Autoblog editors come clean about their controversial automotive beliefs
The Smart Fortwo Isn't Nearly As Bad As You've Read
For better or for worse, car writers – like a lot of other professionals that earn their keep under the glare of public opinion – often seem to get their story straight as a herd, and stick to it. This mentality becomes especially pronounced with vehicles around the margins of normalcy in the marketplace: supercars, electric cars, Hummer H1s and the rolling punching bag better known as the Smart Fortwo.
To save you some time hunting around, let me summarize the arguments against the tiny two-seater: it drives badly on the highway (too slow, pushed around by crosswinds), it's too expensive "for what it is," fuel economy doesn't live up to expectations for such a small car and, of course, we all really, really, really hate the transmission.
Here's my counter: the Fortwo is a city car. When viewed in the context of what a city car should do and be, it's actually rather excellent. To whit: yes, the 1.0-liter turbocharged engine doesn't have loads of power for confident highway passing, but it still feels like a fish in water when buzzing through lane-gaps in the traffic that besets your average intercity slog. Better still, the car's quick steering and tiny, chuckable wheelbase make flitting in and out of the gaps somewhat of a sport. Fuel economy (EPA combined rating) is actually as-good or better than every other gasoline-powered, non-hybrid car on the market, with the notable exception of the Mitsubishi Mirage. As for the price, though it's true that you can get physically larger cars for more money, the Fortwo remains one of the very least expensive new cars you can buy in the US. Of course, if you need room for four, don't buy it at any rate – that seems obvious but I feel like I have to point it out.
Yeah, the transmission sucks. I've just never seen a bad trans so completely define public opinion (journalist opinion, really) of a single model so much. Open question: if the Fortwo had come with a manual transmission and a Mercedes-Benz badge (no "Smart" jokes), would it be a fan favorite today? I'd take that bet.
– Seyth Miersma