Smart collaboration results in new Fortwo

  • 08-Apr-2015 03:03 EDT
aei-smartfortwo.jpg

New Smart Fortwo has some familiar styling cues, but the engineering package is new, developed by Mercedes-Benz with Renault.

The third-generation Smart Fortwo has a new look, but with some familiar styling cues of its predecessor, and more importantly it incorporates significant changes under the skin. Overall length remains the same at 106.1 in (2694 mm), and the 73.7-in (1872-mm) wheelbase sees a modest 0.2-in (5-mm) increase. The car has been on sale in Europe for five months and just made its U.S. debut at the 2015 New York International Auto Show.

The new model was co-developed by Mercedes-Benz and Renault, and many of the parts, including the basics of the platform and the powertrain, reportedly are shared with the somewhat larger Renault Twingo.

Turbocharged three-cylinder

The rear-mounted, rear-drive powertrain represents what will be the greatest difference in the driving experience. The car goes on sale with a 0.9-L three-cylinder, turbocharged with an electronically controlled wastegate, and rated at 90 hp (67 kW) and 100 lb·ft (136 N·m). This engine will represent a major power increase over the 70-hp (52-kW) naturally aspirated 1.0-L three-cylinder previously used. However, a lower-output 71-hp (53-kW) engine also is available in Europe and reportedly will come to the U.S. later.

The new transmission offerings are significant. The previous automated manual transmission was much maligned for jerky shifting. There's now a five-speed manual and a six-speed DCT (dual clutch transmission). Although DCTs, particularly lower-end versions with dry clutch packs, are not noted for their smoothness, this one is likely to provide significantly better shift quality than the previous automated manual.

The new model adds a third "door," actually a horizontally-split tailgate (top half goes up, bottom half goes down) to permit easier loading of the cargo area, particularly in tight parking spaces. The passenger's seat also easily folds flat to increase capacity. Passenger compartment width has increased by 104 mm (4.1 in) to 1663 mm (65.5 in) to provide more comfortable seating positions.

Operation in the tight quarters of city driving has always been a Smart's hallmark, and the new model claims a record for smallest turn circle diameter (curb to curb) of 22.8 ft (6.95 m).

Ride comfort is always a challenge with such a short wheelbase, but engineering steps were taken to make improvements. The front MacPherson strut was redesigned and incorporates greater spring travel, for lowered impact over uneven road surfaces. In the rear the reworked DeDion axle separates the twin-tube shocks from barrel-shaped helical coil springs, which include elastomer spacers to reduce spring noise transmission to the body and rear axle. A Crosswind Assist system, which comes into play at 50 mph (80 km/h), uses the electronic stability control system's anti-lock brakes to steady vehicle tracking in windy driving conditions.

A Sport suspension with less coil spring travel is on the option list, but with the typical U.S. buyer more concerned about less bouncing on public roads, the take rate might not be significant.

Safety upgrades

Although the previous Fortwo's high-strength-steel Tridion structure has delivered good ratings in U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-mandated crash testing, it saw less success in narrow-offset crash tests, such as the one performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. For the new model, the car was subjected to such tests against C-Class and S-Class cars and apparently performed well, as indicated in a Mercedes-Benz video that showed the Fortwo driver area was basically intact and the door could be opened.

The new Tridion cell had been significantly strengthened with greater use of ultra-high-strength steels, and Mercedes-Benz said it functions as a safety cage in severe collisions. Eight airbags are standard. The new Fortwo does add some weight as a result, with an increase of 132 lb (60 kg) to 1940 lb (880 kg).

Available safety options are Lane Keep Assist and Forward Collision Warning. The collision warning system incorporates mid-range radar sensing, with a warning light that goes on if the car is getting too close to one ahead. The system issues an audible warning if the electronics sense a danger of collision.

There are three trim levels: Passion (basic, but includes power-operated and heated mirrors), Prime (adds rain and light sensors, heated seats for driver and passenger, fog lamps, and panoramic roof), and Proxy (which upgrades the interior trim and adds stowage in the tailgate).

The Fortwo uses smartphone connectivity to a control stack touch-screen with integrated real time navigation. A free app is Cross Connect, which provides guidebook-like assistance and a feature called Car Info, which computes g force, fuel efficiency, and posts geo-identified access to Smart-size parking; plus an assortment of music options.

A new four-passenger model (Forfour) also has been developed; and diesel, electric vehicle,  and cabriolet have been available in the past, so the 2016 Fortwo just introduced may soon have U.S. stablemates.

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