MF Review: Smart Fourtwo
The following review coincides with the Smart’s launch in the US and therefore will be reviewed in relation to that specific market.
On paper the Smart micro-car is as revolutionary an ideas as the original MINI. The Smart is mid-engined, small and efficient in both space and economy. The Smart Fourtwo (the only Smart made these days) comfortably seats two while offering a boot not too different from the MINI’s own. However the big difference in terms of space is that lack of rear seats that the MINI offers.
The other big difference? Where the MINI is one of the most entertaining new cars I’ve ever driven, the Smart is easily the worst. And I’m not talking about just mediocre. The Smart’s driving experience is truly appalling. In fact, as much as I’m aware of the 10-12 month waiting lists, I honestly can’t imagine anyone buying this car after a test drive.
With only three cylinders to its name, you’d expect the Smart to sluggish. Consider that expectation met. But it’s slowness is something you can easily live with once you get used to planning ahead. What is almost impossible to cope with is the ineptness of the five speed auto-manual. So bad is this transmission’s manual mode that its shift times can be counted not in 1/10ths of a second but in full seconds. Actually almost two full seconds was the time it took to regularly shift from 2nd to 3rd gear under acceleration. I had to redefine my expectations of what shifting meant while driving the Smart. That said, in auto mode it was smoother and shifted at an almost adequate pace. Probably fast enough that most people wouldn’t complain until the luster of ownership wore off.
So we’ve established that getting the Smart going from a stop is sluggish and shifting (once underway) is painful. Then it probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that stopping a Smart is an exercise that requires equal parts courage and faith. Brake feel is simply non-existent. There’s no feedback and the effort to actually get the brakes to engage is surprisingly robust. Then there’s the actual engagement point which is seems to be a zone on the pedal’s travel that is roughly a millimeter long. This all translates into the brakes feeling as if they are either on or off. There’s no in between and there’s no illusion of feedback. The result is a braking system that feels like a complete mystery to the driver.
But the lack of feel in the braking pales in comparison to what you get (or don’t get as it were) with the Smart’s steering feel. There is none. At best it’s overboosted and at worse it’s dangerous. The wheel gives you no indication as to what the car is doing where the tires meet the road and no confidence to do anything other than gingerly go around corners. But that’s actually a good thing as anything other than slow cornering will result in the gear selector becoming one with the side of your right thigh. In fact, if the selector wasn’t there, I can only guess my right leg would have ended up on the passenger’s seat during moderate left-handers.
Driving the Smart Fourtwo can feel like playing Grand Tourismo while using a coffee table mounted Logitech steering wheel with the big difference being, in the Smart you could theoretically die. I’m not here to say the Smart is dangerous. It’s just not the most confidence inspiring experience on the road. And surprisingly it’s the driving experience and not the size that contribute to this.
Inside the Smart is a mix of plastic, what seemed to be leather and fabric with white specs. Now I’m not entirely clear when things go from out of style to retro to back in style but I was pretty sure black carpet with white specs hadn’t reached the latter stage. Then there’s the stereo. Maybe there were two speakers. Maybe there were four. Whatever the number, none of them added up to anything worth a damn.
But let’s not lose sight of what this car is. In the US market it’s a $13k urban runabout without air-con and with roll-up windows. In Europe or other severely congested and cities with high petrol prices it almost makes sense. But in a market like the US, wouldn’t a certified pre-owned MINI Cooper be just a few dollars more? Of course you’d get more space, more style and the Cooper is infinitely more fun to drive. The Smart has the edge on economy (and it’s fairly substantial when compared to the R50 Cooper) but if this is intended to be an urban runabout, how much driving are you really going to do and how much is that extra efficiency going to help?
I want to like the Smart. It’s a great concept that is probably more in tune with the real needs of more than a few currently piloting unnecessarily large vehicles. Yet I can’t help but feel the car ultimately fails in almost every conceivable way. Actually the more I think about the more I’m convinced there is absolutely no reason why anyone should be buying a Smart in a market like the US. Unless you live in a gated community that only allows golf carts, the Smart is a poor choice for just about every occasion. Its overall driving experience was literally painful and the cost is all to close to the much more capable MINI or a number of other much better competitors.
Written By: Gabe
Sort by MINI model
- International Mini Meet to Take Place in Lithuania This Weekend
- MF Garage: Summer Tires for Our 2015 Cooper S
- Exclusive: MINI USA’s 2016 Product Updates Include Some Major Surprises
- The MINI JCW In Detail
- Chris Bangle on The Future of Car Design
- What Would You Change About the 2015 MINI JCW?
- 2015 MINI John Cooper Works Reviews Galore
- Official 2015 MINI JCW Mega Gallery
- Official 2015 MINI JCW Videos
- MINI Countryman Dakar Wallpaper
MotoringFile on Instagram
- BMW Unveils the Special Edition BMW 435i ZHP Coupe
- BMW Announces New ConnectedDrive Portal and ConnectedDrive Store
- The 2016 BMW M4 GTS is Coming to the US!
- A Sneak Peak at the Future of BMW Motorsport: The M6 GT3
- BMW Updates the M6 Competition Package with 600HP (w/Gallery)
- BMW Lands on the Podium at the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring
- BMW Prepares for the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring
- BMW Group Classic’s Take on the 2015 Mille Miglia
- This is Our First Look at the BMW 3.0 CSL Hommage
- US Spec 2016 M3 Changes (LCI)
- Ask SF: What’s a Good Small Motorcycle for a Scooterist?
- Custom: The Hunter’s Honda Ruckus
- Review: 2015 Vespa GTS 300 Super ABS
- The EcoReco: We Want Your Questions
- Video: Four Friends, Three Vintage Vespas, One Epic Adventure
- Vespa Updates the GTV, Adds ABS and ASR
- Recommended Scooters from Just Gotta Scoot
- Kickstart This: Sit Stay Ride 2 – Sidecar Dogs Return
- Police in Barcelona Adopt Fleet of BMW C Evolution Electric Scooters
- New Illinois Law Could Require Motorcycle Awareness Training in Driver’s Ed
MINI Model Cheat Sheet
R50: One & MC Hatch
R52: All 1st Gen MINI Convt.
R53: MCS Hatch
2nd Gen MINI
R60: MINI Crossover
R61: MINI Crossover Coupe
3rd Gen MINI
F55: Five Door Hatch
F60: MINI Crossover
Advertise with MotoringFile
MotoringFile Buyers GuidesR50 ('02-'06 MC) Buyers Guide
R53 ('02-'06 MCS) Buyers Guide
'12 JCW Coupe
'11 Fiat 500 Sport
'11 Tesla Roaster 2.5 '11 Countryman Comparo
'11 Cooper S Hatch
'11 Countryman MCS (FWD)
'11 Countryman MC (auto)
'10 Mayfair MCS (auto)
'11 Countryman MCS (ALL4)
'10 MINI E
'10 Tesla Roadster Sport
'09 Cooper S Convertible
'09 JCW Hatch
'09 JCW Clubman
JCW Stage I vs JCW Stage II
'08 Clubman S (Auto)
1st Drive: '08 MINI Clubman
'08 Smart Fourtwo
Comparison: '08 BMW 135i
'06 R53 MCS vs '07 R56 MCS
'07 R56 JCW (Stage 1)
'07 MINI Cooper S Long Term
'07 BMW Z4 M Coupe
'07 MINI Cooper & Cooper S
Audio: '07 MC/MCS at the Track
'06 JCW GP Long term
Reader Review: JCW GP
'06 JCW Cooper S Long Term
Comparison: '06 Lotus Elise
Comparison: '06 Mazda MX5
Comparison: '06 UK Focus ST
Comparison: '06 Civic Si
Comparison: '04 TVR T350
Comparison: '06 Nissan 350z
Comparison: '06 VW GTI w/DSG
Podcast: Cooper S Auto
Podcast: BMW 325i
Podcast: JCW MC Soundkit
'04 JCW MINI Cooper Tuning Kit
'05 MCS: One Month Review
'05 MCS Auto
'05 JCW S 1st Drive
'05 MINI Cooper
'05 MCS Conv. Long Term
'05 MINI Cooper S
'05 MCS Cabrio 1st Drive
'04 JCW MCS First Drive
'04 MC w/JCW Tuning Kit
BMW M3 SMG Vs. MCS
'04 MINI Cooper CVT
'02 MCS 3 year Review
Autocrossing the MINI Range