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2016 Smart fortwo

Mark Hacking/The Globe and Mail

Rating
7.5

Let's get this out of the way right from the start: The Smart fortwo is not really an ideal car for Canadians. If you happen to live in a big city, it may be a great solution for your transportation needs. But the Smart fortwo is designed for cities with bigger challenges than ours; cities where parking spaces are few and far between, cars are restricted from entering the urban core, and monthly fuel tallies rival mortgage payments.

Example: Cologne is the most densely populated city in Europe. Here, where we drove the 2016 Smart fortwo during the global press launch, a city car makes sense. Powering through downtown in the engaging little runabout, it was clear that street parking was at a premium. We passed previous-generation fortwos wedged perpendicularly (and legally) in a parallel parking space. In cities such as this, if your car is half the size of an average car, you pay half the price for space in a parking lot.

From the moment the first Smart fortwo appeared on the global stage in 1998, parent manufacturer Mercedes-Benz has fielded criticism for its diminutive offering. The Smart fortwo has always been a two-seater. It's always had a tiny cargo area. It's always been relatively expensive, especially when compared to subcompacts with four seats. It began as a co-venture between Mercedes-Benz and a cheap watchmaker, for heaven's sake. It's been saddled with lame engines and laughable transmissions. It's suffered from perceptions that it might not be safe should it come into contact with a much larger vehicle. And what's the deal with the lower-case lettering?

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Some of these comments still apply to the all-new, third-generation version. Nevertheless, the Smart fortwo is better than ever. An optional dual-clutch 6-speed automatic transmission replaces the box full of delays that anchors the current version. (A 5-speed manual will also be available; it was, however, not available to sample.) The turbocharged 3-cylinder engine, the only engine slated for Canada, is the most potent of three 3-cylinders for the world. Pinning the accelerator pedal does not produce whiplash, but it does allow the car to keep pace with traffic and it's surprisingly refined.

The new Smart is the same length as the outgoing version, so wrestling with small spaces remains a strong suit. The car's turning circle, at 6.95m, is tighter than ever. So are its driving dynamics. Despite a tiny wheelbase and small wheels, ride comfort over rough roads is good. And, although the car looks tall, its centre of gravity is low (aided by the rear-engine design), so cornering is quick and composed.

The press materials describe the 2016 Smart fortwo as having "more punch per inch." True enough. But whether it's enough punch for Canadian car buyers will remain a mystery until pricing is announced closer to the on-sale date this September.

You'll like this car if … You live in the city, you travel light.

TECH SPECS

  • Base price: $TBD
  • Engine: Turbocharged 898-cc inline 3-cylinder
  • Transmission / Drive: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic / Rear-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBD
  • Alternatives: Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio

RATINGS

  • Looks: The new fortwo has lost its cute countenance, which has been shelved in favour of a more puggish nose and bulkier headlamps. While it’s clearly still a smart, it remains to be seen if hardcore aficionados will respond to the more rugged and more modern look.
  • Interior: There’s plenty of space in the smart… for two people, that is. The design of the passenger cabin is a step up from the old smart, although you don’t have to look hard to find hard plastic. If the phrase “funky utilitarianism” is in your personal mission statement, the new smart is your ride of choice.
  • Performance: With its new dual-clutch transmission, the smart is a more engaging effort than the previous version. The fortwo is no speed demon, but it’s good, clean fun in the city centre — and it topped out at over 150 km/h on the autobahn!
  • Technology: The base model (dubbed “Pure”) comes with safety tech that aids in starting on inclines and driving in a crosswind. The two higher-end versions (“Passion” and “Prime”) add a smartphone cradle with integrated USB port and an app that connects your phone to the audio system. The optional touchscreen package adds a vibrant 7-inch screen for navigation and smartphone integration.
  • Cargo: The dimensions of the car haven’t changed much, so it’s no surprise that the hatchback opens up to reveal a sliver of a trunk — enough room for, say, 36 large bottles of smartwater and not a whole lot else.

Verdict

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7.5

For sure, this is a better effort — but until pricing is announced, we're reserved in our final verdict.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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