Strengths and weaknesses:
- passenger space
- fuel economy
- takes premium gasoline
- touch screen
Smart in the city
"With a length of just 2.69 metres, the “Smart car” is a great vehicle for getting around congested city streets."
It’s obvious why you don’t buy the 2012 Smart Fortwo - for cargo space, for track-worthy performance, to pick up women - but what are the reasons to opt for this microcar?
Well, the term “microcar” itself will give you the most obvious answer. With a length of just 2.69 metres, the “Smart car” is a great vehicle for getting around congested city streets. It may not be the fastest vehicle available, but it can slide in and out of a collection of vehicles without breaking a sweat.
It may not stop traffic like it did when it first arrived in Canada in 2004, and it certainly won’t get traffic moving any faster when a four lane road is down to one lane due to construction, but the Fortwo is still brilliant when it’s time to park in a city where street parking is limited at best for most vehicles.
It also has a tiny turning circle and a stout little front end that help make three-point turns a rare occurrence indeed.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s still perfectly safe taking the Fortwo on the highway (I’m still surprised at how many people think you can’t, or shouldn’t). The catch is that you really have to plan out your merging and lane change manoeuvres. The 1,800 lb Fortwo genuinely feels peppy around town, but its 70-horsepower engine and quick-as-molasses transmission means the highway can be slightly trickier to traverse.
New to the Fortwo for the 2011 model year is an optional touch screen navigation system, with which my tester is equipped. It effectively deletes just about every audio control button, leaving the driver to control sound and navigation solely via the touch screen.
Although it doesn’t take long to get used to the screen and figure out how to move around the menus, it still seems counterintuitive having to press more than one button to do something as basic as change the radio band. Beyond that, the Fortwo’s choppy ride, mixed with the need to be fairly accurate with the touch screen, makes a task like zooming in and out of the map or changing a radio preset, well, a task.
The Fortwo quite clearly has space limitations, but its designers did a good job with what they had to work with. The rear cargo area is small, but still offers more space than a lot of two door coupes and convertibles - and like those cars, the Fortwo probably isn’t ideal as someone’s sole vehicle.
The rear of the vehicle opens in two stages, first by lifting the glass, then by folding down a tiny tailgate. In a subtle but very welcome change, the tailgate can now be opened via one of two electrically-connected latches. On older models, two manual-controlled latches on opposite sides of the tailgate had to be manipulated simultaneously, requiring two free hands.
There are cargo nets behind both seats, as well as storage cubbies to the left and right of the steering wheel that can store any manner of loose items. It’s a little more crude than organized change slots or passcard holders found in other vehicles, but it gets the job done. More optional equipment further increases the Fortwo’s cargo-holding ability.
And that’s the other thing the Fortwo has going for it. Besides being one of the most inexpensive new vehicles you can find in Canada, there are all sorts of ways to upgrade and personalize it thanks to available option packages and a long list of accessories.
There’s no doubt the Smart Fortwo still exists as one of the most unique, cute and quirky vehicles on Canadian roads, but unless you’re Zooey Deschanel, cute and quirky only gets you so far in this world.