The 2011 Smart ForTwo is the smallest car available in the U.S., and its diminutive size allows for high fuel economy and easy maneuverability in parking situations. But the ForTwo makes many sacrifices for those benefits. These include slow acceleration, poor crash-test results, a harsh ride and one of the worst automatic transmissions that reviewers have come across. Other economy car choices in the same price range, such as the 2011 Nissan Versa (Base MSRP: $9,990 to $17,190) and the 2011 Honda Fit (Base MSRP: $15,100 to $16,860), are far more capable vehicles.
The most notable changes to the Smart ForTwo for the 2011 model year are the addition of cruise control, various cosmetic upgrades, side curtain airbags and knee airbags. Otherwise the ForTwo is the same as the previous model years. For additional details, see our reports on the 2010 Smart ForTwo and its convertible sibling, the 2008 Smart ForTwo Cabriolet.
The ForTwo gets excellent fuel economy with its 1-liter, three-cylinder engine mated to the automated transmission, achieving 33 mpg city/41 mpg highway/36 mpg combined according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, reviewers have nothing nice to say about the transmission itself, which they call jerky and unpleasant. Also, the ForTwo takes only premium-grade fuel.
Front airbags, side airbags, side curtain airbags, knee airbags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control are standard on the Smart ForTwo. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the ForTwo the highest Good rating for front- and side-impact protection as well as roof strength. Rear-accident protection is given the lower Acceptable rating. Despite these seemingly good results, IIHS notes that their ratings estimate protection against cars of a similar size. Unfortunately, nearly every car on the road is significantly bigger than the ForTwo. In a special study, IIHS crash tested the Smart ForTwo against a larger Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, and the results were troubling. The Smart ForTwo went airborne and turned 450 degrees in the crash. Furthermore, there was extensive intrusion of material into the passenger compartment, which would greatly increase the likelihood for injury.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet tested the 2011 Smart ForTwo under its new testing guidelines.
The 2011 Smart ForTwo coupe starts at $12,490, while the priciest cabriolet version starts at $17,690.
Aside from fuel efficiency and microcar looks, Edmunds.com finds little to like about the Smart ForTwo. Despite its cheap price, the editors call it "expensive for what you get," and make it clear that they prefer slightly more expensive but significantly better alternatives.
Review: 2009 Smart ForTwo, Editors of Edmunds.com
ConsumerReports.org has tested the Smart ForTwo, and ranks it against its competition on a variety of factors. ConsumerReports.org has survey-based reliability data and owner-satisfaction data as well.
Review: New Cars: Small Cars, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
3. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The Smart ForTwo is the only car in the minicar category. It gets the highest Good rating for front- and side-accident protection as well as roof strength. It gets the lower Acceptable rating in rear-crash testing. Importantly, the crash tests are based on the Smart ForTwo crashing into a vehicle of a similar size, which may not be realistic in a real-world setting. When the IIHS crashed the Smart ForTwo into a midsize Mercedes C-class, the ForTwo's performance is poor.
Review: Microcars, Editors of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
4. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
This press release details the Smart ForTwo's poor performance in crash tests against a midsize car. During the test, the ForTwo goes airborne, spins around and suffers significant intrusion into the passenger compartment.
Review: New Crash Tests Demonstrate the Influence of Vehicle Size and Weight on Safety in Crashes, Editors of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, April 14, 2009
The Smart ForTwo has stellar fuel economy and few peers when it comes to efficiency. Only hybrids have greater fuel economy. The ForTwo gets an EPA-estimated 33 mpg city/41 mpg highway/36 mpg combined. The more expensive 2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI (Base MSRP: $23,225 to $23,885) performs similarly and gets very positive reviews from the experts.
Review: 2011 Most and Least Fuel Efficient Vehicles, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov
This report on the 2009 Smart ForTwo convertible provides a complete analysis of what reviewers are saying. The coupe version is basically identical in terms of ride quality, engine, transmission, interior space and overall experience. Links to expert reviews can be found here.
Review: 2009 Smart ForTwo Cabriolet, Editors of ConsumerSearch.com, Aug. 2009