2009 smart ForTwo

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$3,268–$7,800 Inventory Prices
Key Specs
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Key Specs

of the 2009 smart ForTwo. Base trim shown.

  • Body Type:
    Coupe
  • Combined MPG:
    37 Combined MPG
  • Engine:
    70-hp, 1.0-liter I-3 (premium)
  • Drivetrain:
    Rear-wheel Drive
  • View more specs

Our Take

From the Cars.com Vehicle Test Team

The Good

  • Unexpectedly roomy interior
  • Maneuverability
  • Turning circle
  • Iconic styling
  • Seating position
  • Slick convertible-top operation

The Bad

  • High-speed stability
  • Limited cargo capacity
  • Rock-hard brakes
  • Unrefined auto-manual transmission
  • No cheaper than other small cars
  • Premium fuel recommended

Notable Features of the 2009 smart ForTwo

  • Hardtop or convertible
  • Miniscule dimensions
  • Seats two
  • 33 mpg in the city
  • Built to order
  • Stability system, four airbags

2009 smart ForTwo Road Test

Joe Wiesenfelder

Considering that the leading concern about small cars is safety, I initially thought I might be the wrong person to review the Smart ForTwo, which is the only microcar sold in the U.S. Perhaps because I have a good record behind the wheel, I'm never nervous driving anything, regardless of size or style — from a featherweight 2000 Honda Insight to a medium-duty tow truck. As it turns out, this is exactly why I'm the right person for the job of reviewing the ForTwo. I've ridden motorcycles, I log many miles in my Mazda Miata and I even own a 30-year-old Fiat — and driving the Smart ForTwo scares the crap out of me.

Though there's something to be said for size and weight in an automobile collision, I've never looked at a car and deemed it unfit to drive among larger vehicles based on its size alone — though I know many people do. The Smart was no different. It was only after driving it for a few days in different circumstances that I began to question what the payoff is.

 

The ForTwo's Fundamental Flaw
The biggest complaint since the Smart ForTwo's debut has been about its acceleration, and that's not a comment on its diminutive 70-horsepower, 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine. I'm probably the last reviewer you'll see calling a vehicle underpowered, and I think Americans in general have little perspective on how much power is enough. We seem to be ruled by what I call the onramp fallacy: the notion that if our car does 0-60 mph in 9 seconds instead of 8, ...

Considering that the leading concern about small cars is safety, I initially thought I might be the wrong person to review the Smart ForTwo, which is the only microcar sold in the U.S. Perhaps because I have a good record behind the wheel, I'm never nervous driving anything, regardless of size or style — from a featherweight 2000 Honda Insight to a medium-duty tow truck. As it turns out, this is exactly why I'm the right person for the job of reviewing the ForTwo. I've ridden motorcycles, I log many miles in my Mazda Miata and I even own a 30-year-old Fiat — and driving the Smart ForTwo scares the crap out of me.

Though there's something to be said for size and weight in an automobile collision, I've never looked at a car and deemed it unfit to drive among larger vehicles based on its size alone — though I know many people do. The Smart was no different. It was only after driving it for a few days in different circumstances that I began to question what the payoff is.

 

The ForTwo's Fundamental Flaw
The biggest complaint since the Smart ForTwo's debut has been about its acceleration, and that's not a comment on its diminutive 70-horsepower, 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine. I'm probably the last reviewer you'll see calling a vehicle underpowered, and I think Americans in general have little perspective on how much power is enough. We seem to be ruled by what I call the onramp fallacy: the notion that if our car does 0-60 mph in 9 seconds instead of 8, we will surely die. The ForTwo's problem is not about power, it's about a transmission that bogs down when shifting. Smart's so-called automated manual with a single, computer-controlled clutch, the ForTwo's five-speed changes gears the way you would if you had a conventional stick shift and clutch pedal — and second-degree burns on the soles of your feet, a trick knee and a hangover.

The transmission operates in an automatic Drive mode or can be shifted manually using the gear selector or up/down paddles on the steering wheel. Sports-car makers no less august than BMW and Lamborghini experimented with the same technology — to similar effect — before abandoning it for dual-clutch and other designs. BMW survived this period because there were always alternative transmissions. Smart has none: A regular manual transmission isn't offered, not even overseas. (The company blames the limitations on packaging, which usually means some aspect of the vehicle's platform or other components constrain the size, shape or integration of some other part.)

The earlier generation Smart's transmission tended to slow the car's acceleration during upshifts, causing the driver to step harder on the pedal, which resulted in the car slowing down even more. By learning to finesse the pedal and back off before a shift, as one would do in a true manual, one could learn to smooth the transitions somewhat. My take was that you shouldn't have to learn a new way to drive something that's called an automatic.

Smart claims to have addressed the problem by recalibrating how the transmission works. What the Drive mode does now is hold onto gears a little longer before upshifting, which makes for smoother transitions. My impression is if you're new to the ForTwo, you'll find this new calibration more agreeable than you would have the previous generation's, but that doesn't mean the operation is fixed, or even acceptable. Further, as someone who had learned to finesse the pedal and make the previous model's gearbox operate more smoothly under light acceleration, I think it's now harder to do so.

Ultimately, the problem is that the ForTwo's acceleration is inconsistent and unpredictable.

What's ironic is that the 
Smart ForTwo suffers many of the shortfalls expected of the country's previous smallest car, the Mini Cooper coupe. In reality, the Cooper, even the convertible option, turned out to be a solid, substantial car that doesn't ride like a hobby horse and has exceptional handling and stability. The ForTwo's short wheelbase and small wheels make for some rough riding and skittishness, and the tall stature doesn't inspire confidence when cornering aggressively. I find the brakes particularly disappointing, with a binary, all-or-nothing quality that makes it difficult to come to a stop smoothly.

What Are the Advantages?
I consider the driving experience alone a major strike against the ForTwo. Even if you dismiss crashworthiness as a theoretical problem, there are other inherent sacrifices in a car this small: Though its seats are large enough for adults, there are only two, and cargo space is limited. Ostensibly the advantages include low price, high mileage and ease of parking. But how much body-type advantage is there?

The base price of the ForTwo Pure starts just under $12,000, but you can get a good subcompact like the Nissan Versa for $9,990 and the Toyota Yaris hatchback for $12,205, both of which have truly usable backseats. Want something a little more stylish? The Cooper has crept up in price to $18,550, but that's a substantial car, even when compared to the most expensive leather-wrapped ForTwo Brabus, at $17,990.

As for mileage, the ForTwo gets an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 33/41 mpg city/highway. The Yaris hatchback gets 29/36 mpg, and the Cooper gets 28/37 mpg. Yes, 41 is better than 36 and 37, but is it enough better for a car with three fewer seats that's more than 3 feet shorter than the Cooper from bumper to bumper? I expect more fuel economy from such a modestly powered smallfry. Then there's the fact that the tiny coupe-like 
Smart ForTwo prefers premium gas; like most cars for which premium is recommended (rather than "required"), it can run on regular, but it decreases power. While I wouldn't call the ForTwo underpowered, it's definitely on the borderline for much more than stop-and-go driving, and with the wonky transmission to deal with, I say it's necessary to get as much power out of the engine as you can.


That leaves us with the parking advantage, which the ForTwo definitely has. The subcompacts are all even longer than the Cooper, and the ForTwo has the benefit of being about 5 inches narrower. It's interesting, though, that the Yaris hatchback is 3.7 feet longer than the ForTwo, yet its steering and turning diameter is only 2 feet greater, at 30.8 feet.

Safety
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the Smart ForTwo scores Good in frontal and side-impact tests. Not all Smart models, like the convertible, score this well, especially in the side impact, which is comparable across all vehicle classes and sizes. (The same can't be said for the conventional frontal test, which doesn't account for size and height differences.)


IIHS recently illustrated this when it crashed the ForTwo into a compact Mercedes sedan, and the result was indeed poor, with the Smart taking to the air and spinning 450 degrees. Any small, light car is subject to rebound, which can lead to additional contact, as well as greater harm than a larger vehicle would experience from striking high-strength stationary objects.

According to real-world 2007 data from the Highway Loss Data Institute, the death rate in multiple-vehicle crashes was almost twice as high in minicars (one class larger than the ForTwo) as it was in large cars.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's star ratings — in which high crash-test scores are achieved so easily that we generally discount them — the ForTwo's door opened during the side impact, which the agency flags as a safety concern. It's also significant that the ForTwo is the only passenger car with a rollover rating of three stars, indicating a 21 percent chance of rollover. That puts it in league with truck-based SUVs. All other passenger cars and most car-based SUVs score four stars; in the Yaris hatchback, this represents a 14 percent chance of rollover.

The ForTwo has an inherent safety disadvantage, and what concerns me most is that the cards are further stacked against it because of how other drivers respond to it: with no respect. Other cars tailgated mercilessly, cut me off without hesitation and never failed to pull into traffic ahead of me as if I weren't there. I don't believe that they don't see the 
Smart ForTwo; they just don't care. It's in situations like this where you want a car to stop on a dime, swerve confidently and accelerate out of the way of overly aggressive cross-traffic, and that's where the ForTwo's dodgy acceleration and braking go from being an annoyance to being a liability.


All small vehicles suffer the same treatment in traffic, but motorcycles provide excellent visibility for the rider and are nimble and quick to accelerate and brake. The Miata, likewise, is light on its feet and able to handle the discrimination it all too often faces. But the ForTwo's problem isn't that it's not a sports car. The Yaris isn't a sports car either, but it handles the bare essentials of driving in ways the 
Smart ForTwo simply doesn't. In my examination of the Smart car, the drawbacks kept on building, leaving one advantage that's as small as the ForTwo itself: ease of parking.

The Parking Paradox
The problem with parkability as a raison d'être is that scant parking is a problem specific to the environment I found the most threatening for a car like this: the hustle and bustle of city life. It's logical to think of the urban setting as perfect for a small car, but it's also where it makes the least sense. If you're not in the city — in a setting free of aggressive larger vehicles — you can probably live without the ForTwo's parkability, or be happy with a so-called neighborhood electric car like a Gem or a Zenn, with no petroleum burned and potentially less money upfront.

Smart ForTwo in the Market
The Smart car is a novelty, but unfortunately novelties tend to lose their novelty, which in this case leaves you with no backseat, little cargo room and a safety disadvantage, wondering if ease of Smart parking is worth the money you spent and the mileage you're getting. I suppose the Smart ForTwo belongs somewhere, but I suspect it's in a world full of other small cars and truly narrow streets — the Old World. Car shoppers have different priorities, which is why I always point out what's good and bad about different cars, knowing that the consumer will make his or her own choice. There's usually something, on balance, that makes a car attractive to someone. This time around, though, for the first time in Cars.com history, I can't recommend this Smart car, for anyone.

Send Joe an email  

 


2009 ForTwo Video

Cars.com's Joe Wiesenfelder takes a look at the 2009 Smart ForTwo Passion. It competes with the Toyota Yaris and MINI Cooper.

Latest 2009 ForTwo Stories

What Drivers Are Saying

Exterior Styling
(4.6)
Performance
(4.0)
Interior Design
(4.6)
Comfort
(4.2)
Reliability
(4.7)
Value For The Money
(4.6)

Latest Reviews

(5.0)

2009 Brabus, 9 years later n still no problems

by RADA from Fl on March 23, 2018

Bought new and has been 100% reliable. The Brabus edition is more sporty with sport tuned suspension offset wheels 17" wide rear 15" front . Porsche style dual exhaust. Drive it daily. I change the ... Read full review

(5.0)

Great fuel efficient vehicle

by Michael from Skokie IL on February 8, 2018

Had it for 5 years, not a single repair besides regular oil changes and brake pads. Parts are not expensive at all. Fun car and great on gas Read full review

Safety & Recalls

Recalls

The 2009 smart ForTwo currently has 1 recall

IIHS Crash and Rollover Test Ratings

Based on 2009 smart ForTwo pure

IIHS rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal, or poor.

Head Restraints and Seats

Dynamic Rating
acceptable
Overall Rear
acceptable
Seat Head/Restraint Geometry
good

Moderate overlap front

Chest
good
Head/Neck
acceptable
Left Leg/Foot
good
Overall Front
good
Restraints
good
Right Leg/Foot
acceptable
Structure/safety cage
good

Other

Roof Strength
good

Side

Driver Head Protection
good
Driver Head and Neck
good
Driver Pelvis/Leg
good
Driver Torso
good
Overall Side
good
Structure/safety cage
acceptable
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a nonprofit research and communications organization funded by auto insurers.

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Cars.com Car Seat Check

Certified child passenger safety technicians conduct hands-on tests of a car’s Latch system and check the vehicle’s ability to accommodate different types of car seats. The ForTwo received the following grades on a scale of A-F.*
* This score may not apply to all trims, especially for vehicles with multiple body styles that affect the space and design of the seating.

Warranty FAQs

What is a Bumper-to-Bumper warranty?

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

What is a Powertrain warranty?

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

What is included in Roadside Assistance?

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

What other services could be included in a warranty?

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

What does CPO mean?

A certified pre-owned or CPO car has been inspected to meet minimum quality standards and typically includes some type of warranty. While dealers and third parties certify cars, the gold standard is an automaker-certified vehicle that provides a factory-backed warranty, often extending the original coverage. Vehicles must be in excellent condition and have low miles and wear to be certified, which is why off-lease vehicles feed many CPO programs.

See also the latest CPO incentives by automaker