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Car reviews - Smart - ForTwo - Coupe and Cabrio

Launch Story

25 Feb 2008

“EVOLUTION of the revolution” sums up the direction of the second-generation Smart city-car. On sale now, the 451-series ForTwo starts off at 19,990 for the base three-door Coupe, with the new Cabrio model kicking off at $22,990.

Boasting a similar one-box two-seater design featuring the trademark Tridion safety cell, a rear mid-mounted engine driving the rear wheels and plastic bolt-on body panels, there are improvements in every department compared to its 450 predecessor.

Brand owner Daimler AG has upped the ForTwo’s ante for performance, space, safety, refinement, handling and ride qualities in an effort to make the loss-making Smart division both profitable and more international – with an emphasis on conquering the North American market.

The latter goal necessitated a larger, wider and longer platform with a correspondingly bigger body, mainly to meet US rear-impact and European frontal pedestrian impact criteria.

So compared to before, the 451 ForTwo is longer (by 195mm to 2695mm – with longer front and rear overhangs accounting for 140mm of that extra length), wider (by 43mm to 1559mm) and longer in wheelbase (55mm to 1867mm), but the height has dropped 5mm to 1542mm.

451 Design

Despite the introduction of a completely redesigned body featuring squarer and ‘more masculine’ lines, a wider stance and a ‘more striking face’, new and old ForTwo look very similar at first glance.

The 451’s visual cues include slightly elongated headlights, a higher and more steeply angled bonnet (aiding pedestrian impact), horizontal rather than vertical door-handles, a slimmer Tridion safety cell, a more rakish rear window, a fuller rear apron (or ‘nappy’ – for greater rear impact protection), two instead of three tail-lights per side, and a wider tailgate handle.

A scratch-resistant polycarbonate 1.1 square-metre ceiling sits above the passenger compartment in the 451 Coupe, with a black blind covering the 100 per cent UV ray protected tinted transparent section from the sun.

451 Cabrio

On the 451 Cabrio, the whole roof was developed and is produced by specialist Edscha. It is a black poly acrylic fabric on the outside with a polyester/cotton mix inside, sandwiching a layer of rubber.

The rear window is now glass and heated, and set much higher which greatly increases loading volume when the soft-top is down. Previously it was made from PVC.

Functionality also improves in the 451 Cabrio, with the soft-top being fully automated at any speed, in lieu of the previous model’s necessity for the driver to go outside and lock the roof down into place. It takes nine seconds to open partially and a further five to fully retract.

Like before, the Cabrio’s rear bow can be released and swung up, with the soft-top snapping into place in a folded up position to facilitate loading of the luggage compartment, while the rod bars can be removed and stored into the tailgate for a more open-top feeling.

451 Interior

In contrast to the outside, the changes wrought inside the 451 will be obvious to even casual ForTwo observers.

First off, it feels palpably more spacious thanks to the larger footprint, and of a much higher quality, with a more mature look overall.

An all-new horizontal dashboard design has been incorporated, dominated by a square centre console area for grouped heater/vent/air-con and CD/radio/MP3 audio controls, with supports at the extremities to emulate the Tridion structure and a separate instrumentation pod.

Only the signature swivelling dash-top tachometer and clock dials, as well as the absence of a lower floor console, link it with the outgoing ForTwo inside, while the gearknob, column stalks and interior mirror are carryovers.

Luggage capacity creeps up 220 litres from 150 litres, with a further 120 litres available directly behind the seats, while a lockable glovebox is new, as are the eight litres of stowage in the lower tailgate of the Coupe, which also houses the roof bars in the Cabrio.

Redesigned seats have new contours and come in either a silk-gloss cloth or leather finish, while fabric swathes the dash and door.

The passenger seat extends 150mm further back than the driver’s pew so even broad occupants don’t have to rub shoulders, for a total of 230mm of adjustment, while it can also fold forward to increase cargo area length on one side of the vehicle.

Smart has also engineered the 451 Coupe’s hatch to unlatch electrically via a button or the remote fob.

451 Engines

Sited over the rear axle is an all-new 999cc 1.0-litre three-cylinder EU4-emissions compliant petrol engine from Japan, available in either 52kW or (turbocharged) 62kW outputs, that we may yet also see in the Mitsubishi i.

It replaces the previous 698cc turbocharged three-cylinder unit producing 45kW and 95Nm of torque, and is mounted transversely ahead of the back axle, and is slanted 45 degrees towards the rear.

Among the 1.0-litre’s features are multipoint fuel-injection, variable valve timing, four valves per cylinder and twin camshafts driven via a maintenance-free timing chain.

The ‘52’ model’s 52kW at 5800rpm and 92Nm at 4500rpm helps the 451 sprint to 100km/h from standstill in 13.3 seconds, on its way to an electronically-limited top speed of 145km/h - 10km/h more than before.

Fuel consumption is rated at 4.7L/100km (Cabrio: 4.9) while carbon dioxide emissions register at 112g/km (Cabrio: 116). A minimum of 95 RON premium unleaded is required.

Choose the turbocharged 1.0-litre unit and outputs edge up at lower rev points, to 62kW at 5250rpm and 120Nm at 3250rpm. Acceleration to 100km/h plummets to 10.9 seconds and while the top speed remains the same, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions rise slightly by 0.2L/100km and 4g/km respectively.

Among the 62’s spec differences are the turbo’s maximum charge pressure of 0.5 bar, the addition of a torsional vibration damper on the crankshaft, and an increase in compression ratio from 10:1 to 11.5:1.

Kerb weight rises from 730kg to 750kg in the ‘52’ Coupe (Cabrio: 790kg), with the ‘62’ coming in at 770kg (800kg in the soft-top).

451 Gearbox

Drivers of the 450 ForTwo and its identical City Coupe/City Cabrio predecessor will instantly notice an all-new Getrag five-speed transmission, replacing the controversial six-speed unit.

With an electric clutch and a floor-mounted tip lever as well as standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, the sequentially placed forward ratios engage at least 50 per cent faster and more smoothly than before.

An optional automatic program called Softouch takes over the manual operation of the lever or paddle shifter.

With either setting, there is a kickdown function to allow the driver to shift down two gears at once, while electronics ensure that incorrect gear selection and over-revving are impossible.

451 Suspension and steering

Underneath, the previous model’s suspension and steering set-up has been completely overhauled, for improved dynamics and better ride quality.

The aforementioned 55mm wheelbase stretch is in concert with 7mm front track and 31mm rear track growths, for reduced pitching and rolling movements. Aiding this is an 18.5mm anti-roll bar that is now directly hinged to the MacPherson strut instead of the wishbone to improve responsiveness.

In the 451-series, the carryover De Dion rear suspension set-up now features a more highly positioned central mount, benefiting manoeuvrability, while locating the coil springs further outboard is said to cut rolling movement considerably.

The standard, non-powered rack-and-pinion steering system has a transmission ratio of 22:1 for 10 per cent more direct response than before. Its turning circle is a class-leading 8.75 metres (just pipping the Nissan Micra's), with 3.5 turns lock to lock.

Choose electric assistance and the transmission ratio drops to 21:1. Variable boost is available according to speed, steering angle and applied force.

Alloy wheels are standard, measuring 175/55 R15 up front and 195/50 R15 out back.

All models include ESP stability control with ABS anti-lock brakes, EBD Electronic Brake-force Distribution and brake assist. The front disc brakes are larger than before, as are the rear drums.

451 Crash protection

The 451 ForTwo achieves a four-star Euro NCAP result, and has also been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of America.

Going to America meant that the 451 ForTwo has to conform to a new set of US-specific crash-test, as well as existing and upcoming European Union requirements. And being part of the Mercedes-Benz car group meant having to pass the same crash procedures as an S-class.

The Tridion safety cell – described as being like a hard shell around a nut – has been reinforced with high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels at strategically important points.

ForTwo occupants sit within the cell, which features a sandwich-type construction that is located about 200mm higher than in normal light-cars, resulting in better clearance of side impact forces. The short wheelbase provides additional protection since most impacts will be partly absorbed by at least one of the axles.

In an impact, the Tridion cell’s longitudinal and transverse members activate the crumple zone of the other colliding vehicle to distribute the impact energy forces evenly over the car’s body, with the ForTwo’s front wheels also taking on crumple zone duties, as they are supported by the side members.

Pedestrians strike a nose that is 72mm longer than before, aided by collapsible headlight mounts, Mercedes Car Group soft aero wiper blades with concealed wiper axes, an elastic front panel service lid and a front spoiler that containing 5cm of foam, all to help lessen impact trauma.

Increased interior padding, slimmer roof bars for greater head clearance and the introduction of high-strength steel rather than the previously aluminium door structures to comply with US legislation and more stringent crash requirements offer further occupant protection, with the latter adding 2.5kg to the doors for a heftier feel.

Four airbags – full-sized dual front and side head/thorax located in the side of the seat backrests for head and upper body coverage – are standard, as are belt tensioners and belt-force limiters.

The 130-litre passenger airbag can be deactivated with the ignition key if a child seat is fitted with the optional Isofix fastener.

451 Model range

All Australian-bound ForTwos are based on the European ‘Pulse’ model, and include the electronic driver aids like ESP, ABS, EBD and Brake Assist, along with four airbags, air-conditioning (said to be 20 per cent more powerful than previously), remote central locking, power windows, seatbelt pretensioners, a clock, tachometer, paddle shifts and alloy wheels.

For $2000 extra, the Primo pack adds a claimed $3000 worth of features, including leather and heated seats, the Softouch automatic gearbox mode, a 10-stack CD player and power mirrors.

Like the 450, the 451 ForTwo is produced in Hambach, France, with component suppliers delivering pre-assembled parts to the line. It takes eight hours to build a car from scratch (down from 9.5 hour), with assembly also tumbling from 4.5 to 3.5 hours.

A greater emphasis on recyclability and environmental responsibility has taken place in the form of more water-soluble paint choices, the abolition of some solvents, and increased use of renewable materials.

Like the old model, the latest ForTwo’s body panels are made from elastic plastic components that resist minor knocks and can replaced easily.

Smart says that no other car has a younger clientele worldwide, with 85 per cent of buyers being under 40.

Mercedes-Benz Australia Pacific expects to sell around 300 of the new models this year, with the base model taking about 60 per cent of volume. One in four ForTwos in the past have been the Cabrio.

There are no plans to bring in the Mild Hybrid, EV electric vehicle or CDI turbo-diesel models to Australia in the near future.

“I’d love to get my hands on it,” says the senior manager for corporate communications, David McCarthy.

“But it is not available to us. If it were, we would seriously consider it.”

In the last 12 months, up to 40 per cent of all buyers have been commercial-based Smart hopes to bring that figure down closer to the historical 20 per cent.

Using Melbourne as an example, most ForTwos are bought within 20km of the Central Business District.

Over 770,000 450 ForTwo and City Coupe/City Cabrio models have been sold since 1998, with around 1800 finding homes in Australia since the model was launched here in May 2003.

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