2016 Smart Fortwo Passion Review
Smart has always gone about things differently, including naming trim levels. Joining the Passion is the Pure just below and Prime above, plus a top of the line model dubbed Proxy. While its top-level models are filled with features, the brand’s overall philosophy is that good things come in small packages, and the new 2016 Fortwo follows this mindset ideally. Once again it’s the smallest four-wheel car sold in the U.S., with an overall length of a mere 105.9 inches so it can be parked perpendicular to curbs in jurisdictions that allow such space efficiency.
Speaking of efficiency the new Fortwo has an EPA rating of 34 mpg city, 39 highway and 36 combined, and that’s from a turbocharged 898 cc three-cylinder engine that puts out 89 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque. When outfitted with a five-speed manual, the Fortwo boasts a top speed of 96 mph and a Zero-to-60 mph sprint time of 10.2 seconds; when outfitted with its Twinamic DCT transmission that number increases to 10.5 seconds.
So what does DCT stand for? It’s an acronym for dual-clutch transmission, the same type of fast reacting gearbox performance car manufacturers use to get the most out of their quickest cars’ powertrains. It’s appreciated by enthusiasts despite its propensity for slightly more abrupt shift intervals than regular automatics, and to this end Smart has previously come under fire for an autobox with less than smooth operation. It’s easy to see that a lot of engineering effort has gone into this updated DCT, as it’s a lot smoother than before, while performance fans will appreciate the subtle blip during downshifts. Not velvety whipped cream smooth, but certainly miles better than the old version, while manual shift action is still part of the package if you want it, found by sliding the gear lever to the left, whereas both Eco and Sport modes can be engaged depending on mood and need.
The Fortwo’s ride is surprisingly smooth for having such a short wheelbase, and handling is typically go-kart like. Smart’s variable ratio Direct-Steer system with speed-sensitive power assist provided reasonably good feedback, although the car felt a bit top heavy when pushing hard into corners, and leans accordingly. It’ll hold its lane, however, so don’t be alarmed. Likewise, it’s an enjoyable highway companion, feeling comfortable and confidence inspiring at high speeds, although it can get a bit upset by strong sidelong breezes. It’s a small car after all and therefore a gust of wind can make quite an impact, but if you prepare yourself when exiting tunnels or blasting past highway trucks (or having highway trucks blast you) you’ll be able to react quickly enough to keep it on the straight and narrow. (Smart actually includes a standard feature called Crosswind Assist that automatically helps out in such situations.)
With the Passion you’ll get halogen headlamps with integrated LED driving lights, an attractive set of machine-finished eight-spoke 15-inch alloy wheels, the option of dash top, door inserts and seat upholstery in black or a very cool orange, powered heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a center console with a pullout compartment, a retractable cargo cover, plus more.
The Passion also features much of the base Pure trim’s gear including LED DRLs, its steering wheel switchgear with cruise control, 3.5-inch color TFT multi-information display with a trip computer, eco score meter and fuel consumption histogram, plus automatic single-zone climate control, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, powered windows and locks, a glasses compartment for the driver, fully-folding front seatback for loading in long items, alarm system, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring, full array of active and passive safety equipment including airbags for both occupant’s knees, etcetera.
The overall interior design is a joyful combination of protruding pods starting with the primary instruments, its main speedometer and multi-information display combo bulging upward into a large semicircle and tachometer/clock dial poking up out of the left side dash top like some Star Wars droid. Four dash vents continued the circular theme, while the audio interface followed the elevated tablet-style trend. Its controls were easy to use and the stereo quite good, although the detachable smartphone cradle completely blocked the radio presets and other buttons, although together with Smart’s Cross Connect app for iOS and Android phones it’s a pretty useful accessory.
The HVAC interface just below is equally unique, as it looks like an old-style radio. It features a unique slider that magnifies a given temperature as it slides across and does its job effectively, as did the surrounding fan speed and vent direction controls, while its single-zone automatic design allowed easy set-it and leave-it functionality.
When it comes to accessing the cargo area, the bottom portion of the split rear door folds down like a tiny tailgate and the upper glass pops upwards. It’s a handy setup that allows quick access via the glass or an especially good platform for sliding heavier cargo inside. With both seats occupied cargo space is limited, but you can fit a weekend’s worth of luggage in back if you pack light, Smart claiming 6.7 cubic feet behind the front seats and 12.3 cubic feet when the front passenger’s is flattened.
While you can buy a very good (albeit boring) five-seat subcompact for less than $12k in the U.S., the Smart Fortwo’s $14,650 entry price seems like a good deal in comparison. It’s a special car that garners a lot of attention, has more standard features, and is certainly more enjoyable to drive. When upgraded, however, to $16,140 Passion trim and then optioned out with the $990 DCT, $350 for metallic paint, another $350 for the panoramic sunroof, $240 for heated seats, and $100 for the aforementioned smartphone cradle, the Fortwo hits the street at $17,140 before adding on freight and dealer fees. That’s a lot to pay for a car that isn’t finished to as high a standard as a Fiat 500 or Mini Cooper, let alone a common Honda Civic despite claims of being a premium-level boutique brand—you purchase it and have it serviced at a Mercedes dealer, so you’ll receive some premium perks in this respect.
So while Smart has made some big improvements with this 2016 model, to justify its lofty price point it should be better equipped in base trim and feature higher grade interior materials. Then again I enjoyed driving it, loved parking it, and really like the styling direction it’s taken, the latest Fortwo a much more serious contender in a much more competitive small car segment.
*Story by Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photos by Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Copyright American Auto Press *