I instantly despised the first Smart ForTwo when it debuted. Smart my ass. No car should try to convince you that buying one was a good decision. However! The car grew on me and I finally drove the new one. Much to my great pleasure, it was a genuinely wonderful vehicle, though one with a few faults.
There are a few things that turned me on to this new Smart.
I like how it looks, what with its big glowing eyes and squared-up posture.
I like that it has its engine in the rear, like Simcas and other oddball European economy cars of the 1960s that either never came to the United States or all got junked decades ago.
I like that the new one has an optional manual transmission, so Smart owners are no longer relegated to the hell of Daimler’s clunky semi-automated transmission that used to be mandatory for Smarts.
What I wasn’t sure about was when if ever I would get to drive one of these new Smarts, but the opportunity presented itself when my buddy Chris Kippenberger let me drive his in Berlin. Well, he needed somebody to be a chase car driver for some Rolls-Royce video he was shooting and I was present.
Things sort of ended up with me behind the driver’s seat of his black-on-black Smart ForTwo chasing down a 624 horsepower Wraith through the streets of Berlin in the middle of the night.
I am now happy to confirm that the new Smart car is good.
Lots of what I like about it was obvious before I ever turned the car on: it has a tiny tailgate, like a ‘90s Honda or the world’s smallest Range Rover. It has wonderful textures and controls in the roomy, wide interior. The climate control dial, for instance, is a tiny magnifying glass. The temperature you are on is BIG. The other numbers are small.
What I mean to say is that the inside of this car is joyous. This isn’t the most important point about the car to me; I just mention it so you don’t think I’m being forgiving. The real fun of the car is driving it.
Well, there is an immediate annoyance about the car. To get the thing to genuinely sing in the city you need to put it in sport mode and deactivate the stop/start the moment you start the car up. If you leave those off, the Smart feels sluggish and always a step behind you. The sport mode at least makes the car a bit more responsive, which you need.
Yes, you need super active heightened manic ultra minute definitive throttle response when driving the Smart. This is a little silly, as the Smart is billed as probably the most rational and practical car on sale. But you do need as much pinpoint accuracy as possible to enjoy the car. If I could have figured out how to hack the Smart and make it even more needle-precise, I would have.
I would have liked the car more if there was a direct hand control for the engine, or if I could physically force air and fuel into the cylinders myself. I would have liked it even better if the Smart required you to attach brain-sensors to your temples so you could actuate the throttle with your mind. as quickly as humanly possible.
It’s a darty little car with a peppy, zingy little three-cylinder turbo engine mounted above the driven rear wheels. At 0.9 liters, it makes 89 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque. Weight is 1,984 pounds. If you drive it like a leaden, ordinary car, the Smart utterly absolutely slugs and slobs its way around.
This was particularly the case with the ForTwo that I drove, which did indeed have an automatic. At least it has a dual-clutch now, and is not actively bad.
The trick is if you drive it like a go-kart, the Smart a genuinely wonderful experience. Planting your foot to the floor, diving between lanes, this is when the Smart is happy. I even had it through some right-left curve chasing the huge Rolls-Royce and the Smart willfully hugged the road. It wished to careen through town at roughly five times what would be a safe and prudent speed.
I could understand that on America’s open interstates and broken city highways, the Smart could feel kind of lost. That’s fine. I don’t think the Smart wants to be on our kinds of roads anyway. It yearns for taxi-level aggressiveness. It’s eager for full-throttle engagement. Look into its bright eyes.
It wants something out of you; your most urgent, optimistic, take-no-prisoners self. It’s called a Smart, but it wants you to turn off half of your brain, the quiet half, the cautious half, the half that isn’t afraid to fight this speeding ticket.