The new Smart Fortwo has been revealed, with its makers saying it offers the same compact dimensions but more space and equipment for around the same price.
That’s critical, because the Smart has long been an also-ran in this class, considered by What Car?’s testers to be over-priced, too impractical and too unrefined against rivals including the Hyundai i10 and VW Up.
Consequently, in recent years it has been bought mainly by those wowed by its compact dimensions and ease of manouvrability more than any other attributes.
What is it?
The Fortwo, and its four-seat sibling the Smart Forfour, have been co-developed by Mercedes and Renault, the latter of which is using the same package for its new Renault Twingo city car. That means all three cars have an unusual, but space-efficient, rear-engined layout.
All Smarts are also built around what its maker, Mercedes, calls a ‘tridion cell’. This safety structure is made using a high proportion of hot-formed steels and multiphase steel, which are especially strong. A safety feature called Crosswind Assist is available as standard to boost stability, while forward collision warning and Lane Keeping Assist are available as options.
Crucially, the Fortwo also retains its unique 269cm length, helping it achieve a turning circle of 6.95m, making it especially practical in built up urban areas. Adding to its practicality, a 10cm increase in cabin width makes for much improved passenger comfort, and the front passenger seat folds flat as standard, helping to increase the load bay space.
The suspension set-up is also said by Smart to deliver ‘markedly improved ride comfort’, a weak point of the outgoing car. Although Smart says the standard car has been set up for comfort, buyers can specify a sports suspension package, which has stiffer springs and a 10mm lower set-up.
The interior is largely an evolution of the current Smart’s, but is also being hailed as a marked step forward over the current car’s, both for its practicality and high levels of quality, including the option of striking textiles on many surfaces. There is 360 litres of luggage space behind the Fortwo’s front seats.
Smart has also worked hard to give the Fortwo and Forfour a ‘family look’: design features including the headlamps, the front grille and the central safety cell are identical. In total, around 40 exterior colour combinations will be possible, with the options available on body panel colours and core tridion cell colours.
What engines can I choose from?
Buyers get the choice of two different three-cylinder engines at launch. The lower-powered unit is a 1.0-litre engine rated at 71bhp, with 67lb ft of pulling power.
The higher-powered, turbocharged 89bhp engine is 898cc in size, and delivers 100lb ft of pulling power.
An ultra-frugal 59bhp three-cylinder engine will follow later.
All versions come with the choice of a manual five-speed gearbox or ‘twinamic’ automatic with dual clutch transmission, which is promised to be a significant improvement on the previous car's jerky 'Softouch' system.
Although Smart has yet to formally confirm it, a new Smart Fortwo electric drive is likely to be launched in 2015.
What equipment does it come with?
The Smart Fortwo will be sold in three trim levels: Passion, Prime and Proxy.
Standard kit includes LED daytime driving lights, remote central locking, immobiliser, cruise control, electric windows and a trip computer.
Although full spec information for higher models has yet to be revealed, it has been confirmed that top-spec models get kit including a 3.5-inch colour display, heated seats, smartphone integration, real-time sat-nav and a six-channel sound system.
In the UK, the lowest trim level will not be available initially, following around six months after launch.
How much will it cost?
Informed sources suggest prices will start from around £11,000 when the car goes on sale in the UK, but the arrival of the base spec car later in 2015 will lower the entry-level price to less than £10,000.
Notably, Smart officials in Europe have also indicated that switching from a Fortwo to the equivalent Forfour will involve a price rise of around only £500, with the four-seat car expected to account for around 80% of sales.
How good are its rivals?
Many will argue the Smart Fortwo is without rivals, because of its compact dimensions and two-seat layout.
However, based on likely pricing it must lure buyers away from the likes of the Hyundai i10, VW Up, Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo, all of which offer good practicality, refinement and running costs, plus a modicom of all-round ability in towns and on motorways.
Can I get a discount?
Smart has long positioned itself as a premium brand, in the mould of its parent company Mercedes-Benz. As a result, Smart has typically avoided discounting. We’d expect an expert haggler to be able to negotiate some concessions around six months after its launch at the end of 2014, however.