Hard to believe, perhaps, but it’s been twelve years since Mercedes’ diminutive Smart car first debuted in Canada. It’s reception was initially lukewarm….probably because it was just so far off the beaten track….but Canadians soon warmed to it, and after Mercedes established its Car2Go car-sharing program, in 2011, it seems like every other car on the road is a Smart of one type or another. It has, over the years, been offered with diesel, electric, and gasoline powerplants.
I have mixed feelings about this little pipsqueak. At first, I absolutely loathed it, to be honest, mainly because the first versions were pretty ugly, and had a clunky uneven diesel drivetrain that just wouldn’t behave itself. Things got better, with the introduction of a gasoline engine model a few years later, but still, there’s no getting around the fact that the Smart is tiny, has virtually no storage space, and gets no respect from other, bigger automobiles.
That said, it’s incredibly nimble and maneuverable around the city, delivers excellent fuel economy, and can be parked almost anywhere. And now, with almost 90 horsepower on tap, it’s actually fun to drive, and as long as you don’t look behind you, doesn’t feel like one of the smallest automobiles ever to plant a tire on Canadian roads.
For 2016, the Smart FourTwo has been modestly re-styled and still has a three cylinder engine, now displacing 898 cc and developing 89 horsepower at 5500 rpm, with an adequate 100 foot-pounds of torque at 2500 rpm. You can choose from a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. My tester had the latter transmission, which, I suspect, is the most popular choice for most typical Smart customers, who more than likely don’t give a fig about the car’s finer points, just as long as it gets them from A to B and doesn’t break down along the way.
A few other specs. This version of the Smart will deliver a combined fuel economy of 6.5 L/100 km, and prefers premium fuel. It has a wheelbase of 1873 mm, which gives it one of the smallest turning radiuses in the industry: 6.95 metres….easily enough to execute a complete U-turn on most two-lane streets. It has a top speed of just under 160 km/h (100 mph), and will accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in about 11 seconds. Because of its tiny stature, it actually feels like it’s going much faster than it really is…..much like some old British roadsters of years gone by. And it has about as much storage space: a maximum of 350 litres, depending upon the model…..this is one vehicle you shouldn’t take to Costco.
Thanks to oversize doors that make up most of the body shell, ingress and egress (getting in and out of the thing) is excellent….this, in my opinion, is one of the Smart’s strongest points: its accessibility and driveability. It is a simple car to get along with. Not half bad on the highway either….there’s a bit more wind/road noise than I’d like, and crosswinds from passing trucks and buses is a little disconcerting, but for the most part, it’s stable and linear, with more than enough reserve power.
And unlike most of Mercedes’ other models, ergonomics and switchgear are straightforward and easy to understand. The radio actually has rotary dials, the heater features an easy-to-understand sliding control, and, aside from a rather cluttered steering wheel cluster, there are no byzantine, illegible switches to confuse and confound. I wish Mercedes would adopt some of this switchgear on its other offerings.
One little bit of weirdness. When you release the front hood – such as it is – it doesn’t tilt up and out of the way like virtually every car on the planet….the entire piece separates itself from the vehicle and comes right off the car. It’s anchored by a couple of straps and kind of complicates routine maintenance, such as re-filling the windshield washer reservoir. Odd.
But what’s even more odd is the fact that I kind of enjoyed my time behind the wheel of the 2016 Smart FourTwo. Just get in the damn thing and go….no fuss, no waiting for various systems to sort themselves out, and no performing contortions just to get behind the wheel. The drivetrain is still a little on the stroppy side, but as a just-get-me-there city car, it has few equals.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 898 cc three cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel drive
Horsepower: 89 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 100 ft. lb. @ 2500 rpm
Price Range: $17,300 – $20,900
Fuel Economy: 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres (city); 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres (hwy). Premium fuel.
Alternatives: Honda Fit, Fiat 500, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Micra, Mitsubishi Mirage, Chev Sonic, Chev Spark.