Anyone who's ever endlessly circled a city block or mall parking lot in a search of an open spot has seen them: those partial spaces that go to waste because some inconsiderate person couldn't be bothered to park properly within their space. If you can relate, there is a solution: the 2013 Smart Fortwo.
Broadly popular in European cities where bagging the elusive parking space has been raised to an art form, these two-seat coupes and convertibles are quite literally built for the urban environment. At just under 9 feet long, a Smart Fortwo will slide into fractional spaces -- even parked perpendicular to the curb -- that you wouldn't give a second thought to in another car.
For every driver who views the Fortwo's two-seat interior as a liability, there are plenty of commuters and singles for whom this is a non-issue. The Smart car's tiny 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine is also likely to take many prospective buyers a lot further on a gallon of fuel than whatever they're driving now. Then there's the standout styling, which is virtually guaranteed to be a conversation starter in parking lots and gas stations.
All that said, the 2013 Smart Fortwo does have several significant flaws that keep us from recommending it. Topping that list is an irritating automated manual transmission whose herky-jerky action makes for a thoroughly unrefined driving experience. And while this pint-size people mover is certainly capable of reaching highway speeds, lots of road noise, a choppy ride and buffeting from wind and passing trucks will likely discourage long road trips. Finally, while those fuel economy numbers aren't bad, there are now plenty of competing models that offer both a backseat and equal or even superior fuel mileage numbers.
With all that in mind, we'd strongly suggest considering some of the many worthy alternatives. If you absolutely must have the smallest car on the block, you should also test-drive the only slightly larger three-seat 2013 Scion iQ. If it's maximum mpg you're after, you'd do well to look at the compact 2013 Toyota Prius C or the diesel-powered Volkswagen Golf TDI. For zippy performance in a small, gas-sipping package, the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta and Mini Cooper would be our top picks.
The 2013 Smart Fortwo is offered in both coupe and convertible (Cabriolet) body styles. Coupes are available in a stripped-down Pure trim level and a better-equipped Passion model. The convertible is only offered in the Passion trim level and features a powered soft top with a sunroof-like front section that can be opened independently.
The entry-level Pure model's list of standard features includes 15-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power door locks and manual windows. Options include a Cruise Control package that bundles cruise control and a trip computer, while other common standard features like a radio and air-conditioning are extra-cost options.
Stepping up to the Passion model gets you 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and wipers, see-through roof panels (coupe only), heated power outside mirrors, automatic climate control, power windows, a three-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles, a driver's armrest and a two-speaker sound system with an auxiliary audio jack and USB connection. Options here include a Comfort package (electric power steering, leather upholstery, heated seats, retractable cargo cover), a Style package (distinctive 15-inch alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting, dashboard gauges) and a Technology package (navigation system and a seven-speaker surround-sound audio system). Some of these features are offered as stand-alone options, along with LED daytime running lights, foglights and center console storage.
From the outside, you might not expect the passenger cabin of the 2013 Smart Fortwo to feel so spacious. The large windshield and see-through roof panels on the coupe and retractable front section of the convertible's top create an airy feeling. Both the driver and passenger seats offer generous amounts of head- and legroom. Open the rear hatch and you have a small but workable 8-cubic-foot cargo hold that can be expanded in a pinch via the fold-flat front passenger seat. With the battery pack placed under the floor, the Fortwo Electric provides the same size cargo area as its gasoline counterpart.
The interior on the entry-level Pure leaves lots to be desired, lacking features most modern buyers expect like a radio, air-conditioning and power windows. The top Passion trim level is much more acceptable in this regard and can be decked out with all the toys if you're so inclined, though this can drive the price to head-scratching heights.
Powering the 2013 Smart Fortwo is a rear-mounted 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that delivers 70 horsepower and 68 pound-feet of torque. This is sent to the rear wheels through a five-speed automated manual transmission.
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 34 mpg city/38 mpg highway and 36 mpg combined. Premium fuel is required, however.
With a 55kW electric motor and a 17.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the Smart Fortwo Electric generates a continuous 47 hp and 96 lb-ft of torque. A burst mode can briefly increase that output to around 70 hp. That's good enough to propel the Fortwo Electric from zero to 60 mph in an estimated 11.5 seconds. The EV tops out at 78 mph, however.
Driving the 2013 Smart Fortwo around town is a passable experience as you zip in and out of traffic in ways that are just not possible with larger cars. The fact that two Smart cars parked end to end are still shorter than a full-size SUV like the Chevrolet Suburban gives you some idea of the parking possibilities this microcar opens up. Handling is secure, but the combination of a too-firm suspension and a short wheelbase creates a harsh ride quality that can become tiresome on long drives.
The 1.0-liter three-cylinder mounted behind the front seats provides decent power both on city streets and the highway, though it begins to feel a little winded at interstate speeds. The real annoyance is the performance of the five-speed automated transmission that produces unacceptably slow, jerky gearchanges in "automatic" mode. Shifting manually mitigates this flaw somewhat, but it's not an overstatement to say this transmission ruins what otherwise might be an all-around decent driving experience.
Standard safety features on the 2013 Smart Fortwo include antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, hill-start assist and eight airbags including front, knee, side-impact and side curtain. In crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Fortwo earned the top rating of Good in frontal-offset and side impacts.
For 2013, the Smart Fortwo gets mildly updated exterior styling, a driver seat armrest on top Passion models and a leather upholstery option. An electric version of the Fortwo, dubbed the Electric Drive, is also set to debut.