Engine options are a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol, with 70-, 83- or 101bhp outputs (the latter exclusive to the hot Brabus model), or a 54bhp 0.8-litre diesel. We’d go for the 70bhp petrol model, although that's primarily because it's the cheapest; the diesel is slow, while the others are noticeably brisker.
Power steering is only an option, but even the standard set-up is easy to twirl as long as you’re not stationary. Less impressive is the ride. This tall, short car needs stiff suspension to stop it tottering through bends, so imperfections in the road surface are transmitted through to occupants. The front tyres run out of grip pretty quickly, too, but it’s comparable with other city cars.
The biggest disturbance comes from the three-cylinder engine, which sits just behind the seats. It emits a distinctive thrum whenever you touch the accelerator and, while the sound is far from unpleasant, it becomes tiring on long journeys. A semi-automatic gearbox is standard, but up-changes are jerky unless you ease your foot off the accelerator.
Running costs will be very low. The Fortwo is cheap to insure, and it holds its value surprisingly well – most models will sell for nearly half their original new price three years down the line. Claimed economy ranges from 54.3mpg to an incredible 85.6, and apart from the Brabus, every petrol model sits in the 10% car tax band (the diesel is in the 13% band).
Aside from some slightly flimsy heater controls, the interior has a solid, durable feel. The Fortwo was rated fifth in its class in the 2012 JD Power survey, but owners reported that its reliability was below average.
All models have a stability control system that helps out in slippery bends and reduces the chance of a rollover accident. Driver and passenger airbags are also standard, but it’s disappointing that side airbags are only optional. An engine immobiliser means thieves will struggle to drive the Fortwo away, but the absence of deadlocks lets down security.
The distinctive interior is well laid out and features big, user-friendly buttons and dials. However, the driving position won’t suit everyone because there’s no seat height adjustment and the steering wheel is fixed. If you want a brightly trimmed interior, you’ll have to go for the mid-spec Passion model.
Practicality is limited because it has only two seats, but there's enough room for a pair of broad six-footers. Wide-opening doors mean it's easy to get in and out, and although the boot isn't massive, its 220-litre capacity compares favourably with those of other city cars. The Cabriolet's roof retracts at the touch of a button.
Entry-level Pulse cars come with air-conditioning, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, electric windows and steering wheel-mounted gearshift paddles. Passion models add a panoramic glass roof and satellite-navigation, while the Brabus gets a bodykit, sports suspension and heated leather seats.
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This is one of the best Smarts to go for if you want a good blend of equipment, acceptable performance and fuel-sipping economy. It’s not too pricey, either.