marks for safety. In every Insurance Institute for Highway Safety test, it received a Good rating, the highest possible result. While the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet fully tested the smart fortwo, the coupe model received three stars out of five in the group's rollover test.
The 2014 smart fortwo has four airbags in the cabin: two in front and two side-curtain airbags. The entire interior has been designed with passenger safety in mind, and the Tridion cell -- the exposed metal beam just aft of the passenger doors -- is so strong that it needs to be cut into sections before being put in a crusher.
Behind the Wheel
The fortwo's small engine isn't anything to write home about, but no one expects it to be. The real issue, though, is the transmission. The 5-speed automated-manual transmission is indecisive, switching gears early and often. Furthermore, gear changes are remarkably slow. The result is an extremely jerky ride in most driving conditions. We've praised some automated manual transmissions for quick, precise upshifts and downshifts. The smart's is not one of the better ones.
In fact, the fortwo's lack of performance can be downright scary. When turning left onto a main road, the transmission always tries to make its shift to second gear exactly when it is crossing the near lane. Directly in the path of incoming traffic, the transmission seemingly takes eons to shift, stranding the driver in harm's way. Once you get used to the duration of the gap, it's not that much of a problem. And to be fair, the slow and ill-timed gear change never actually resulted in other drivers braking or swerving to avoid us. But until you get used to the awkward 5-speed automatic, dashing across traffic in the fortwo can be harrowing.
Otherwise, the ride can be harsh due to the fortwo's short wheelbase, but it's rarely uncomfortable in low-speed city driving.
With an overall length of 106.1 inches, utility isn't the first priority of the smart. But despite its small size, the fortwo's cabin is spacious, easily fitting 6-foot-plus passengers in its two seats. In fact, if your gaze is purely fixed out the windshield or side windows, it's easy to get into the mindset that you're sitting in a full-size car. Only when you look backward in the cabin or through the rearview mirror do its tiny proportions snap into focus. It is an arresting realization.
With the diminutive engine tucked under the floor compartment in the trunk, trunk space isn't one of the smart's big selling points. The bags from an average grocery run fit just fine. And the fortwo can even handle one golf bag, as long as it's the only thing in the trunk and it's standing upright. For trips, two carry-on bags will fit fine -- again, standing upright -- but that's about it.
Other Cars to Consider
Scion iQ -- We really liked the iQ when we reviewed it last November, recognizing it as one of the best values in the segment. The ride is better than the fortwo's, as is its list of standard equipment. And although it's tiny and suitable only in a jam, the iQ actually has a back seat. City fuel economy is better by a couple ticks, too.
FIAT 500 -- The 500 is also bigger and more expensive than the fortwo. But the FIAT is very maneuverable in the city, and the drive experience is much more satisfying. Plus, the 500 has a usable back seat (or more cargo space with the rear seat folded), and is rated at 40 mpg on the highway.
Toyota Prius c -- If it's fuel economy you're after, the Prius c is a good candidate, and its 4-door body style makes it far more practical than the tiny smart fortwo. But the Toyota doesn't offer the smart's unique styling.
While we might prefer rivals such as the Scion iQ, we don't blame you for being set on the smart fortwo's unique combination of reasonable pricing and city car style. If you do get a fortwo, be sure to get the passion model, as it offers the best possible value in the model's lineup. While we like the fortwo electric drive, its $10,000 price bump is difficult to justify given the smart's tiny size.