The 2011 Smart ForTwo may be one of the more polarizing cars around. In theory, it’s a great urban runabout, the shortest car sold in the U.S. and one that you can park almost in a mail slot. And it certainly draws attention wherever you go.
In practice, though, the ForTwo is remarkably unpleasant to drive day to day, and its fuel economy is lower than that of many modern four-door subcompacts that offer far more space.
Ask someone on the street what kind of gas mileage a Smart ForTwo gets, and you may get answers like “60 miles per gallon” or “75? 100 mpg?” In fact, it’s rated at merely 33 mpg city, 41 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 36 mpg. That’s commendable … but it’s also far below the Toyota Prius hybrid, a five-seat, five-door mid-size hatchback, and only slightly better than, say the new Hyundai Elantra subcompact sedan.
Yes, the Smart is cheaper, and it offers a cheerful open-air Cabriolet model to boot. There’s also an extremely low-volume battery electric version. But unless you truly need its diminutive length, you may be better served by one of a number of hybrids or conventional small cars.
The most surprising facet of a Smart may be the truly enormous interior space for two people, even if they’re well over six feet tall. There’s room both for their legs and their heads, with space above left over. What’s missing is cargo space. With the engine over the rear wheels, which are just slightly behind the passengers, there’s only enough capacity for a handful of grocery bags.
At low speeds and in city traffic, the Smart excels. It’s perky and maneuverable. And it can travel at speed, taking on freeways at 70 mph or more without getting truly scary, though it can feel a little skittish on its small wheels. But the ride is hard, overtaking power is lacking, and the short wheelbase means the car pitches back and forth a lot.
Back in town, that pitching is exacerbated by the Smart’s automated manual transmission, which shifts itself with a grim abruptness. The ForTwo pitches forward as the clutch disengages, then rocks back onto its rear suspension as the clutch slams home and the car accelerates again. Experienced Smart drivers can learn how to feather the accelerator to reduce the worst of it—but they shouldn’t have to.
The Smart ForTwo comes with good crash-test ratings considering how small it is, though they’re hardly top of the pack. It’s got the usual antilock brakes, stability control, and side airbags. But the trim levels—Pure and Passion—might be well called Spartan and Adequate, and the interior feels outdated and barren. The 2011 model now offers a navigation system based around the iPhone, an upgrade to previous model years.
For more details, see the full review of the 2011 Smart ForTwo on our sister site, TheCarConnection.