Arguably, it’s the car this model should always have been.
It seems odd to be using a stick shift in this car, particularly after so many years of smart telling us that truly urbanised motoring really needs an automated change. Fortwo owners can still have that, even with the entry-level 71bhp 1. 0-litre model, providing they pay the significant premium necessary to have the three cylinder petrol unit mated with the brand’s ‘twinamic’ 6-speed auto ‘box.
The fortwo in its most straightforward form, with a conventional manual gearbox, an ordinary clutch and an ordinary stick, a little notchy though its five ratios and rather incongruously marshalled by a gearlever straight out of the Renault parts bin. If you’re quick with it and risk a plummeting score from the eco read-out on the dash, then 62mph from rest can be reached in 14. 4 seconds, a result that doesn’t really in any way reward all the thrashy effort required from what is, after all, rather an old engine, one carried over from the previous generation model range.
For that reason alone, I'd be inclined to stump up the extra for the other, much pokier three cylinder petrol engine now on offer to fortwo buyers, a Renault TCe powerplant that at 0. 9-litres, is smaller in size than the smart-derived unit but, thanks to a turbocharger, is much beefier in delivery. It’s also optional available with the ‘twinamic’ automatic gearbox and delivers 90bhp with, more significantly, a 50% increase in pulling power, torque rising from the feebler engine’s 91Nm to a far more acceptable 135Nm.
Just as impressive is the car’s astonishingly tight turning circle, achieved through the use of different tyre sizes front and rear, along with the fact that because there are no driveshafts going to the front wheels, those wheels can be angled out to 45-degrees. As a result, the previous model’s already-impressive 8. 75m turning figure has been improved to a scarcely believable 6. 95m this time round, which is really handy when you spot a parking space on the other side of the road and need to dive in quick smart. It’s abilities of this kind that open up a whole new dimension of town travel at the wheel of this car.
Due to modern safety legislation, the car no longer has the pert, funky ‘one-box’ shape that so defined its predecessors. Or, to put it another way, the newly-acquired ‘one-and-a-half-box’ styling means that it now has a properly defined bonnet and, as a result, looks somehow more conventional than before. This being the case, it’s remarkable that the MK3 model remains every bit as short as its predecessors, just 2. 69m in length.
Otherwise, the profile of the car continues to be characterised by the colour contrast between the body panels and these emphasised outlines of a tridion safety cell that can be finished in black, white or silver.
The twin-section tailgate isn't new, but it's something that driver feedback insisted upon, so the design's been carried over from the previous model, complete with its user-friendly upper opening glass section. Smart drivers loved the fact that even in the tightest parking spaces they could still easily load their cars. As before, the bottom section flattens into a neat picnic perch, strong enough to sit on and incorporating a useful lidded compartment.
And it reveals an amazingly tardis-like cargo bay, boot space to the windowline having apparently increased by 40-litres to create a total 260-litre total capacity greater than all of the car’s most direct (and much larger) citycar rivals.
At the wheel, the spacial surprises continue and you’ll quickly find yourself wondering how on earth something so diminutively small outside can feel so large and airy within. You now feel that you’re in a proper car, rather than some kind of cramped urban mobility pod. Burly folk need no longer be on intimate terms and even slender owners will appreciate the extra elbow room.
The dashboard’s a two-piece affair, with the upper part trimmed in a lovely mesh-effect fabric coating that looks great. This can be colour-co-ordinated alongside the central seat facings and the middle panels in the doors, with black, blue or, orange themes, depending on the model you choose. Further funky touches include the four spherical airvents with their friendly clickety mechanisms, and this unusually-configured air conditioning unit, on which the desired temperature can be set on a central scale you select from with the aid of a sliding magnifying glass.
There’s an expectation that all tiny citycars these days are super-frugal and super-clean. Unfortunately, that’s not quite true, with some segment entrants having fallen behind the game in this regard.
In contrast, the smart delivers on the promises made by its diminutive dimensions, returning 68. 9mpg on the combined cycle and a class-leading 93g/km of CO2 in the 71bhp guise, aided by a stop/start system that cuts the engine when you don’t need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. Opting for the ‘twinamic’ automatic gearbox has virtually no impact on these figures and even if you opt for the turbocharged 90bhp variant, they fall only to 67. 3mpg and 97g/km of CO2.
The smart fortwo has never been more relevant and will remain as appealing as ever to the trendy townies who’ll continue to appreciate its quirky charms.
In summary, assuming you agree that life should be fun as well as cost-effective, and provided that you really don’t need more than two seats and minimal luggage space, the smart has at last become a more sensible prospect, yet still has what it takes to put a smile on your face. In today’s often dismal world, that makes it a car worth having around.