If there is just one reason 2016 Smart Fortwo will have a better life among American buyers it’s because of a transmission change.
At the New York Auto Show Wednesday, Smart CEO Dr. Annette Winkler conceded not everyone liked the “head-nodding” effect of the old Smart’s single-clutch automated transmission. Did anyone actually like it? At best, people grew to tolerate it.
Not even the nicest dual-clutch transmissions drive as smoothly as the best automatics, but there’s no way the Smart’s new dual-clutch can’t be an improvement over its old gearbox. Better still, there’s a three-pedal manual version, and that’s what I’d go for.
I’ve spent more than my fair share of time driving Smarts and I see the appeal in certain cities. Try parking a Fiesta on a 200-year-old street in Boston and you’ll get why people buy something really small. With the promise of a better turning circle and an extra 9 horsepower from an engine that now includes a turbo, city dwelling Americans should be more likely to appreciate its size rather than mock it.
Consider that roughly a third of the Smarts sold in the U.S. were sold in 2008, the first year they were available. Sales may have stabilized at around 10,000 cars per year, but it’s clear there’s a small market for the car here. But it’s a market nonetheless.
Even though the old Smart made sense to some, it wasn’t as nice as is needed to be to be pitched as a premium product. Fortunately, the plastic-paneled doors close far more reassuringly than before. Even though there are bits and pieces of the interior that feel more Nissan than Mercedes, the quality is substantially improved over the old Smart. Thanks to a height-adjustable seat, it’s actually possible to get somewhat comfortable behind the wheel. Better still, the storage is better thought out, the climate controls make more sense and there are novel touches like the dock for your smartphone.
As long as prices don’t get out of control (or the constantly promoted $99/month lease returns), the 2016 Smart is bound to find more acceptance than before. It’s still an eccentric car, but it’s a better eccentric car this time around.
Photos copyright Carscoops.com / Zac Estrada