Smart ForTwo Prime, motoring review: This model is small but not quite perfectly formed

Small-car buyers have never had it so good, and so the Smart ForTwo does not seem such a compelling proposition, says Sean O'Grady

Price: £11,820 (£13,300 as tested)
Engine capacity: 999cc petrol
Power output (hp @ rpm): 71 @ 6,000
Top speed (mph): 94
Fuel economy (mpg): 68.9
CO2 emissions (g/kg): 93

The Smart ForTwo is, and always has been, undeniably cute. Not pretty, you understand, but cute. Like me, I guess. The Smart has always had style, and this, the third generation of Smart car, is the most stylish of all. The interior design is inspired by the iPad – isn't everything these days? – all white and ultra-clean, like being in a classy cocktail bar (not an oxymoron in fact).

The overall package is the same friendly-faced affair it has always been – engine in the back, tiny boot, two big comfy armchairs, "Tridion" safety cell – but it is maybe a touch more grown-up. This car – under parent Mercedes-Benz – has always been about giving its owner a "big car feel" inside a tiny space. For some reason I cannot quite crystallise, I thought the last generation Smart had that blend of qualities in better balance than this one.

On the other hand, this Smart does away with the ridiculous, jerky, semi-automatic transmission that blighted every single Smart manufactured since 1998, and most tragically the ill-fated Smart Roadster, a future classic and a fine investment (if you can locate one that doesn't leak). Anyway, in the Smart ForTwo, driver enjoyment in now on the options list and it is transformed by its conventional five-speed manual gear change. I have to add that the floor isn't really flat and the footwell feels a bit cramped, so the Smart did my sciatica no favours. Who said motoring journalism is glamorous?

Given that, the Smart should now have the micro-car market to itself. It does not, though. For there is a new generation of little budget minis that are astonishingly capable – the VW Up!, Skoda Citigo, Seat Mii or the Peugeot 108, Citroen C1 and Toyota Aygo, for example. There's also the Renault Twingo, Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto… while the fashionable Fiat 500, a bit of a fatty in this company, simply out-cutes the Smart.

Since the demise of the original Mini, small-car buyers have never had it so good, and so the Smart ForTwo does not seem such a compelling proposition, even to urban dwellers, as once it did, especially on price. If you're short on parking space, the Smart ForTwo works perfectly; otherwise, there are better – sometimes cuter – alternatives.

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