The 2011 Smart Fortwo is a car of contradictions. In many of the ways that people expect it to suffer -- interior space, passenger comfort and crash-test scores, for instance -- the Fortwo actually does quite well. But in other aspects that you'd otherwise take for granted, the Fortwo disappoints.
The Smart Fortwo's 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine puts out 70 horsepower -- an unimpressive figure in today's world. It's not a major drawback, though, as the Fortwo generally feels surprisingly energetic around town. No, the drawback is the transmission to which it's connected. This single-clutch, automated manual transmission shifts gears so slowly and clumsily that the noticeable shift shock will make passengers wonder what's wrong with it.
There are other contradictions, too. The Smart car's small footprint means it's easy to fit in the smallest of parking spaces, but the jumpy driveline engagement during the parking process makes doing so a real adventure. Fuel economy is very good, but the engine requires premium gas. And though it's certainly not an expensive car, the 2011 Smart Fortwo is pricey for what you get, which is essentially a two-passenger runabout with a one-dimensional, city-oriented personality.
Considering all this, the Smart Fortwo's competition looks pretty attractive. Even if we were to forgive the Fortwo for some of its flaws, we'd still recommend any number of basic (although slightly more expensive) cars with more well-rounded personalities. That group includes the 2011 Honda Fit, the 2011 Ford Fiesta, the 2011 Hyundai Accent and the 2011 Mazda 2.
The 2011 Smart Fortwo is a two-seat subcompact available as a hatchback coupe or a convertible (Cabriolet). There are two trim levels: Pure and Passion.
The Pure includes 15-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and two pre-wired speakers. Options include air-conditioning and a radio with auxiliary audio/USB jack.
The Passion Coupe adds the Pure's options, plus 15-inch alloy wheels, transmission shift paddles, a glass roof, heated power mirrors, power windows and a sport steering wheel. The Passion Cabriolet further adds a power convertible top, a glass rear window and side airbags (in place of side curtain airbags).
Options on the Pure and Passion include LED daytime running lights, automatic lights and wipers, power steering, heated seats, center console storage and an alarm. Cruise control is also available and includes a trip computer but eliminates the paddle shifters. The Passion models can be further equipped with additional gauges and the Comfort package, which includes foglights, power steering and heated leather seats.
Also available is the Style package that adds wider tires and wheels, foglights and metallic paint. Most of the bundled options are also available on their own.
Despite its comically small exterior proportions, the Smart Fortwo is remarkably roomy inside. There's enough head- and legroom for 6-foot-plus occupants while the passenger benefits from an additional 6 inches of seat travel. The passenger seat also folds flat to provide more cargo space than the 7 cubic feet the cargo area behind the seats can hold (12 cubes if you load it to the roof, blocking rear visibility).
The interior is pleasantly modern in design, with a choice of several monochromatic and two-tone color palates available. The Passion models feature cloth upholstery with bold colors and wild patterns, while the base Pure models are notably tame by comparison -- a radio and air-conditioning are optional.
Powering the 2011 Smart Fortwo is a rear-mounted 1.0-liter three-cylinder Mitsubishi engine that delivers 70 hp and 68 pound-feet of torque. This is sent to the rear wheels through a five-speed automated manual transmission. The transmission can be shifted manually if desired via the console-mounted stick on all models or shift paddles on the steering wheel of the Passion.
In Edmunds testing, a Smart Fortwo went from zero to 60 mph in a glacial 14.1 seconds on its way to a 90 mph top speed. Though its fuel capacity is only 8.7 gallons, the range is acceptable considering its EPA-estimated fuel economy of 33 mpg city/41 mpg highway and 36 mpg combined. Premium fuel is required, however.
Don't expect too much in the way of driving refinement with the 2011 Smart Fortwo. Ruts and bumps in the road are acceptably damped and the Fortwo can be fun to drive around town, but the tiny car is easily upset by crosswinds and gusts from passing trucks on the highway. Furthermore, the automated manual transmission is as crude a unit as you'll find in any car. Shifts are not only slow, but they're also accompanied by a significant lurch. Gearchanges can be made smoother with a well-timed throttle lift in manual mode, but that defeats the point of having an automatic in the first place.
Pulling away from a stop, the Smart car is at least capable of accelerating with more authority than a golf cart, but quickly runs out of steam as the revs and speed increase. Compounding matters, the automated clutch is slow to react and in parking lots, the car has a tendency to dart forward or backward, rather than crawl or roll. We're also not fans of the awkward brake pedal placement and its inconsistent travel.
The 2011 Smart Fortwo is built by Mercedes-Benz, and as such, it offers ample occupant protection. Standard safety equipment includes side curtain airbags for the coupe models and side airbags for the cabriolet, knee bolster airbags, antilock brakes (front discs and rear drums), hill-hold assist, stability control and traction control. In Edmunds brake testing, the Fortwo Passion came to a stop from 60 mph in 124 feet -- a better-than-average distance for a subcompact.
The Smart Fortwo has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) resulted in four out of five stars for frontal crash protection of the driver and three stars for passenger protection. In side impacts, the Smart was awarded a perfect five out of five stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Smart its highest rating of "Good" for both frontal- and side-impact protection.
For 2011 the Smart Fortwo receives a few minor cosmetic changes, LED daytime running lights, a new upper dash panel, cruise control, additional interior storage options and an upgraded audio system as well as side curtain and knee airbags.