2016 smart fortwo Review

Little runabout finally ditches that awful transmission.

Daimler’s smart car is a tiny runabout that was designed to offer generous fuel efficiency, youthful quirk and easier maneuverability than a shopping cart.

In theory, it should have been a great success with motorists residing in big cities around the globe, places where tailpipe emissions and limited parking are major issues. Unfortunately, it never really seemed to catch on.

At least in America, the car was largely panned by critics, and for good reason. Driving it the length of a parking space was all it took to realize the smart was a special kind of repugnant. Its half-baked automated manual transmission was rougher than using 60-grit sandpaper in lieu of Charmin. This blunder ruined the vehicle, transforming a potentially useful car into something to be avoided.

But for 2016, Daimler has totally redesigned this vehicle. Company representatives say it offers more space, refinement and standard equipment, all in a package that’s even more maneuverable than it was before. That all sounds promising, but did they actually get the execution right this time?

Same Length, Broader Shoulders

In spite of its brand new styling inside and out, the 2016 fortwo is exactly the same length as its predecessor, a truncated 8.8 feet. But to increase space for occupants and cargo, the car has been widened by nearly four inches.

2016 smart fortwo side 01

Even though it has grown modestly, the new smart’s turning radius is smaller than ever, measuring a tiny 22.8 feet from curb to curb; its predecessor needed more than 28 feet to accomplish the same feat. This makes it incredibly agile in tight places; you can bust a U-turn on all but the narrowest of side streets or alleyways.

Once again, a “Tridion Safety Cell” serves as this machine’s underlying architecture, except this time around, it features hot-stamped, ultra-high-strength steel for maximum protection should the unfortunate occur. Additionally, this structure has been designed for better crash compatibility with larger vehicles.

Just Like a 911

2016 smart fortwo engine 03Like its predecessor, the 2016 smart fortwo is powered by a rear-mounted three-cylinder gasoline engine that sends torque to the rear wheels, just like a Porsche 911.

Instead of huffing air the old-fashioned way, this car’s diminutive 898-cc powerlant (yes, it displaces less than one liter) gets boost from an exhaust-driven blower. This helps its trio of lungs breathe a little easier, bolstering output to 89 hp and 100 lb-ft of torque, the latter of which is available at just 2,500 rpm.

These figures may sound pretty modest, but it’s all the power this vehicle needs because at about 2,000 pounds, the fortwo is a featherweight.

2016 smart fortwo rear three quarter 03Curiously, there will not be a diesel-powered version of this car, even in Europe. The take rate of its compression-ignition predecessor was less than 10 percent.

Addressing its predecessor’s biggest shortcoming, engineers threw out the previous transmission, hopefully crushing any leftover examples and then lighting their remains on fire along with the blueprints. The old clunky transmission has been replaced with not one, but two options. Drivers can choose between a brand-new twinmatic six-speed dual-clutch unit or a five-speed manual, if three-pedal motoring is preferable (and when isn’t it?). And here’s a fun fact for you: The 2016 smart is the only Mercedes-Benz family vehicle in the U.S. that’s offered with a stick.

2016 smart fortwo interior 02

While hardly a speed machine, the new smart fortwo’s acceleration is totally adequate. This car should be able to reach mile-a-minute velocity in 10.5 seconds when equipped with the dual-clutch transmission, which will probably account for about 80 percent of sales in America. Should you need another reason to opt for the manual gearbox, models so equipped are nearly half a second quicker to 60 mph.

As for fuel economy, this vehicle should sticker at 33 miles per gallon city and 39 highway, figures that result in a combined score of 36 mpg. Even in mixed, heavy-footed driving, we managed to average more than 38 mpg, which is damn impressive.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

Along with numerous engineering enhancements, the 2016 fortwo is graced with a totally new interior. It retains the quirky styling its predecessor was known for, but is noticeably more premium if not entirely luxurious. The door panels and portions of the dashboard are constructed of plastics that look reasonably upscale and interesting fabric trim is splashed throughout the cabin.

2016 smart fortwo interior 09

2016 smart fortwo interior 03

2016 smart fortwo interior 04

2016 smart fortwo interior 10

2016 smart fortwo interior 12

2016 smart fortwo interior 08

The design of the center stack is a bit odd, with a floating pod that houses the radio. What makes this strange is that the optional smartphone cradle clips right into the center of the dashboard, where it blocks many other controls. For connected, tech-savvy drivers, the company offers an app called “smart cross connect” that’s available for both iPhone and Android smartphones. It allows you to use the phone like a touchscreen to control the car’s multimedia functions like music and navigation. Unfortunately, the U.S. version of the app is still beta testing, so it was borderline unusable during my drive. Expect smart to work out the glitches before the car arrives at dealers this fall.

The car’s wider body provides significantly more shoulder room, a boon for comfort. Enhancing its versatility, the passenger seat’s backrest can be folded flat for greater cargo-carrying capacity.

2016 smart fortwo tail light 01Standard equipment has also been increased. No matter the trim level, all smarts come with automatic climate control, LED daytime running lights, cruise control and a 3.5-inch color display in the instrument cluster. Bluetooth and power steering are included at no extra charge as well.

As for pricing, the 2016 smart fortwo starts at $15,400, including $750 in delivery charges. That’s a $1,400 increase compared to its predecessor, though supposedly this is offset by about $2,000 in additional standard equipment.

The model I evaluated stickered for $19,680 out the door, which is rather high for such a tiny car. Options that inflated its price included an automatic transmission ($990); the prime trim line, which included things like heated seats, a sunroof and fog lamps ($2,840); a smartphone cradle ($100); and hazel brown metallic paint ($350).

The Drive

Compared to its awful predecessor, the 2016 fortwo drives orders of magnitude better. The transmission has been so thoroughly improved that it’s difficult to describe. Shifts are smooth, prompt and totally livable. After what seems like an eternity, Daimler has at long last exorcised the smart car’s most troublesome demon.

Is this gearbox perfect? Not entirely. On occasion, it will judder at low speeds and sometimes shifts can be rough, but its performance is comparable to other dual-clutch automatics on the market.

2016 smart fortwo cargo area 02

Additional suspension travel and tires with taller sidewalls provide a more compliant ride; standard crosswind assist keeps it tracking true, even in blustery conditions. Overall, the fortwo is dramatically more stable at freeway speed, feeling less like a Shriner car and more like a real vehicle.

However, there is one downside to the fortwo’s suspension tuning. It provides more dive and squat than an aerobic workout session; body motions are comically exaggerated during braking and acceleration. The car’s nose pitches downward and its butt dips dramatically, unusual sensations, especially in a modern car.

In the power department, this little runabout feels substantially fleeter than its predecessor. The engine delivers surprising torque, which makes driving in urban settings a snap. Highway jaunts are pleasant enough as well, though there is a touch of wind and tire noise at higher speeds.

2016 smart fortwo cargo area 01

Another feather in this smart’s cap is impressive powertrain isolation, a feat that’s particularly notable given that it has an odd number of cylinders pounding away underneath the cargo area. However, the first test car I evaluated had an alarmingly unrefined idle. At tick-over, its engine was choppier than the waters of Nantucket Bay during a nor’easter. Fortunately, this seems to have been an anomaly, as another smart I drove was dramatically more refined.

Also, for such a small car, there are some gigantic blind spots. Rearward visibility at oblique angles is difficult, as the smart’s B-pillars are massive.

The Verdict: 2016 smart fortwo Review

2016 smart fortwo front three quarter 02The 2016 smart fortwo is not a car for everyone. Like its predecessor, this machine is designed specifically for customers who live in densely packed cities. You can park it in a cart corral and fill the tank with whatever’s stuck in you couch cushions. It may have taken a few years, but Daimler’s dream of urban mobility is closer to reality than ever.

Even with all its improvements, however, this car is probably going to be a tough sell, though not because the vehicle itself has any deal-breaking flaws. Value is a major issue this time around. For the same money, you can get a Chevy Sonic, Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit, “real” cars with backseats, more storage space and normal styling. If uniqueness and easy parking matter, the smart could be for you, but if you need anything else from a vehicle, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

The 2016 smart fortwo arrives at dealers in late September.

Discuss this story on our smart Forum

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    Great review, ty. I’ve been waiting for this one since they first announced the redesign. Its an interesting little car that seems to have taken off quite well here in Vancouver despite its flaws. I’ve had the chance to drive the old one quite a bit through car2go and yes, the old transmission was horrible! I experienced an odd thing: I consider myself a car guy, but driving this or an iQ I realized it’s all the car I would need 95% of the time and strangely, I was ok with the thought of owning a tiny car, if not for the price and the knowledge that I could get more car for less elsewhere. Kinda sad, the Micra comes to mind … Still waiting for the Aygo to come to our shores, can’t afford a hybrid or electric just yet, it would be nice to have an affordable car with just enough space that won’t make me feel bad for polluting the environment.

  • Mike

    Love the interior and the quirkiness about this car, but $20k is just too much money for this. Just not a real value factor. But it’s definitely cool!

  • craigcole

    Thanks! Yeah, the first smart was a complete disaster, but this one is pretty OK, provided all you really care about is easy park-ability. That’s the one area where it shines.

  • Ein Stein

    For less money, I’d go with the Micra. Having driven several models, including the $9,999 base unit, it is surprisingly nimble, and provides loads more practicality with its back seats and cargo area.

  • Ninja250

    I’ve always liked these, except for their lousy transmission, so ended up with a 2011 Honda CRZ with the six speed manual. A blast to drive, more storage room, and mine routinely gets 38 city and 43 highway. For 20k – I’ll take the Honda.

  • RobertSculptor

    Nicht So Smart!

  • Mark DeMoss

    Wait another year to get a Brabus or electric. Fingers crossed on a diesel.

  • narg

    I’d rather have the Chevy Sonic. Isn’t it the only one that passed all the crash tests anyway? That’s a lot to say for that size car.

  • Kit Gerhart

    They fixed the biggest problem, the transmission, and you can even get a manual. It’s a gas hog, though, for such a tiny, and not-too-quick car. My 2010 MINI has 28/37 EPA ratings, and I get mid-high 30’s in mixed driving.

  • Don Williams

    I have had a smart since April of 2008. I have found that a combination of paddle and auto works quite well. It is like manual shifting a 1940’s model car. That said it has been a good city car in Kansas City and we have put more miles on that we have on our other car a 2002 model because it is so easy to get around in and and have gotten a lifetime average of over 35mpg. Tires go for about 40000 miles. It burns little or no oil. I am however thinking of replacing it at about 100000 miles, so about 20000 to go.

  • Mark DeMoss

    Not sure the comparisons to a mini is fair. It’d be like comparing a mini to a car 3-4 feet longer and nearly double the price. It does get crap for mpg. The trans with the paddle shift and tach option are light-years ahead of the Scion IQ. It does require a brief learning curve to know how to drive it, much like a motorcycle.

  • Mark DeMoss

    The Smart has always received

  • Mark DeMoss

    The trans with the paddle shift and tach option are light-years ahead of the Scion IQ. It does require a brief learning curve to know how to drive it, much like a motorcycle. If ypu hop into it expecting to know how to “ride” it then you’re prob going to stall/jitter then blame the ride. i hope they don’t make this next Smart auto trans like the IQ. But at least there’s the manual option if it is like the IQ.

  • Kit Gerhart

    In 2010, I was looking for a car which would be used mostly for short trips “around town.” I drove a smart, and ruled it out for two reasons, the awful transmission, and no cruise control. I got a base MINI. It cost more than a Smart, but not that much more, $19.5K vs $16K as I remember. A few years later, I drove an iQ to check it out, and found it much better than the early Smart. Yeah, CVT haters wouldn’t like it, but, to me, the CVT worked fine.

    If I were shopping now, I might seriously consider the Smart. I’d probably like t he dual clutch, but would more likely get a manual, and it now has cruise control.

  • Dave Stephenson

    if your a first time driver unfamilure with a auto-manual I understand the dislike of the transmission. But under long term use I have no issues with it. The only part that can go wrong is the clutch actuator. With a actual clutch and dual disks the replacement cost will be substantial compared to the current version where the clutch is rated for the life of the car. American Journalists have over looked this car big time. It’s not about the perfect small car it’s about what does one need to have for transport.

  • smartacus

    hey Craig, can you tell us if the rear hatch opening is taller and wider or shorter and narrower than the 451? i know the old one can slide a washer or dryer in there

  • Cale Brehio

    Ewww. It got chunky and awkward looking, the gas mileage went down, the price went up, and I can already “bust a U-turn on all but the narrowest of side streets or alleyways.” Meh.

  • Terry Moseley

    Who ever writes these articles, I wish they would go out and drive the car before they write down all these lies. I have a 2010 Smart Passion Coupe and love it. I see nothing wrong with the transmission. It works great. I pull a trailer with mine and there is no problems what so ever. My gas mileage increased when I changed the sparkplugs to platinum plugs. Grant U, it is not a family car, but for a single person, its a great little people mover. Love the way it handles on the Hi-way/freeways too. Best car I have ever owned out of the 27 I have had in my entire life.

  • Rich

    I also have a 2010 Smart Fortwo. The transmission is actually terrible if you drive it in automatic. You absolutely need to be in “manual mode/sport mode” in order for it to be bearable unless you actually like coming off the line ridiculously slow so you don’t jerk forward as it pushes into second gear. The transmission has widely been addressed as an issue with a majority of people who drive or have driven these cars, so it’s definitely not a lie just because you don’t agree with their opinion of it. The option for a real manual should have been available from the start and if I do stick with Mercedes’ Smart brand I will definitely be picking that up. Should make it way better to drive.

  • Rich

    Most people are getting more than the ratings on the EPA. Driving on the highway at 70-80 MPH I get 45 MPG out of my 2010 Fortwo. City I never go under 32mpg even if I’m pushing it hard. I average about 38MPG because I drive more city than highway at this point. With that said though Mini has a turbo 3 cylinder model now with a manual transmission that will do probably the same or better and is a bit faster to 60 than even a base 4 cylinder mini with the engine being smaller and turbo to 130 or so horsepower. If I stick with a small car that may be my next one if I don’t get another Smart, just have to test them both out and see what you like. I personally don’t need a backseat and haven’t had any problems with space in my Smart either.

  • Rich

    Well they all pass tests, just at different ratings lol. The Smart has great safety ratings. Sonic also gets away with using cheaper fuel instead of premium, although the Smarts actually have no problem running 89 instead of premium and yes I’ve known people who run their smarts over 100K miles on regular fuel without any issues so there shouldn’tbe any problem in the long run. I had considered a Sonic as well, but the Smart was cheaper than other similar cars (including the Sonic) with low mileage by $3000-$5000 when I got it used a couple years ago. As far as used prices go the Smarts can be a pretty good deal.

  • Rich

    If you do live in a big city you can always go with an electric Fortwo as well and the transmission altogether. 70 miles per charge isn’t bad.

  • Rich

    Fuel economy already is EPA estimate 33/39 unless you’re talking about the pure coupe with no features on it that rated 33/41 which is probably not what they drove in the review anyway.

  • Rich

    Yeah I couldn’t stand the CVT in the iQ but it is also a neat little car, I think it had a little smaller turn circle than the Smart. Shopping now for me would be a competition between a 3 cylinder Mini, the 2016 Smart, and Honda CR-Z all of them can be equipped with manual trans too. I think the 3-cylinder Mini might be the most fun though since it’s the quickest (0-60 in just over 7 seconds). My 2010 Smart has been really reliable though. I’ve had it two years now, bought almost brand new still for $10k and put on 45,000 miles and all I’ve really had to do is routine maintenance like oil and filters, windshield wipers. How’s your Mini held up in the long run? It’ll be a long while before I’m ready to part with my current Smart so I may wait for the next redesign or just get an electric one.

  • Zama

    They just priced themselves out of the market with Gas prices being much lower. I use my Smart towed on a trailer behind a Mercedes Sprinter Solera 24 “S”! Still having FUN and not worried about the transmission. GLTA that own the later models.

  • I like that the new Smart uses all the new tech that every driver will need during driving short or long distances! Also, there are some companies that sell tuning kits and accessories like Carlsson and Smart Power Design, which shows that the owners of the Smart cars find them more just like an ordinary economical car!

  • craigcole

    I’m not certain, but given that the body is about four inches wider I’d hazard to bet the hatch is broader as well.

  • Cherie Braun

    Remember that $20K is for a top end 453, the base will be more like $15,400. I am getting a Prime, with the JBL speaker system, (and the smartphone cradle; I’m sure it will be more expensive if it doesn’t come from the factory) and mine is $18,830 (manual transmission). My 2012 cost me $18,400 so with all the added equipment and systems it’s actually a decent deal. This will be my third smart, and I drive it everywhere. On the highway at whatever speed is necessary to keep up with traffic, parking in town is ridiculous since there are always tiny spots left open that only I can fit in, and we usually take it on road trips unless we need to haul a lot of stuff. But most of the time it’s just what I need, and I am excited for mine to arrive. Although I am a smart Brand Manager, I drive a smart because I WANT to, not because I HAVE to! #employee

  • Mike

    Why can’t they make the car FWD? They would likely sell many more. I need at minimum FWD where I live for snow. Had a RWD truck several years ago, and it was horrible even with weight in the back.

  • Cherie Braun

    The smart has the engine in the rear, which actually makes it very good in the snow, along with the ESP and ABS – I have been one of the only ones to make it to work on a snow day. The car is well-balanced and has a much lower center of gravity than a truck. Of course it depends on conditions, but here is a video from YouTube that shows a smart in the snow, with snow tires. I don’t put them on mine because I live in the south.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzA3en0lQwo

    #employee

  • Mark Wheeler

    cute car, however the mpg’s are horrible. by now, the mpg’s should be 50mpg +.
    i wouldn’t waste a dime on this. a corolla gives you 3x more everything and waaayyyyy better mpg’s.

  • Suri_mike

    While the ‘old’ trans wasn’t perfect, all it took was a few days to learn how to drive it. I’ll concur “D” sux. Mileage? I get 47…. It seems that most reviews think this car is some kind of sporty runabout… It wasn’t designed, built, or priced as such. (I do hate that I can’t disable the ESP in my 2008. Makes the car helpless in the snow)

  • Ryan Petko

    … You can disable traction control. Turn the ignition to on so the dash and everything lights up and is responsive, then turn the key back off. Press and hold both of the buttons on the instrument panel while you turn the key to the on position, keep them pressed in. when the little exclamation mark starts flashing, start the car, and release the buttons. Now feel free to do donuts in the snow if you please.

  • Suri_mike

    Really! Live and Learn. I was under the impression that in the 2008 it was fixed.
    Thanks,

  • KeinIdiot

    No one is forcing you to buy this car.

  • KeinIdiot

    We have the 2008 and love ours as well. Our German Shepherd also likes to ride in it!

  • Ryan Petko

    You’re welcome. Miss my ’09 Brabus coupe. Should have never traded it in on my stupid ’13 Dodge Dart.

  • Cissy

    I love my 2009 Fortwo. It’s easy for this old lady to get in and out of. It’s my excuse to not drive when a bunch are going out. And it makes people smile. Sweet.

  • vmichaelarias@aol.com

    I put a turbo charger in my 2008 Fortwo and I love it. Now generates 120 hp at the wheels, drives like a real car on the highway. From 0-20 mph, its the same slow turtle as all the others, but get over 20 mph and the turbo kicks in, its a real scream. You get used to the jerky transmission, but you can also park this thing anywhere, no self-respecting cop will pull you over and at 90 mph on the interstate, the Porsche drivers go crazy to catch up and pass you. Its a blast to watch them.

  • Brian Hanscom

    Looks like it’s time to trade in the 2009. Looks pretty sweet.

  • Ryan Petko

    I know this is a bit of a late response, but what Cherie said is absolutely correct. On my ’09 ForTwo i had a set of snow tires, and it was quite good in the snow. Even handled icy roads without issue…. roads where my brother’s 4wd diesel pickup couldn’t come close to driving up.

    And making a Smart FWD would not only be impractical since you’d be adding more weight to the car for the drive shaft and everything else, but you’d have to have some sort of hump in the middle of the car for said drive shaft to go through to make it to the front. Unless it was made a front engine car as well, which then it wouldn’t be able to be nearly as small of a car as it is…. or safe, as far as i’m concerned.

    You’re also comparing a RWD Smart with one of the WORST possible scenarios EVER. A RWD pickup? Really? “Weight” in the bed can only do so much… and even that is practically nothing. All the weight in the front, very little in the back. Even if you add weight, without 4WD in a pickup, all you’re doing is adding more weight for the rear wheels to try to move as well, which does nothing. Not only is a Smart RWD, it’s also a rear engine vehicle. A large portion of the weight of the car is over the drive wheels. COMPLETELY different from a rear wheel drive pickup.

    I was an idiot and traded my ’09 ForTwo Brabus Coupe in on a ’13 Dodge Dart Rallye with a 1.4L Turbo powering the front wheels, with the same mentality you had… “It’s a front-wheel drive, it should be GREAT in the snow.” Let’s just say after not quite 3 years of driving that car, 2 winters of snow storms with even a seemingly insignificant amount of snow causing me to have to back down a hill and find an alternate route, at one point getting stuck and having to leave my car in someones driveway overnight (with their permission)…. i’m now in a ’16 ForTwo, and I can actually say i LOVE driving my car. Don’t think i ever said that about the Dart even a month after i got it.

  • Scott Hauge

    Ryan, thanks for the tip! One question: is this a one-time shutdown of the ESP and ends when carvis shut off or does it stay in that OFF condition from then on? I was really glad to see your post because my 2008 just spins in mud or snow but after following your instructions, nothing changed! My neighbor wondered why I was putting up so much smoke and mud spinning my rear wheels. Hard to hold both buttons down with one hand but I have no clue as to whether I’ve done anything. It still spins and the ! light flashes. Thanks for anything you might have to offer! Scott

  • Ryan Petko

    Well, turning off the ESP won’t necessarily help to STOP your tires from spinning, especially if you’re already at a dead stop. Usually people turn traction control off if they don’t want to risk it kicking in and causing them to lose a little forward momentum (or to have some fun in an empty, unplowed parking lot). Traction control helps more if you’re already at a stop and want to get moving, but it won’t necessarily work miracles to do so.

    And it kind of sounds like you didn’t have traction control off, anyway. If done right, the “!” in the middle odd the speedometer will flash constantly, not just when the tires are spinning.

    And yes, it’s only until the engine is shut off.

  • Scott Hauge

    Ryan, thanks for the reply. Did a bit more research and got it straightened out. I appreciate your post and quick response. Cheers!

  • Assrickly

    Trying to do a thing for my school this is fun my doods and this is a nice are DANK MEMES