When I first visited Europe, I already had cars on the mind and I knew I’d be in for some special treats once I arrived. For a young car junkie like myself, raised on European car mags, Top Gear, Majorette die-cast models, late night WRC broadcasts on Speed Channel and any number of car chase scenes through winding European streets, Europe was the Holy Grail. It wasn’t just about the super and sports cars, either – we had most of them where I lived – but more about the Peugeot 206s, Renault Méganes and Vauxhall Astras (yes, even those). These were cars that just seemed so much cooler than their North American equivalents.
The one car that I had seen very little of in all my research, however, ended up being the one that struck me the most. Nothing could’ve prepared me for the gobsmacking I got when I first encountered the tiny little city runabout that was the Smart.
The fact that I was walking along the carpeted sidewalk of Monte Carlo’s main drag at the time made the experience even weirder, even more fantastic; after all, this was the playground for playboys in their Astons and Lambos, not the worker bees in their microcars! I was speechless. Then, when I came across my first Smart dealer – the inventory neatly stacked, one atop each other, 10-high just outside of Paris – I felt it all over again. The questions started flowing: who makes these? What engine do they have? Can you park one perpendicular to the curb? (The denizens of Rome can, I’ll tell you that.) This was the cult of Smart, and aside from buying (of course) a scale-model Bburago version for my brother, I had to know more.
My research uncovered more tasty tidbits to blow my teenaged mind: “A three-cylinder diesel? They make those?” “Interchangeable plastic body panels? WHAT?” “I’m sorry, could you repeat that? You say they’re co-developed by Mercedes and a friggin’ watch company?” “There’s a four-door model? And a roadster? A BRABUS version?!?! WHAT is going on?” It was one of those European gems I’d hoped to come across, and it was on its way to North America.
Fast forward a decade or so, and here we are. The North American Smart is now in its third generation, and a perfect fit for our Big Guy, Small Car series.
The Knee Test
I have driven previous Smarts, and from the get-go, one of the biggest complaints I had (the drive would reveal a far more serious issue) was that there was almost no way for me to fit inside without jamming the tiny little shift lever into my thigh.
So, for 2016, Mercedes (Smart’s parent company) has re-jigged the interior and made the car wider overall so that this is no longer an issue; the gear lever is easily reachable, yet it manages to be tall enough to comfortably rest your hand on.
Small Cars, Big History: Evolution of the Microcar
Unfortunately, Smart giveth, and Smart taketh away: like the old car, if you spec power mirrors, the mirror control sits on the door card, perilously close to your left leg. Indeed, there were times where I’d go to check my mirrors, only to find my leg had inadvertently moved them. Be sure to leave the joystick in the centre position; that way, if you nudge it – which you likely will – it won’t move the mirrors.
Considering “ForTwo” means exactly what it sounds like, occupant space really isn’t that bad overall. I was especially impressed with the headroom; even with a panoramic roof (a $390 option), its 1,008 mm of headroom suited me just fine.
It’s quite easy to clamber into, as well; it sits so low to the ground that – assuming you aren’t practicing the European art of perpendicular curbside parking – stepping from a high curb means you’re actually stepping down into the car, making it easier to ensure you don’t smack a hip, knee or elbow while you’re at it. The fact that the doors take up almost the entire side of the Smart helps in this regard; just be careful when swinging them open in tighter confines.