You have to wonder if the executives at smart are all wearing smug grins at the moment.
Since its conception in the early 1990s, the little plastic car has come in for a tremendous amount of stick.
It drove badly, Mercedes-Benz didn’t know how to sell it – or make a profit – the detractors would claim.
One of the most recent accusations was that smart avoided extinction only to keep Mercedes-Benz’s average group-wide CO2 emissions down in the light of EU regulatory pressure.
This latest claim contains a kernel of the truth as to why, through all the trials and tribulations, smart’s new fortwo is suddenly looking pretty much in Position A.
Increasingly over the last few years, people are focusing on their carbon footprints, environmental impact, travel options or social conscience – whatever you might like to call it.
And while previously some might have seen the smart as some sort of plastic oddity, it now looks like an ethical option.
The fortwo is still a two-seater, light and compact with a small engine and some funky detailing. However, it has grown up a lot.
You would be hard-pressed to notice much difference from the outside.
However, the numbers illustrate a change. It’s 43mm wider, 195mm longer and the wheelbase is 55mm longer. Small numbers, but in the world of the titch, a large percentage gain.
Inside, the changes are more noticeable, with the dashboard not far off being sensible and logical in a Mercedes-ish way. At least the globular eyes on top of the dash for clock and revs can be optioned, while the lockable glovebox is only an option.
The boot is also much bigger, up 70 litres to 220, or 340 if it’s packed to the roof, which is a decent amount.
Safety is something the designers and engineers have looked at long and hard with the smart.
It is very light at less than 800kg and if you’re in one in a strong wind with lorries bearing down on you, it can be disconcerting.
However, this is a hard nut to crack: the Tridion safety cell wraps the occupants in a protective cage while the seating position means occupants are around 200mm higher than they would be in an “average” car, which is helpful in a side impact.
Of particular note is the fact that all smarts come with ESP as standard. Then there are the changes to the drivetrain.
The previous car’s six-speed automatic gearbox could be recalcitrant and rocked the car like a stern nanny over a pram every time it shifted.
A new five-speed unit from Getrag has been fitted, which smart claims is not only smoother but improves fuel economy, too.
The three-cylinder engines are now bigger, with all at 1,000cc rather than the previous 700 but are offered in various states of tune: 61bhp and 71bhp normally aspirated and a turbocharged 84bhp.
There’s also a Brabus version with 98bhp which has to be in every sense one of the daftest cars on the market: nearly £15,500 for the convertible model, low-50mpg, Porsche-like burble and wacky performance with 0-62mph in less than 10 seconds.
The least powerful and 71bhp versions both manage 60.1mpg on the combined cycle and 112g/km of CO2, while the 84bhp variant offers 57.6mpg and 116g/km.
There’s also a diesel model offering 85.7mpg and CO2 emissions of just 88g/km.
However, this model won’t be made in right-hand drive guise – left-hookers will arrive next year.
Smart claims that the new model is also cheaper to service thanks to longer 25,000-mile service intervals.
There’s still a Cabrio version too, while there are three spec levels – pure, pulse and passion, although not all are available with all engines.
The entry-level 61bhp pure costs £6,900 on the road, up to £10,970 for a passion cabrio.
It can seem a little expensive at the front end, but smarts tend to hold their value well, especially in the used private market where its cult status and fuel economy counts for a lot.
Behind the wheel
Seeing a smart whizzing about could put a smile on your face. Driving one would turn it into a grimace.
But there have been some big improvements.
The gearbox for one.
It’s much smoother than it was, and if you use the steering wheel paddles of some models you can actually enjoy the process.
The other big change is in the suspension.
The old car rode fiercely and smashed into bumps, which is not an ideal set-up for a car that lives on city streets. Now it has a softer edge to it so the harshness has gone while retaining the body control.
The steering is now more responsive, although very wheel size-dependent – getting heavier as the tyres get bigger.
The two smaller engines are more than adequate, while the 84bhp unit is a hoot.
With a stable chassis and communicative steering, it is genuinely nippy and fun to drive on country roads. This now has substance to go with its undoubted character.
The smart fortwo is revitalised and now feels altogether more grown-up, being better to drive and slightly bigger. Its time has finally come.
|Model||fortwo 61||fortwo 71||fortwo 84||Brabus|
|Max power (bhp/rpm)||61/5,800||71/5,800||84/5,250||98/5,500|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm)||66/3,000||68/4,500||89/3,250||103/3,500|
|Max speed (mph)||90 (limited)||90 (limited)||90 (limited)||95 (limited)|
|Fuel consumption (mpg)||60.1||60.1||57.6||54.3|
|CO2 emissions (g/km)||112||112||116||124|
|On sale:||Now (diesel 2008)|