Drive – Smart ForTwo Review

7 Sep 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Drive – Smart ForTwo Review

David Morley

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Make Smart Family ForTwo Series A450 Year 2004 Badge Description pulse Doors 3 Seats 2 Transmission Seq. Manual Auto-Single Clutch Engine Configuration Description In-line Gear Num 6 Cylinders 3 Build Country Origin Description FRANCE Fuel Type Description Petrol – Premium ULP Drive Description Rear Wheel Drive

The Smart car didn’t have an easy time in the early days of the brand. Originally developed as a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and watchmaker Swatch, the latter pulled out of the deal before the project was finished, leaving the German car manufacturer holding the baby.

That Mercedes decided to push on with the whole idea is now a matter of history, but even then, the first version of the Smart ForTwo was plagued by reliability and stability issues.

But by 2003, the car had been revised and Mercedes-Benz Australia figured it was time for the thing to be launched here.

We got both the fixed-roof City Coupe and the Cabrio with its fabric top. But it wasn’t that simple, because while an electric motor retracted the cloth section of the roof, to go truly lidless, you had to manually remove the two side rails. Most owners never did and simply slid the cloth back and left it at that.

Power came from a three-cylinder turbocharged engine which was willing and flexible but, with just 45kW, was never going to set the world on fire.

It was, however, tuneful and good fun since it had only 740 kilograms to shift.

But less impressive was the clutchless six-speed manual which lacked a proper automatic mode and featured rather stilted, jerky shifts.

Worse than that was the fact that it made standing-start take-offs very leisurely as it wouldn’t allow the engine to rev up before the clutch started to engage. Pulling out into traffic could feel a bit dicey.

Which brings us to the subject of safety in a package as tiny as this: Even with front airbags for both driver and passenger, anti-lock brakes and brake-assist, there’s no doubt some people will always feel a bit vulnerable in such a small car, especially when going toe-to-toe with full-size four-wheel-drives.

Ride and handling were dictated by the car’s minuscule footprint and it could be pretty pitchy and bumpy on less-than-perfect roads as well as noisy at speed.

The ForTwo’s real abilities shone most brightly in the inner city, where it could be parked in spaces even conventional small cars had no hope of using and where its relative lack of performance wasn’t a factor.

Essentially, the Smart concept might have been a winner in Europe (and they’re everywhere on the Continent) but in this country it was a less happy formula.

Until, now, that is, because the lukewarm reception has seen second-hand prices tumble to the point where it’s become the cheap littlie it should always have been.

That said, there are things to watch for when shopping.

With just 700cc to work with and a turbocharger adding to the stress of daily life, the Smart’s engine can be a source of problems.

The biggest potential worry is a cracked exhaust manifold. That doesn’t sound too serious, but if you let it go unchecked it can become very serious.

It plays havoc with the engine sensors, which in turn causes more problems eventually leading to broken valves as the engine runs too hot. You also need to check the service record as the Smart engine worked hard for its living every time it was started and it won’t tolerate missed oil changes.

Speaking of which, the engine requires fully synthetic oil to function properly and to have any chance of going the distance.

The advice from the trade also is not to overfill the Smart’s engine with oil.

Too much will cause it to be blown out of the engine and into the turbocharger or the exhaust gas release valve, both of which will suffer as a result.

That gearbox that can feel a bit awkward in traffic is also not without fault.

When test driving a ForTwo, make sure the gearbox picks up both Reverse and Drive from Neutral quickly and without too much of a thump. Any transmission that refuses to select

Reverse is possibly suffering from worn clutch plates (the transmission is actually a manual, despite not having a clutch pedal).

If the transmission refuses to shift out of Park – even with your foot on the brake – the cause is more likely to be a dud sensor, which will prove a lot easier and cheaper to fix, but stands as a great bargaining point.

Suspension-wise, the Smart’s biggest problem seems to be front ball-joints that wear relatively quickly, but it’s also wise to check for strange tyre-wear patterns that suggest the car could be out of alignment, something that is especially crucial with such a short wheelbase.

The ability to keep water in and out is also something that has bothered some Smarts and a percentage of owners have reported leaking side windows.

A quick sniff of the interior is the best way to get an idea of how well that car is sealing as wet carpets have a tendency to leave a peculiar smell to say the least.

The hose that links the bottle to the nozzle of the rear windscreen washer system can also become dislodged, sending water into the space between the inner and outer rear-quarter panels. A pool of water beside the rear tyre is the giveaway.

Finally, test the car’s headlights. For some reason, Smart ForTwos have an unenviable reputation for blowing their headlights.

Nobody knows why this should be so, but it’s common enough for us to call it a known fault.

Three-cylinder engine offers real character. And a neat soundtrack

The world needs small, frugal cars. This is one of them.

Two Smarts will fit in one parking pace.

Clutchless manual transmission is clumsy.

Interior is funky but plasticky

Tiny footprint leads to pitching, bucking ride.

Nuts and bolts:

Engine: 700cc turbo 3-cyl

Transmissions: 6-sp clutchless manual.

Fuel economy: (combined) 4.8 litres per 100km

Daewoo Matiz: Twice as many seats, twice as many doors and even cheaper. But it’s a lousy thing, really, and you’d actually have to be very desperate. Rating: 1/5

Daihatsu Sirion: Another three-cylinder car, but much bigger and more conventional than the Smart. The Daihatsu’s trump card is reliability and with servicing they can soldier on for many years. Rating: 2/5

Suzuki Swift: Costs more than the others but the Swift is a proper car. Groovy to look at, fun to drive, it was (unlike the Daewoo) put together by people who cared. Rating: 3/5

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