We've all seen them while trying to park in crowded cities or shopping centers -- those partial parking spots left by those too inconsiderate to park properly. If this maddening scenario is all too familiar, the diminutive 2014 Smart Fortwo can offer relief. At just under 9 feet long, a Smart Fortwo measures nearly 3 feet shorter in length than a Fiat 500, and will thus fit into parking spots normally usable only by motorcycles and scooters.
Long popular in crowded European cities, the subcompact Smart Fortwo is a natural fit for urban environments where space, parking and otherwise, is at a premium. Though some may point out the aptly named Fortwo's strictly two-passenger status as a negative, there are plenty of commuters who would consider that a non-issue. The gasoline-powered Fortwo also provides good fuel economy, as it's rated at 36 mpg in combined driving. Of course, there is also the Fortwo Electric Drive, which doesn't use gasoline at all.
However, the Smart has a number of issues that prevent us from recommending it. Topping that list (in the gas version) is an irritating automated manual transmission whose herky-jerky shifts make for a rather annoying driving experience. And although the Fortwo is certainly capable of freeway speeds, its excessive road noise, choppy ride and susceptibility to buffeting from wind and passing trucks discourage long road trips. Lastly, there are now plenty of more comfortable small cars that offer both a backseat and equal or even better fuel mileage.
With all that in mind, we'd strongly suggest some alternatives. If easy parking is paramount, you should also test-drive the only slightly larger three-seat 2014 Scion iQ. If it's maximum mpg you're after, you'd do well to look at the compact 2014 Toyota Prius C. For zippy performance in a small, gas-sipping package, the 2014 Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta and Mini Cooper would be our top picks. The 2014 Fiat 500e (the electric version of the Fiat 500) is also a superior choice to the electric Fortwo. Although the 2014 Smart Fortwo's iconic shape and tidy footprint will no doubt appeal to some shoppers, if you look at the bigger picture, there's more value to be had in rivals.
The 2014 Smart Fortwo is offered in both coupe and convertible (Cabriolet) body styles. Coupes are available in base Pure and better-equipped Passion trim levels. The convertible is only offered in the Passion trim and features a powered soft top with a sunroof-like front section that can be opened independently. The Fortwo Electric Drive is available in a single trim level and can also be had in coupe and convertible body styles.
The entry-level Pure model's list of standard features includes 15-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, air-conditioning, power door locks and manual windows. Options include a Cruise Control package (bundles cruise control and a trip computer), electric-assisted power steering (unassisted steering is standard), automatic climate control, heated seats and a two-speaker sound system with an auxiliary audio jack and USB interface.
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 the two-speaker sound system.
Options here include a Comfort package (power steering, leather upholstery, heated seats, a retractable cargo cover), a Style package (distinctive 15-inch alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting and additional dashboard gauges) and a Technology package (a 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. There's also a Brabus Sport package that adds an aerodynamic body kit, unique 15-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and the contents of the Comfort package.
The Fortwo Electric Drive is equipped identically to the Passion, although it comes standard with power steering and doesn't have the shift paddles. It offers similar options.
From the outside, you might not expect the cabin of the 2014 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 Drive provides the same cargo capacity as its gasoline counterpart.
The interior of the entry-level Smart Fortwo Pure leaves lots to be desired, however, as it lacks some pretty basic features like a radio 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 2014 Smart Fortwo Pure and Passion 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 sluggish 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 36 mpg combined (34 city/38 highway). Premium fuel is required, however.
With a 55kW electric motor and a 17.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive 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. According to the EPA, the electric Smart has a range of 68 miles.
Driving the 2014 Smart Fortwo around town is a passable experience mainly because you can 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 engine mounted behind the seats in gas-powered Smarts 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 2014 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 moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side impact and roof strength tests. Its seat/head restraint design was rated "Acceptable" (second best out of the four ratings) for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
For 2014, the Smart Fortwo gets a few more standard features, including air-conditioning for the base Pure trim level.