The rebirth of the Smart brand has begun. After the original Fortwo captured the attention of city-car buyers, the second version was merely an evolution of that theory. Now, the third-generation model readies itself to take on the A segment.
Whilst it enjoyed a fair degree of success in Europe, the Fortwo never really took off in markets like South Africa. So it was with little surprise that CAR got an invite for the international launch in Barcelona – a bustling city with the kind of traffic scenario and grid layout that favours the German vehicle’s concept.
Does it look like a Smart?
Well, yes, and no. Because the second generation appeared to be nothing more than a facelift – that was the appearance I familiarised with the brand. But the new Fortwo is an absolutely fresh take on what Daimler’s city car should look like. Despite sharing more than two-thirds of its components with Renault’s Twingo (which isn’t destined for South African shores), the Smart is visually quite unique.
Of couse, the Tridion safety cell is immediately recognisable, but on this third-generation Fortwo, the structure also plays more of a role in the exterior design, and, available in different hues, enhances the contrast with the rest of the Smart’s body panels.
Beautifully crafted cabin
Upon ingress, I was met with plenty of round themes that emulate the Smart logo, from the swivelling ventilation outlets that reminded me of the W123-generation Mercedes-Benz vehicles, to the buttons on the multifunction steering wheel for satellite control of the audio system and trip computer. The gloss black finish on the tip of the instrument panel cowl, ventilation control panel, infotainment touchscreen and air vent pods provided a strong contrast to the bright orange fabric that the upper section of the facia was finished in.
Despite the tiny exterior dimensions, I was comfortably seated – as was my passenger – and we immediately noticed the amount of space between the two of us. This is because the Fortwo is slightly wider than its predecessor. The boot is, of course, tiny – two backpacks just about filled the cavity.
The only disappointment I had was the gear level taken straight from a Renault parts bin – but, thanks to the customization programme that will be made available all over the world, you can swap with a classier piece from Brabus. I also didn’t like where the switches to deactivate the stop/start system, lane change assist and park distance control are activated (underneath the rounded upper section of the facia, between the steering column and door panel).
The door handles are also borrowed from La Régie, but are in line with my premium perception of the Smart brand. Some might find the tachometer and clock pod between the instrument panel and safety cell a bit gimmicky, but I think it works in this product.
Altogether different driving experience
It was quite enjoyable being able to stir the ratios of a manual gearbox for a change – the Fortwo will be available with a five-speed initially, but there’s a dual clutch transmission currently in development as well. The clutch, fittingly, was easy to modulate in the grid plan of downtown Barcelona. Interestingly, the stop/start system didn’t always shut down the engine. According to the engineers available to us at the business presentation later on, there are 27 different scenarios that could be the reason for that.
Nonetheless, when the system was working it did so with minimal intrusion. Even during the stint of city driving, the Fortwo averaged just over 5,0 litres/100 km – that amount lowering every time there was a bit of motorway cruising involved.
On the odd occasion I got to wind up the turbocharged three-cylinder motor, I was quite surprised with its initial pep from the traffic lights, but at times the engine felt laggy – especially because the full torque output is only available at 2 500 (most modern turbocharged cars offer a lot from lower down the rev range).
Parking the Fortwo was a breeze, as it boasts a kerb-to-kerb turning circle of just 6,95 metres, and is only 2,69 metres long.
The Smart Fortwo will no doubt have its fair share of support in Europe, with urban environments there that favour what it is, but just how well it will fair in South Africa will depend a lot on Mercedes-Benz South Africa’s pricing strategy.
Look out for a full impression of the new Smart Fortwo in an upcoming issue of CAR.