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2017 smart fortwo: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader April 2017

Parking in a city can be a pain. Perhaps it's the scourge of "compact only" spaces, or the SUVs defiantly trying to squeeze themselves into them. Maybe it's the parallel parking spots and the jerks who leave a gap no car can realistically fit into. Either way, a car as tiny as the 2017 smart fortwo can make a real difference. Plus, unlike some other cheap, tiny cars, it possesses funky styling (especially inside) and a certain premium vibe.

Unfortunately, that's about the extent of the smart's virtues. In virtually every other way, it's a struggle to see how it might make sense. It's about the same price as subcompact cars that have more seats and considerably more room. Those other cars are also just as efficient -- or more so -- while being far from the chintzy penalty boxes of old inside. And besides, as helpful as the smart's size is when parking, it can be a detriment when driving. Its handling is tippy, its ride is choppy and you quite simply feel vulnerable driving something so small in this country.

So despite today's smart fortwo being a vast improvement over the microcar it replaced, it just doesn't seem like it would be a smart purchase for most small car buyers. Pun intended.

 What's New for 2017?

After the smart coupe was completely redesigned last year, 2017 sees the smart cabrio and smart Electric Drive undergo the same generational changeover. The Brabus performance package also makes its return for those who like to be ironic.

 What We Like

Park-anywhere size; funky interior design; much improved interior quality and engine power from previous version; quirky styling

 What We Don't

Surprisingly expensive; slow; fuel economy isn't that great; ride can be harsh; limited regenerative braking on electric model; feels vulnerable in a world of SUVs and trucks

 How Much?

$14,700-$20,900

 Fuel Economy

The 2017 smart fortwo comes with a turbocharged 0.9-liter 3-cylinder engine packaged behind the driver, with either a traditional 5-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual. With the automated manual, it returns 33 miles per gallon in the city, 39 mpg on the highway and 35 mpg in combined driving. The manual drops to 34 mpg combined.

The smart fortwo electric drive, as the name suggests, has a single electric motor that produces 80 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque. Official range estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency were not available at the time of this writing, but smart indicates you should expect around 75 miles of range. That's less than what most other EVs provide.

 Standard Features & Options

The two-seat smart fortwo is available in gas and electric variants, both of which can be had as a solid-roof coupe or part-convertible cabrio model. The gas version is available in pure, passion, prime and proxy trim levels.

The base pure ($14,700) trim can only be had as a coupe. It comes standard with 15-in steel wheels, cruise control, power locks and windows, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, a USB port, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and a 2-speaker sound system.

The passion ($16,100 coupe; $18,900 cabrio) adds alloy wheels, a height-adjustable driver's seat, power heated mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, upgraded interior trim, a cargo cover and, on the cabrio, a power-retractable soft-top roof. These items are available on the pure as standalone options.

The prime ($17,500 coupe; $19,900 cabrio) adds a panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights and wipers, LED running/accent lights, fog lamps, leather upholstery and heated front seats. Options include a JBL sound system and a Sport package (16-in wheels, a lowered suspension, a chrome exhaust tip and shift paddles for the obligatory auto-manual transmission). Apart from the leather, these items are optional on the passion.

The proxy ($18,500 coupe; $20,900 cabrio) can only be had with the gas engine. It adds the Sport package, special upholstery and interior trim consisting of blue cloth and white faux-leather, ambient lighting and the JBL sound system.

Available on all but the pure, the Brabus package adds bigger wheels (16-in front, 17-in rear), performance tires, a sport-tuned suspension, special styling, a sport steering system and extended leather trim. A forward-collision warning system and touchscreen interface will eventually be optional in 2017.

Exact specification and pricing for the fortwo electric drive was not available at the time of this writing, but it's available only in a single trim level roughly similar to the passion. Additional feature content is added through optional packages.

 Safety

That black, silver or white bit of trim that wraps around the smart fortwo isn't just there for decoration. It's actually something called the "Tridion safety cell," which provides the fortwo with immense strength and crashworthiness despite its tiny size. Beyond that, the fortwo comes with antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum), traction and stability control, crosswind assist (gas only), side airbags that cover the body and head, and knee airbags. A forward-collision warning system is optional.

The government gave the fortwo 4-star overall and front-crash ratings along with a 5-star side-crash rating. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the best possible rating of Good in the moderate-overlap front and side crash tests.

 Behind the Wheel

With its tiny exterior dimensions and ridiculously small turning circle, you can park the smart fortwo in places no other new car could manage. You even sit up a bit higher than normal, which makes negotiating tough spots even better. The steering's also pretty light, and the new dual-clutch automated manual is much better at creeping forward than the terrible old single-clutch transmission was.

One improvement that came with last year's redesign was the powertrain. Not only is there more power, resulting in a substantially quicker car (it's just "really slow" now instead of "embarrassingly glacial"), but it's available with not one but two transmissions that are superior to what they replace. Besides the previously mentioned dual-clutch automated manual, there's also a traditional manual transmission available. We can't stress how much of an improvement this represents.

Still, the smart is an adventure to drive at best, and a bit scary at worst. In a country filled with SUVs, trucks and big rigs, you can feel pretty vulnerable despite that safety cell. Handling is also tippy, the ride is harsh, and there's plenty of interior noise.

We do like the much-improved interior design. It's funky, colorful and should put a smile on your face. The materials used are high-quality for a car of its price, and adding cloth trim to dash is always a nice way to spruce things up. In terms of space, even taller drivers should be able to get comfortable, and there's enough room for five to seven shopping bags in the 9.2 cu-ft. cargo area.

 Other Cars to Consider

2017 Honda Fit -- For roughly the same price as the smart, you can get a car that's vastly more spacious, more efficient, better-equipped, more comfortable, more powerful, better suited to the highway and cheaper to maintain. Ironically, it can't fit in as many tight parking spots.

2017 FIAT 500 -- It's been a while since it's undergone a redesign, but the 500 offers small proportions, more interior space than the smart and a quirky retro character. It's also available as the electric 500e.

2017 Chevrolet Spark -- The little Spark offers four doors and more equipment for your money compared to the fortwo, but it can't match the smart's more premium vibe and funky styling. It too can be had as an EV.

Used MINI Cooper -- The MINI Cooper may not be as parking-friendly as the smart, but good grief, what type of shoebox are you parking in? This is by far the premium subcompact to get, but given its heftier price tag, it may be necessary to consider a used or certified pre-owned MINI.

 Autotrader's Advice

First, we'd think long and hard about whether your parking situation is really that limited. Otherwise, it's just really hard to make a case for the fortwo. But if you must, we like the passion's extra equipment and colorful interior trim choices.

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Used 2017 smart fortwo Prime
Used 2017 smart fortwo
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 smart fortwo: New Car Review - Autotrader