By KBB.com Editors
Americans don't like small cars. That's an over-generalization, of course, but there's little doubt our country's is the biggest, heaviest vehicle fleet in the world. Record gas prices and increasing environmental awareness, though, have combined to create a bona fide boom in sales of compact cars. In some respects, Mercedes-Benz couldn't have chosen a better time to introduce to the U.S. its smart brand microcars that have been tooling around Europe for 10 years now. The new, second-generation fortwo is also larger than the first (believe it or not), which is just the way we Americans like it.
If you like the idea of driving a car that turns heads and starts conversations, or if you face parking challenges on a regular basis, the fortwo may be for you. The fortwo cabriolet boasts the added advantage of being the most affordable convertible available.
If you're looking to mitigate the financial impact of a longish highway commute, you might be disappointed in the affordable and fuel-efficient smart fortwo's skittish highway manners. You may also find frustrating the shifting behavior of the fortwo's "automated manual" transmission.
Fresh from its American debut last year, the smart fortwo sees little change for 2009. Daytime running lights are now available as an option, and a "loose cap" indicator light is added on the dash, alerting the driver when the gas cap hasn't been screwed on tightly enough. To increase storage space, expandable nets replace plastic bins on the side doors.
Driving Impressions For a vehicle so extremely compact and lightweight, we found the 2009 smart fortwo's highway ride quite comfortable. The faster you go, however, the more skittish the fortwo becomes, and...we eventually tired of having to constantly "steer" the car straight down the road. Similarly, we never got used to the automated manual transmission that swaps gears with all the grace of a backhoe. Where we most enjoyed our time at the controls of the smart fortwo was in parking lots, where the car's micro measurements and sub-30-foot turning circle combine to deliver an almost comical sense of agility. Although the smart fortwo's 90-mph top speed and 13-second zero-to-60 mph acceleration qualify it as one of the slowest new vehicles on the road, the upside is that you get to "floor it" more often.
Tridion Safety Cell
There's no escaping the fact that the 2009 smart fortwo is essentially the smallest, lightest vehicle on the road, but it's demonstrated impressive crashworthiness.
Some newer convertibles let you open or close the top at speeds up to 25 or 30 miles per hour. In the smart fortwo, you can let the sunshine in – or shut the rain out – even when maxed out at the car's 90-mph top speed
The big story inside the 2009 smart fortwo is roominess. Plenty of headroom, a relatively compact instrument panel and open space where you'd expect a center console all contribute to an interior that feels less confined than that of the significantly longer and wider MINI Cooper. The fortwo even boasts a larger rear cargo area than the MINI Cooper (the MINI's two extra fold-down rear seats notwithstanding). The interior styling is unique, but not as quirky as the car's exterior design might lead you to expect.Exterior
More than just tiny, the smart fortwo looks like nothing else on the road. The body panels are made of dent-resistant plastic, and the design element that runs from behind the front wheel up to the roof is actually part of what the company calls the "tridion" safety cell – made of high-strength steel and painted black or metallic silver. The second-generation fortwo is nearly eight inches longer than the first model, which can be parked nose-first between parallel parked vehicles. Whether local law enforcement and the added length allow that to happen in the U.S. remains to be seen.
Conspicuously absent from the smart fortwo's standard equipment list are a sound system, air conditioning, power windows and power mirrors. "Luxuries" provided at base price include power locks with remote keyless entry, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel and transmission selector. A full complement of standard safety equipment includes four airbags, electronic stability control and an advanced braking system.
In addition to power windows and mirrors, a CD sound system and air conditioning with automatic climate control, the 2009 smart fortwo's options list includes heated leather seats, a fixed panorama glass roof and a sport steering wheel with paddle shifters.
Tipping the scales at just 1,800 pounds (700 pounds less than a Mazda MX-5 Miata), the rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive 2009 smart fortwo is able to make its way in the world by means of an unusually small three-cylinder engine (that requires premium-grade fuel). The attached five-speed transmission is also distinct in that it's essentially a manual gearbox that the fortwo electro-mechanically manages automatically – there's no clutch pedal or manual shift lever.
1.0-liter in-line 3
70 horsepower @ 5800 rpm
68 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 33/41
By Rod (PA) on Monday, December 09, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 25,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great Price, great resale, BEST Car I've ever ownd"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I have owned this car for 5 years, Garage kept, and don't drive it in the winter. GREAT GAS mileage, super fun to drive. Looks GREAT! Head turner, Great way to meet people, Conversation starter. Good Storage space in back. LOVE THIS CAR."
2 people out of 4 found this review helpful
By Ray (TN) on Wednesday, August 28, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 110,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "All mentioned above"
Cons: "No spare tire but haven't had a flat."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I have replaced tires, one brake light, one head light, brake pads & one blinker light. The battery is still the original and strong. Gas mileage is 45 mpg but have had 53 mpg twice. Love it!"
9 people out of 9 found this review helpful
By LC (GA) on Saturday, August 24, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 48,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Cost to own"
Cons: "Speed bumps are tough"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Lowest cost to own and most reliable car I have owned. Dependable around town transportation and it only has to have the oil changed once a year. Gas mileage is great, fun to drive, and I don't have to 'climb down' to get in the drivers seat."
5 people out of 6 found this review helpful
By bumbleBee (CA) on Wednesday, August 07, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 340overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great Room, Super Gas MPG, Fun"
Cons: "could use an extra 35 Horse Power"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"Love this little yellow Bee. Comfortable and roomy. Capable of staying up with Xway trafic and fun to drive."
6 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By Izzy on Monday, August 05, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 57,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Best car ever, I fill up for $28 and it lasts me approx 360 miles. Love it, would be very useful in marketing as it attracts a lot of attention."
3 people out of 5 found this review helpful
By Silver Fox (TX) on Tuesday, July 09, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 51,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun, driving with an attitude, gets attention...."
Cons: "Automated manual transmission could be better...."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 7
"When I pass Mercedes-Benzs vehicles at 94 mph (limited top speed), they look at their speedometers, tilt their heads, and again look at their speedometers. They start thinking, 'How fast is that dude peddling anyway?' A niche car that gives me 41 mph on the highway at 65 mph and is a real attention getter. I have 50K miles on the clock and it has not missed a beat over four very full years. Being a Screaming Yellow Zonkers color, it is a collectors item because they do not import those into the States since 2008.... Nice little hot-rod that has the name 'Screaming Yellow Zonkers'."
5 people out of 9 found this review helpful