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2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe and Cabriolet
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The Good :)   Cute looks.  Small and nimble. Good gas mileage. Good safety features. Nice interior design. Convertible adds a great feeling. Transparent roof on coupe feels great. Brings smiles and happiness from onlookers.

The Bad :(   Small width. Loud engine. Very slow shifting transmission.

Engine 3 Cyl 1 Liter

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Output 70 hp / 68 lb-ft
Top Speed 90 mph
0-60 mph 12.8 sec (est.)
Weight 1800 lbs
Price As Tested $13,590 Coupe
$16,590 Cabriolet

 

The Smart Fortwo is a new phenomenon here in the United States and it has arrived just in time with gas prices souring to over $4.00 per gallon.  Smart, which is owned by Daimler (Mercedes Benz), has introduced the smallest vehicle on the road today bringing smiles to everyone’s face as they see it for the first time.  While the Smart brand has been around for 10 years in 36 other countries, selling over 900,000 cars, this is the first year we are seeing it here in USA.  The idea for this small urban car started in the early 1990’s when the inventor of Swatch watches teamed up with Mercedes-Benz.  Official production of the Smart began in 1998 in France.  Its quite shocking that America, the largest car market in the world is seeing this vehicle 10 years after its introduction.  

The reason it took so long for the Smart to come to the largest automotive market in the world is that it didn’t meet the five mph bumper crash requirements but more importantly, no one thought this small car would sell in the land of huge SUV’s and pickups.  Everything in the US is super-sized, from McMansions to jumbo Ford Expeditions.  We live in a culture of largeness and a small car like the Fortwo just didn’t mix well in this picture.  For anyone who has seen the Smart on European streets and always wanted one, you can thank the oil companies for raising the price of oil to $140 per barrel.

The high cost of oil is one of the most important reasons why the Smart Fortwo made it to our shores.  However, we don’t understand why Smart didn’t bring to the States the very popular CDI diesel version which gets over 70 mpg and currently has the worlds lowest CO2 emissions in a production car.  That would have been the perfect solution to our high gas prices and would have helped, in its own small way, with the global warming problem.  The gasoline version we have gets about 40 mpg on average and with some soft pedal action you can manage 55 mpg.  

The smart Fortwo comes in three versions:  Pure, Passion and Passion Cabriolet.   We recently tested both the Passion Coupe and Passion Cabriolet.   Most buyers will not opt for the Pure since it lacks basic things such as air conditioner, power windows, alloy wheels and even a radio; however it does have a compelling price starting at only $11,590.   All models come with the 5-speed automated manual transmission with manual or automatic shifting modes. We will have much to say about this system later.

The Passion Coupe is a huge improvement in comfort over the Pure and which the majority of buyers are ordering because it comes with so many handy features for only $2000 more.  The Passion comes with a large panorama roof, alloy wheels, air conditioning with climate control, leather sports steering wheel with shift paddles, power windows, power side mirrors, and AM/FM radio with CD player.   Basically it’s a well equipped car with nothing lacking.

While the Passion coupe starts at $13,590, the Cabriolet will cost you a whopping three grand more than the coupe at $16,590.  That’s a huge difference in price for just a soft top roof.   While the power soft top is quite nice and can be partially or fully retracted in seconds at any speed, spending upwards of 17K on a small car is a bit steep.   The other item that sets these two cars apart are the upgraded radio and sound system found in the Cabriolet that includes mp3 compatible in-dash six disc CD changer.  

Driving the Smart Fortwo is a unique experience because it takes a few days to fully get used to the engine and transmission.   Another “new” experience is the star factor.  Random people start talking to you wherever you go and people are pointing and smiling in almost every car that goes by.  The Smart makes you feel good because people notice you and talk to you.   If you ever thought of running for political office, this car would get you elected.  

Don’t laugh when you learn that the engine is a small 1.0 liter 3-cyclinder which puts out only 71 hp.   Your neighbor’s Harley probably has more power than the Fortwo.  Modern day motorcycles do offer comparable, if not more, horsepower numbers; the only difference is how fast you get from 0-60 mph.  Both a motorcycle and a Fortwo will get you from point A to B.   Acceleration from 0-60 mph in a bike will take maybe 3 seconds while in the Smart it takes about 13 seconds.   Yes this sounds slow, but who’s counting seconds when you are having so much fun and smiling as you drive around.  

The compact one liter engine sits tucked behind the rear seats in about a 2 foot by 4 foot space.  Open the rear hood and all you see is a flat cargo area with a carpet over it.  Most people will look for the engine under the front hood, but even opening the front is no small task for the newbie and requires reading the owners manual.  There are two small black handles hidden in the mesh grill in the front valence that foldout; then the lightweight plastic hood comes off.  Nothing much behind it besides some reservoirs for the windshield wiper and a few other fluids.  So you go back to the rear end in search for the powerplant.  Lifting the carpet reveals yet another cover, but this one is metal and opens with one turn of a clip to reveal the Mitsubishi built engine.  Since Mercedes-Benz owns a large stake in Mitsubishi, they decided to source the small and compact unit for the Fortwo.  It was probably also the cheapest engine they could find in the marketplace.  When you start the car the engine makes this clunky noise like it’s a lawn mower.  Also when idling you can hear it, especially if the windows are down.  It is quite annoying to hear this clunking engine since most modern day cars are very well insulated and hardly make any sounds.  Considering that the Fortwo weights about 2000 lbs, and not 400 lbs like a motorcycle, it could have used at least a 120 hp engine or an alternative electric motor.   Most people on the road will ask you “Is that an electric car?”, and as you turn the key, the noise from the engine will be a big disappointment for both you and the onlookers.  

While most people won’t care about how long it takes to go fast, they will definitely care about how the transmission shifts. The five speed automated manual transmission is a strange unit and one that takes some getting used to.  It shifts like a manual, with a long pause in-between every gear shift.  So this means that your body, and the vehicle, pauses while the gear shift is taking place.  In the beginning you and your passenger will actually be leaning forward every time the Fortwo changes gears.  The time between shifts is like nothing we have experienced in any other car.  If you combine both a slow and jerky shift, then the driving experience goes down very quickly.   Why didn’t Mercedes-Benz engineers put in either a standard manual or a fully automatic transmission like those found in every other car on the road today?   We need some answers to this and our prediction is that it will be changed within two years due to buyer complaints.  The good news is that after a week in the Fortwo, the body and mind get used to this phenomenon and you don’t even comprehend its happening.  The overall pleasant experience of the Smart Fortwo quickly negates the poor transmission and engine combo.

Living with the Smart Fortwo on a daily basis is quite pleasing.  You quickly get used to the engine and transmission and forget what other cars are supposed to drive like.  You only get reminded when after a few days you get back into your sedan or SUV and realize “Ohh, this feels much nicer”.  Cruising on the highway is very stable and as long as you take some time you can get up to 85 mph without any problems.   We routinely passed over 70% of the cars on the highway, so in reality people still drive slow even with their bigger cars.  The top speed of the Fortwo is electronically limited at 90 mph, so don’t try to outrun a Porsche, or even a Buick past this speed.  

When you want to really get going fast you have to get use to pressing the pedal hard.  Driving with the rpm needle over 4000 is common for when you are keeping up with other cars.  Only around small town roads can you drive at lower RPMs.  This is another area of getting used to.  The Fortwo requires you to learn a new way of driving.  Using the engine’s max capabilities is an everyday affair.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say that for a Porsche 911.  Who wouldn’t wish they could stomp on the pedal as hard as possible all the time.   If you commute on the highway where you have to merge with traffic, pass other cars and even keep up with cars, then get used to driving at higher revs and pressing the pedal to the floor.  

Driving the Smart Fortwo around town is a blast because the car handles and performs well for this type of driving where you don’t require full engine power.  In fact, it’s perfectly suited for an urban environment where you mainly navigate through tight roads, heavy traffic and short stints from one location to another.  This is why it has been so popular in Europe, where the streets are so narrow that you can only go 20 mph on cobble stone alleys.  You normally drive slow anyways in town and its super easy to park the car.   You can even come up with new ways to fit into a parking space, such as sideways or in-between spaces which are not even official parking spots.  It’s also quite nice to be in a car that fits one or two people and still allows for cargo or groceries.  It makes you realize that all those people in their large SUVs, who are usually alone and female, have no other reason to be in that vehicle except to show-off the size of the ego.  They hardly ever use any space except for the driver’s seat!   You can have the same lifestyle and do the same things in a small compact car such as the Fortwo.       

The Smart Fortwo has a stiff suspension and an equally tight steering.  This makes for much better control on the road and highways.  However if you live in an area with lots of bumpy roads, the Fortwo may not be the most comfortable vehicle for you.  For anyone in the Northeast, try driving the car on I-495 in Massachusetts and you will know what we mean.  The stiff suspension makes the car feel stable and responsive around town, but not very good on long journeys where you wished you were riding in a Mercedes E-Class.   The Fortwo’s front suspension has McPherson struts with lower wishbone and an anti-roll bar.  The rear axle consists of a DeDion axle with coil springs and shock absorbers.  

The brakes work well but getting used to the kind of braking system which the Smart uses is another item which you will need to work on during your first week break-in-period.  The dual-circuit brake system uses a tandem servo for assistance.  The brake pedal is also fixed to the ground, rather than from the top as in most cars.  Front brake disc are 11 inch in diameter with 8 inch drums in rear.  The Fortwo comes with all the modern electronics such as Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with hill start assist, Anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution, Traction Control System and Electronic Brake Assist.  This is one of the smartest things about the Smart.

What really will put a smile on your face is when you stop by the gas station to fill up the Fortwo.  Its’ 8.7 gallon gas tank and thrifty engine means that a full fill-up will cost under $40 even with gas over $4 per gallon.  No one really waits for the gas tank to be completely empty so the average cost to fill up will equal about $20 in gas receipts which sounds really great and affordable.   

Getting use to the Smart’s small exterior also takes some time.  For the first few days you will laugh at how cute and small it is.  It’s straight out of a Japanese cartoon.  The Smart looks like a mouse with the small overhanging front hood with two round projector beam halogen headlights which look like bubble bee eyes.  The robotic look gives you that emotional feeling that this is a pet, not just any ordinary car.  The extra short rear end is just shockingly SHORT, you just can’t imagine that there is space back there to fit groceries, even a dog!!  Overall so much has been fit into this small package, from the engine in back to the mechanism of the power top, that the Smart Fortwo is a modern day marvel in engineering and design.  With the convertible model, the two roof pillars also come off making for a very open feeling.

The Fortwo has a wheelbase of 73.5 inches with an overall length of 106.1 inches.  Width and height are about the same at 61 inches.  Basically the car is about 9 feet long and 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide.  You can fit two Fortwo’s in one parking space.  The Fortwo sits on 9-spoke 15-inch alloy wheels with 155/60R front tires and 175/55R rear tires.  The wheels are quite attractive and look smaller than 15 inches.  We had people ask if they were 13 inch wheels.  The rear lights are two individual units on top of each other that wrap into the side rear quart panel.  They look very nice and allow for the rear deck to be clutter free and fold down flat.  The rear storage area has 8 cubic feet of storage space and can accommodate up to 12 cubic feet of cargo up to the roof line.   

The exterior is unique because all versions and color schemes have a two-color concept which highlights the tridion safety cell.  The standard color for the tridion cell is black but you can upgrade to a metallic silver finish.  Also all the body panels are changeable into six different colors from deep black, light yellow, crystal white, blue metallic, red metallic or silver metallic.   While our Passion Coupe looked very nice in the metallic blue with silver tridion safety cell, our Passion Cabriolet was even more gorgeous in the metallic red with silver tridion safety cell.  The red color is actually an orangey tone and similar to the one offered by Lamborghini.  It’s very rare to see this color on the road and we found ourselves just staring at it every day and saying how beautiful it looks over and over again.   

The Smart Fortwo is an excellent engineering example of how you can have a small body, yet create an interior that is both roomy and airy.  When behind the wheel, the driver doesn’t feel he’s in a small car.  Thanks to the high roof, huge windows and large comfortable seats, the interior feels just like any other mid-size sedan.  Of course, the overall width of the smart is the only problem and so you may rub shoulders once in a while.  Two 6-foot plus people can comfortably sit in the Fortwo.   Headroom is listed at 40 inches with 41 inches of legroom.   There are 48 inches of shoulder room and 45 inches of hip room.  A clear roof on the coupe extends the bright and airy interior as well.  On the Cabriolet, a push of a button pulls back the fabric top and another push extends the rear glass down to make a full convertible experience.  You can also take the 2 roof pillars off easily making for a even clearer view of the sky.  

The interior design is very attractive with everything laid out in a clear and easy-to-use manner.  The styling of the dash is also unique in that it incorporates the same materials that are used in the seat to create this trendy Luis Vuitton handbag look.  We found the lighter interior color much better in daily life as it gives you a more open feeling inside.  Cloth and leather interior materials are available.  A flat panel on the dash makes you feel like you have a desk in front of you where you can lay out items.  Next to the steering wheel on each side are small storage bins where you can put your cell phone, keys and other items.  

The Passion model comes with an AM/FM Stereo system and our vehicle had the upgraded premium sound with also has a six disc CD changer and auxiliary input jack which is located in the glove box.  The premium radio comes with two tweeters, two mid range speakers and a subwoofer.  The sound was good with a nice level of bass, great for a car of this size.  Located compactly between the two front air vents is the climate control system which is a manual system with easy to use dials for the controls.  Simple controls for the heated seats, which also worked well, are located below the stereo along with buttons for central door locks and the hazard warning lamp.  Below the dash is a single socket for powering additional items you may have.  We found it to be weak in power as it could not be split to power multiple items at once as we have done in other vehicles.  

The thick leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob felt good and added a high quality feel to the interior.  Paddle shifters are also located on the steering wheel for manual gear shifting.  These formula one style shifters allow left hand downshifts and right hand upshifts.  The instrument cluster is well laid out with a large speed gauge in the center and with a digital multifunction display that shows fuel-level in a horizontal bar graph along with outside temp, clock, coolant level and trip mileage.  There are two round pod gauges in the center of the dash separate from the main instrument cluster that show engine RPM and an analog clock.  Why they put a clock when there is already a digital clock in the instrument cluster was strange.  We also don’t see the need to have the RPM gauge in the middle of the car; it just requires you to turn your head to the right to view it and also comes in the way of a clean and flat upper dashboard.     

The gear shifter is located between the seats and is very small just like the car.  It also feels very flimsy in its operation, more like an arcade joystick.  Many times while putting the lever in reverse the car would not actually go into the gear unless you fiddled with the shift knob a few times.  Also located here is a very long metal parking brake handle; like something that you would find in a car from 1985.  It would have been smarter to put the shift lever on the dash and offer an electronic parking brake or a foot pedal parking brake, freeing up this space for additional storage.  The passenger seat backrest folds down flat in their forward direction allowing you to store larger items when necessary, such as when you pick up some furniture at Ikea.  However, the seats do not recline back as much as in most other vehicles, so forget about sleeping in this car on a long trip.  Then again, do not take it on a long trip.  

For safety Smart has put in dual front air bags and large side air bags.  Electronic Stability Program, Traction Control, Cornering Brake Control, Anti-lock Brakes, Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist give you the same safety features found on a much larger Mercedes-Benz sedan.  The only thing lacking are four disc brakes as the Smart has drum brakes in the rear.  Other nice features like Hill Start Assist help eliminate the small roll back when starting on a hill.  Tire pressure monitoring is also standard.  

The 2008 Smart Fortwo achieved the highest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for front and side crashworthiness. The highlight of the safety management system is the tridion safety cell. The safety cell is made from steel, half of which is high-strength material, especially in highly stressed areas. The cell is designed to keep occupants protected.  The reinforced steel and the design of the car, including the wheel bases, allow the distribution of any crash energy.  

For those seeking a great commuter vehicle in a city, the Smart is sure to please.  Its distinctive looks and small size makes it more like a pet than a car.  The Fortwo definitely has a personality of its own.  Easy entry and exit and an upright seating position makes it very comfortable to drive for short trips.  What ruins the Smart is its loud engine and slow transmission.  Having to hear a “putt putt” noise coming from your car day in and out is quite terrible, especially when everyone is running to your car saying ‘Is that an electric car?”  Why Mercedes-Benz didn’t put a quality engine into the Fortwo that is both smooth and quiet is beyond us.  Didn’t anyone in management drive the car before its production?  In the coming years we hope to see the Fortwo’s converted into electric cars.  The size of the Fortwo makes it a perfect project car that should easily get over 120 mpg.  For anyone interesting in doing this today, we suggest converting your Smart vehicle to an all electric car using Altairnano’s 10 minute lithium-ion recharge batteries.  

The Smart Fortwo is a great urban vehicle that can meet most people’s daily commuting needs.  It is also is a trend setter because it defies Americans’ logic for “big is better”.  The Smart Fortwo makes people think about their lifestyles and how they can reduce excess and waste in their lives.   Perhaps this is the true genius behind the car.  Perhaps this is also the reason the company name was called “Smart”.  

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PRICING

INVOICE

RETAIL

Base Pricing

   


$13,590

Comfort Package     


$850  

Electric Power Steering


$450

smart Premium Sound System


$350

Heated Seats


$220

Silver Metallic Tridion Safety Cell


$175

Alarm System


$160

Additional Instruments


$120

Fog Lamps


$110

 

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COMPARISONS 2008 smart fortwo
passion 2dr Hatchback (1.0L 3cyl 5AM)
2008 Toyota Yaris
2dr Hatchback (1.5L 4cyl 5M)
2008 Honda Fit
4dr Hatchback (1.5L 4cyl 5M)
2008 Chevrolet Aveo
5 Special Value 4dr Hatchback (1.6L 4cyl 5M)
2008 Volkswagen Rabbit
S 2dr Hatchback (2.5L 5cyl 5M)
MSRP $13,590 $11,550 $13,950 $10,235 $15,600
Destination Charge $600 $660 $670 $660 $650
True Cost To Own fortwo Yaris Fit Aveo Rabbit
Warranty fortwo Yaris Fit Aveo Rabbit
Basic Being Researched / Being Researched 3 yr. / 36000 mi. 3 yr. / 36000 mi. 3 yr. / 36000 mi. 4 yr. / 50000 mi.
Driver 4 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 4 stars
Passenger 3 stars 4 stars 5 stars 5 stars 4 stars
Side Impact Front 5 stars 3 stars 5 stars 4 stars 5 stars
Base Engine Type & Cylinders inline 3 inline 4 inline 4 inline 4 inline 5
Base Engine Displacement 1.0 liters 1.5 liters 1.5 liters 1.6 liters 2.5 liters
Valvetrain 12 Valves
double overhead cam (DOHC)
16 Valves
double overhead cam (DOHC)
16 Valves
single overhead cam (SOHC)
16 Valves
double overhead cam (DOHC)
20 Valves
double overhead cam (DOHC)
Variable Valve Timing Standard Standard Standard Not Available Not Available
Horsepower 70 hp @ 5800 rpm 106 hp @ 6000 rpm 109 hp @ 5800 rpm 103 hp @ 5800 rpm Being Researched
Torque 68 ft-lbs. @ 4500 rpm 103 ft-lbs. @ 4200 rpm 105 ft-lbs. @ 4800 rpm 107 ft-lbs. @ 3400 rpm Being Researched
Driven Wheels rear wheel drive front wheel drive front wheel drive front wheel drive front wheel drive
Tires 175/55R15 77T
all season
P175/65R14
all season
P175/65R14 81S
all season
P185/60R14
all season
195/65R15 H
all season
Wheels alloy
15 x 5.5 in.
steel
14 x 5.0 in.
steel
14 in.
steel
14 x 5.5 in.
steel
15 x 6.0 in.
Heated Driver Mirror Standard Not Available Not Available Not Available Standard
Heated Passenger Mirror Standard Not Available Not Available Not Available Standard
Outside Driver Mirror Adjustment power manual remote power manual power
Premium Shift Knob Trim leather alloy - Optional Not Available Not Available Not Available
Premium Steering Wheel Trim leather-wrapped Not Available Not Available Not Available Not Available
Tachometer Optional Not Available Standard Standard Standard
Clock Standard Standard Standard Standard Standard
External Temperature Standard Not Available Not Available Not Available Standard
Traction Control Standard Not Available Not Available Not Available Standard
Stability Control Standard Not Available Not Available Not Available Optional
Turning Circle 28.7 ft. 30.8 ft. 34.3 ft. 33 ft. Being Researched
Max. Cargo Capacity 8 cu. ft. 26 cu. ft. 42 cu. ft. 42 cu. ft. Being Researched
City 33 29 mpg. 28 mpg. 24 mpg. 22 mpg.
Highway 39 36 mpg. 34 mpg. 34 mpg. 29 mpg.
Length 106.1 in. 150.6 in. 157.4 in. 152.7 in. 165.8 in.
Width 61.4 in. 66.7 in. 66.2 in. 65.7 in. 69.3 in.
Height 60.7 in. 60 in. 60 in. 58.8 in. 58.2 in.
Weight 1808 lbs. 2295 lbs. 2432 lbs. 2343 lbs. 2975 lbs.
Wheel Base 73.5 in. 96.9 in. 96.5 in. 97.6 in. 101.5 in.
Front Headroom 39.7 in. 39.4 in. 40.6 in. 39.2 in. 39.3 in.
Front Shoulder Room 48 in. 51.4 in. 52.8 in. 53.6 in. 54.7 in.
Front Leg Room 41.2 in. 40.3 in. 41.9 in. 41.2 in. 41.2 in.
Maximum Luggage Capacity 7.7 cu. ft. 9.3 cu. ft. 21.3 cu. ft. 7 cu. ft. 15 cu. ft.

Technical Data smart fortwo 52 kW

Engine  
Displacement 1 liter / 61 cu inch
Number of cylinders/ configuration three in-line
Engine block/cylinder head aluminium
Valves four per cylinder
Engine capacity 61 cubic inch
Bore x stroke 2.83 x 3.22 inches
Rated output 52 kW / 70 hp @ 5800 rpms
Max. torque 68 lb ft @ 4500
Oil 3.5 qt (incl. filter)
Coolant
4.5 qt
Fuel delivery
electronic multipoint injection
Recommended fuel premium unleaded gasoline (min 91 octane)
Federal emissions BIN5 / ULEV (Cal.)
   
Power transmission  
Clutch single-plate dry clutch
Transmission automated manual five-speed Transmission
Gear ratios: 1st (3.308)
2nd (1.913)
3rd (1.258)
4th (0.943)
5th (0.707)
Reverse (3.231)
Final drive (4.529)
   
Running gear  
Front axle suspension lower wishbone, McPherson strut, anti-roll bar
Rear axle suspension DeDion axle, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers
   
Brake system dual-circuit brake system with tandem servo assistance
  11 inch diameter disc brakes at front
  8 inch diameter drum brakes at rear
  electronic stability program (esp) with hill start assist
  anti-lock braking system (abs) with electronic brake-force distribution, traction control system, electronic brake assist
   
Steering
rack-and-pinion steering
   
Wheels and tires (front/rear)
 
pure: steel, with wheel covers
passion: aluminium wheels
all-season tires on both models 155/60R15 on 4.5Jx15 (front),
175/55R15 on 5.5Jx15 (rear)
   
Dimensions and weights  
Wheelbase 73.5 inches
Track width front/rear 50.51 inches/54.53 inches
Length 106.1 inches
Width 61.38 inches
Height 60.71 inches
Headroom 39.7 inches
Legroom 41.2 inches
Shoulder room 48 inches
Hip room 45.4 inches
Passenger volume 45.4 cu. ft.
Turning circle 28.7 ft
Luggage compartment capacity 7.8 (up to beltline)/12 (to roof) cu. ft.
ECE weight without driver 1,808 lbs (cabriolet: 1,852 lbs)
ECE Payload 507 lbs (cabriolet: 463 lbs)
ECE permissible maximum weight 2,315 lbs
Fuel tank capacity (reserve) 8.7 gal (includes 1.3 gal reserve)
   
Performance
 
Maximum speed 90 mph
Acceleration 0–60 mph 12.8 sec
   
Fuel consumption*  
City/highway (mpg) 40/45 (EPA 2007); 33/41 (EPA 2008)

 

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