REVIEW DATE: 20 Aug 2010
Funky design is all part of the smart fortwo's appeal. In gb-10 limited edition guise, it gets a colour scheme to match. Jonathan Crouch reports.
The little smart fortwo citycar has been with us ten years. It doesn't seem possible. To celebrate, we've the car in question here, the fortwo gb-10. A little more striking than your average smart.
Standing out is what the smart does best and that's a credit to its designers because it remains one of the most diminutive four-wheeled vehicles on our roads. These days there are a number of rival city cars trying to muscle in on the fortwo's territory at the more fashion-conscious end of the market but being the original still counts for something and the smart is battling hard to maintain its market share.
The original smart wasn't the finest driver's car. Its jolting ride and what was arguably the most obstreperous gearbox on the market ensured that it was a chore as soon as you ventured beyond its native inner-city environment. Today's model is significantly better. It's 19.5cm longer from nose to tail but crucially, it's 5cm longer in the wheelbase with a wider track and wider tyres. It's comfortable on the open road, cornering with some composure and with less of the worrying body roll that can afflict narrow, high-sided vehicles. There are better handling city cars but the fortwo has definite benefits in terms of manoeuvrability, and ease of use around town. The optional power steering lacks feel and I'd settle for the unassisted helm if you can put up with the extra effort needed to execute low speed manoeuvres.
"The smart remains a small car icon despite the best efforts of rivals to replicate and improve upon its innovative formula"
With the roof up, the cabrio model is barely any noisier at cruising speeds than the hard-topped coupe with just an extra rustle of wind noise reminding you you're in the convertible. The 1.0-litre petrol engine smart offers with the limited three special edition is refined but can be found wanting at higher speeds. It's fine for pottering about town and has the benefit of the clever mhd (micro hybrid drive) system that cuts the engine at traffic lights or in the urban crawl to save fuel.
smart have done away with the sequential gearbox in the old car, swapping its jerky six-gear set-up for a faster shifting, five-speed unit. The standard manual shift option gives decent control, letting you prod the lever to select gears yourself or flip the optional steering wheel paddles. Lift off the gas as you do this and it manages quite nicely but the softouch fully-automatic mode on the up-spec models is preferable most of the time.
The smart fortwo is famous for its extrovert colour schemes and by those standards the gb-10 limited edition version probably isn't too over the top, at least not for smart's target customers. Both the exterior and interior highlight the exclusive quality of work available from the smart-BRABUS customisation division. Complementing the silver paintwork, you'll find BRABUS Monoblock VII 15" alloys, BRABUS LED daytime running lights and a BRABUS LED third brake light, while the Premium interior package has been enhanced with the additions of the 'gb-10' logo on the BRABUS gear knob and handbrake.
That logo also features in the headrests of the Rosso red, heated leather seats and the use of leather extends to the door panels, kneepad and handbrake gaitor. The upper dashboard is finished in contrasting black alcantara and the instrument surrounds in silver, the latter complementing the seats' eye-catching silver stitching.
It's hard to argue with the suitability of the fortwo for its urban transport role. With two seats, tiny dimensions, that self-shifting gearbox and fuel-sipping engines, it makes all kinds of sense for all kinds of reasons. The fortwo cabrio seems less sensible, exposing its occupants to the noise and smog of the city but it's more extrovert, more stylish and more fun and these attributes are just as important to the smart package. The fact that there is a boot to speak of hints at the way this fortwo cabrio has grown-up. Owners get a respectable 220-litre luggage capacity in the back, there's a glass rear window to improve visibility and on the inside, the fortwo now feels like part of the Mercedes-Benz family, rather than the scruffy stepchild that smart's prestigious parent company would rather forget.
The gb-10 model can be ordered in Cabriolet or Coupe guises and both models come well-equipped with specifications based on the Passion model from the standard range. There's an MP3 compatible CD stereo, air-conditioning and a rev-counter all included as standard. Only 100 of these models will be made available to UK buyers so there's an element of exclusivity too - though there will need to be with a significant price premium over the standard model.
Given the dimensions of the car and its engine, you wouldn't expect the fortwo to achieve anything but the most miserly fuel economy. Sure enough, the extra urban cycle figure for the petrol gb-10 cabrio is 70.6mpg, while the coupe manages 72.4mpg. The drop top models are 40kg heavier but that will only cost owners a couple of miles in the gallon and CO2 emissions in petrol models are pegged at 105g/km, 2g/km up on the equivalent coupe. The insurance groups are similarly low, partly thanks to the smart's plastic bodyshell which is both surprisingly durable against minor knocks and inexpensive to replace after bigger ones.
The smart remains a small car icon despite the best efforts of rivals to replicate and improve upon its innovative formula. Despite its flaws, the little car remains one of the best ways to stand out in the urban traffic. It's a good way to get into a smart with a little extra individuality.
With just two seats, a small boot and a gearbox that still takes some getting used to, the fortwo will be an acquired taste for many but its funky design, strong build quality and dinky looks should be sufficient to keep sales ticking over. The option of an open-topped cabriolet model is another point in the smart's favour, as is the outstanding fuel economy the car achieves.
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