By Keith Buglewicz
KBB Expert Rating: 6.3
The all-new 2016 Smart Fortwo has matured into the car it always should have been. Always fascinating because of its size and proportions, only now does it feel like it's making good on its promise. With a new automatic transmission, an additional 3.8 inches of width, and a slew of new standard features like Bluetooth and automatic climate control, the new Smart Fortwo feels more like a modern car. Of course, it's still very much a niche vehicle. If you need a rear seat, take longer road trips, want 40-plus mpg, or just don't want to burn premium fuel, then the Smart Fortwo isn't for you. With an electric version coming sometime in 2017, the 2016 Smart Fortwo remains singularly purposed urban transportation.
The 2016 Smart Fortwo is not for everybody. Then again, neither is a one-ton dually pickup truck. If the Fortwo's combination of unique styling, small size, urban-specific driving fits your lifestyle, then it's a winner.
When you take into consideration that cars like the Honda Fit are the same price, offer many of the same features, but get better fuel economy and have a back seat, the Smart Fortwo suddenly might not look like such a good deal.
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Everything is new about the 2016 Smart Fortwo. It's wider, has a much better automatic transmission, offers better sound-deadening on the highway, has a new 3-cylinder engine, lots of new standard equipment, and it's all wrapped in new styling as well. Virtually nothing carries over but the name.
It used to be that the best thing you could say about driving a Smart was that it was faster than walking. Those days are gone now, thanks to significant...
... improvements in the drivetrain and elsewhere. The engine is the same size, but all-new, and with better power delivery. Even better is the new 6-speed dual-clutch automatic. It replaces the much-hated 5-speed single-clutch automated manual from last year's car, and while it still has a smoothness problem with parking maneuvers -- a problem not unique to the Smart -- it upgrades the experience from nearly intolerable to only occasionally annoying. We'll take it. Likewise, we'll take the more comfortably sprung suspension, which does a better job of absorbing potholes, albeit at the expense of some bobbing around at highway speeds. Again, it's a compromise we're happy to accept. U-turns are genuinely fun, thanks to the little Smart's 22.8-foot turning circle.
TINY TURNING CIRCLE
Maybe this qualifies as a parlor trick, but check this out: The 2016 Smart Fortwo can make a U-turn in a 22.8-foot space. That means virtually any 2-lane street where two cars can pass side-by-side is fair game, even narrow urban ones...as long as it's legal and safe, obviously.
While "Tridion" sounds like a Star Trek plot device, it's actually the name of the high-strength steel cage that surrounds the passenger compartment of the Smart Fortwo. More than just a space-agey sounding name, it's real safety technology that gives the Smart Fortwo surprising strength in crashes.
The 2016 Fortwo interior blends modern technology, some high-quality materials, and a few glaring oversights into a cool-looking and surprisingly comfortable place for two people to spend a few hours. The narrow seats were supportive enough to pass several hours, although we wished the steering wheel offered tilt and telescope adjustments. Audio and climate controls float in a pod separate from the dash, and the free Smart Cross Connect app offers redundant audio controls since the phone mount blocks the standard buttons. Unfortunately, the plastic on the door panels felt flimsy, and there's no soft rest for either elbow.
Car design invariably gets goofier the smaller a car gets. Rather than fight this, the Smart Fortwo embraces it with big round headlights, a smiley-face grille, contrasting side panels, and a tail with big, friendly LED taillights. It's neither pretty nor ugly, more like a pug dog, or one of those flat-faced short-haired cats. You can park the 8.8-foot Smart just about anywhere, and the tiny size contributes to its 22.8-foot turning circle. The added width also makes it look less toy-like than its predecessor, but just a little, and you can still toy it up with contrasting paint schemes.
The 2016 Smart Fortwo steps up the standard-equipment levels significantly from its Spartan predecessor. Now there's automatic climate control, Bluetooth, LED daytime running lights, cruise control and audio controls on the steering wheel. There's an LED multi-information screen between the gauges, and things like power steering and power windows are standard as well; don't laugh, they weren't standard before. Also standard is a stability control system that helps keep the little upright car stable in strong crosswinds. The 0.9-liter 3-cylinder engine comes connected to a 5-speed manual transmission.
The 2016 Smart lineup is divided into four lines: Pure (base), Passion and Prime (mid and high-level) and this year there's Proxy, a special launch edition with blue-and-white exterior and white interior trim. Options include leather trim for the steering wheel and seats, a navigation system, power and heated outside mirrors, a height-adjustable driver's seat and retractable cargo cover. Inexplicably, sonar parking aids and a rearview camera are also available for your 8.8-foot-long car. Seems like if you need those to park your Smart, maybe you should just ride a bike.
There's only one engine available for the 2016 Smart Fortwo: a 0.9-liter (yes, less than a liter) turbocharged 3-cylinder. Designed by Renault, it replaces last year's 1.0-liter engine and adds more power and torque. It comes standard with a 5-speed manual transmission that's surprisingly fun to drive thanks to a slick shifter and smooth clutch. However, most buyers will likely go for the new 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, a huge improvement over the terrible 5-speed automatic in previous Smart cars. The only place the new transmission bobbles a bit is at low-speed parking maneuvers, something common to dual-clutch transmissions like this, and not unique to the Smart, or a deal-killer. Unfortunately, fuel economy stays pretty much the same, and the Smart still requires premium fuel.
0.9-liter turbocharged inline-3
89 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm
100 lb-ft of torque @ 2,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 32/39 mpg (manual), 33/39 mpg (automatic)
The new 2016 Smart Fortwo’s Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starts quite a bit higher than last year, but you get a lot more standard equipment. A base-model Smart Fortwo Pure starts at $15,400, including the $750 destination charge. Add another $990 if you want the automatic. At the top end, a Smart Fortwo Proxy with an automatic transmission will run you about $20,200. That's quite a bit of money compared to microcars like the Chevy Spark and Mitsubishi Mirage, both of which have back seats and more cargo area. Even the ultra-versatile Honda Fit is about the same price. But if you're Smart-friendly, be smart and check out our KBB.com Fair Purchase Price tool to see what others in your area paid. Resale values on the new Fortwo aren't yet available, but historically the Smart Fortwo has been somewhere between average to below average.