For anyone who lives or works in urban centers like New York or San Francisco that are plagued by a chronic shortage of parking spaces, there's no need to explain the appeal of the 2015 Smart Fortwo. At slightly less than 9 feet in length, this two-passenger microcar's entire mission is to allow its owner to squeeze it into all those curbside spots that are too small for even the stubbiest of subcompacts. Unfortunately, that's about where the Fortwo's appeal ends.
Topping the list of negatives are the annoying hesitations and clunky gearchanges that have long plagued the gasoline-powered model's automated-manual transmission. That problem thankfully doesn't exist for the Fortwo Electric Drive because of its all-electric powertrain. But all Fortwos are prone to a choppy ride quality, a substantial amount of road noise and noticeable buffeting in crosswinds, all of which can become tedious on long road trips. Pokey acceleration is another notable drawback.
With these downsides in mind, it's not surprising that we'd urge buyers considering the 2015 Fortwo to look at a number of more refined and practical competitors. If small size is a big deal for you, we'd recommend that you check out the only slightly larger but more enjoyable to drive 2015 Scion iQ. For those in search of maximum mpg, the compact Toyota Prius C should work out well. We'd also point you to any of the top subcompacts like the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit, as they're more comfortable to drive and offer a more attractive set of features for the money. Finally, if zero-emissions operation is important, the 2015 Fiat 500e provides more range, quicker acceleration and a superior on-road feel than the Smart Electric Drive.
Good news is coming for next year as Smart is set to introduce an all-new Fortwo that will be a little bigger and more refined. But for this year, the Smart Fortwo is simply outclassed.
The 2015 Smart Fortwo is offered in both coupe and convertible (a.k.a. Cabriolet) body styles. Coupes are available in entry-level Pure and better-equipped Passion trim levels. The convertible, which features a powered soft top with a sunroof-like front section that can be opened independently, is only offered in the Passion trim. The Fortwo Electric Drive is also available in coupe and convertible body styles in a single trim level.
The base Pure coupe's short list of standard features includes 15-inch steel wheels, a solid roof panel, keyless entry, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a flat-folding passenger seat, manual windows, power door locks and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Stepping up to the Passion trim level gets you 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and wipers, a see-through roof panel (coupe only), a power-folding convertible top (Cabriolet only), heated power side mirrors, power windows, a three-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles, a driver armrest and a two-speaker sound system with USB and auxiliary audio input jacks.
The Smart Fortwo Electric Drive includes most of the Passion coupe and convertible's standard features and adds electric power steering
The options list includes a Cruise Control package that bundles cruise control and a trip computer and removes the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. A Comfort package offered on the Passion coupe and convertible includes electric power steering, leather upholstery, heated seats and a retractable cargo area cover. The Style package offered on Passion models includes 15-inch Brabus alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, ambient interior lighting and additional instruments in dash-top pods; the same package on the Fortwo Electric Drive includes distinctive green and white trim pieces inside and out. Finally, a Technology package that includes a navigation system and a seven-speaker surround-sound audio system is offered on both Passion body styles and the Electric Drive variant.
Stand-alone options include foglights, LED daytime running lights, dash-top gauges and most of the features in the option packages noted above.
The Fortwo Pure is quite basic inside -- power windows and even a radio are options. Even the better equipped Passion model charges extra for simple everyday features like power steering, cruise control and a retractable cargo area cover. But the passenger cabin feels a good bit more spacious than you might expect given the car's diminutive exterior. Part of the credit for this feeling of openness goes to the large windshield and the see-through roof panel on the Passion coupe and the front section of the retractable roof on the Passion convertible.
The Fortwo's podlike body shell also creates generous amounts of head- and legroom. Behind the seats, the cargo area offers a passable 8 cubic feet of storage that can be expanded to accommodate long items via the flat-folding passenger seat. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that, unlike some electric and hybrid models, the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive doesn't sacrifice any of this cargo space to make room for the battery pack, as designers have managed to sandwich it beneath the floor.
The 2015 Smart Fortwo Pure and Passion models are powered by a rear-mounted 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that produces 70 horsepower and 68 pound-feet of torque. Power flows to the rear wheels by way of a five-speed automated-manual transmission.
In Edmunds testing, a Smart Fortwo went from zero to 60 mph in a painfully slow 14.1 seconds on its way to a 90 mph top speed. Though its fuel capacity is only 8.7 gallons, the car's range is acceptable when you figure in its EPA-estimated fuel economy of 36 mpg combined (34 city/38 highway). These are offset, however, by the fact that the engine requires expensive premium fuel.
The Smart Fortwo Electric Drive's powertrain includes a 55kW electric motor and a 17.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Rated power is 47 hp, but a burst mode allows the Electric to generate 74 hp for a short period of time. Acceleration from zero to 60 mph is said to take 11.5 seconds. Smart also says fully charging the battery with a 240-volt power source will take 6 hours, which is a long time for an EV. According to the EPA, the electric Smart has a range of 68 miles and an overall efficiency rating of 32 kWh used per 100 miles driven.
From behind the steering wheel, the 2015 Smart Fortwo is a bit of a mixed bag. With a size that makes even pint-sized cars like the Mini Cooper seem large and a tight turning circle, the Smart lets you move through snarled traffic and snag partial parking spots in a way that's sure to make many of the drivers around you envious. On the open road, however, the Fortwo's combination of a short wheelbase and firm suspension tuning creates a rough ride that takes a good bit of fun out of the driving equation.
Much the same can be said of the standard model's 70-hp three-cylinder engine, which gives the car sufficient zip in slow-moving traffic but begins to feel winded when driven at prolonged freeway speeds. By far the biggest drawback of this powertrain, though, is the performance of the automated-manual transmission that provides gearchanges that are slow and clunky in fully automatic mode and only slightly less aggravating when shifted manually.
Standard safety features on the 2015 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.
With an all-new third-generation model due out later in the year, the 2015 Smart Fortwo continues unchanged.