Remember when the first Smart Fortwo came out? You’d often see the little things whizzing along in the outside lane of the motorway, their drivers proving that their tiny two-door hatch could mix it with bigger and faster machinery.
When its successor arrived in 2007, it shrugged off that particular chip and settled down. It might have had something to do with the fact that it was now a little bigger and wider but also that other, more conventional rivals had come on the scene that were better to drive.
Still, those rivals didn’t have the Smart’s trademark Tridion safety cell with plastic body panels, its unusual two-seat layout and its rear-mounted engine. Then there was the brand’s association with Mercedes-Benz, plus a sporty Brabus version.
The Mk2 Fortwo of 2007-14 may be larger than its predecessor but it doesn’t look much different, so to tell them apart look at their headlights. The Mk1 has what Smart web expert Evilution describes as ‘peanut’ headlights, whereas the Mk2 has ‘cashew’ headlights. For the record, it likens the shape of the headlights on the Mk3 to hazelnuts.
The Mk2 Fortwo has been chosen for our buying guide treatment because it’s more reliable than the Mk1, plentiful and reasonably good value for money. If you need more space, there’s the bigger Forfour but it’s more mainstream and less accomplished than rivals. So the Mk2 Fortwo it is. It was launched in 2007 in a choice of two-door coupé or cabriolet bodystyles and facelifted in 2011 when, among other things, it gained a new instrument cluster and circular air vents.
Power comes from a 0.8-litre Mercedes diesel, which produces a paltry 54bhp, or a choice of four 1.0-litre Mitsubishi petrols. The first two produce just 60bhp and 70bhp. The latter engine arrived in 2008 and is badged MHD for ‘micro hybrid drive’. It has a stop/start system using a belt-driven starter-generator for better fuel economy. However, it can be troublesome and mechanics recommend avoiding it. Instead, they favour the more reliable and powerful turbocharged 1.0-litre engine that produces 83bhp. The Brabus version has 101bhp, as well as stiffer suspension, but it’s expensive. All engines are paired with an automated manual gearbox.
There’s also an electric Fortwo. It’s very rare, but with prices from around £9000 for a 2014-reg example with low mileage, it could be worth seeking out if you live in the city and fancy owning your first EV.
Core trims are Pure, Pulse and Passion. Pure is cheap but spartan. Pulse brings flappy paddles, alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof and electric windows, but most of them have the MHD engine. For the more powerful and reliable turbo motor, you need to step up to Passion trim, which also brings air conditioning.
Specialist Smart Tecnic has a useful technical guide that makes the point that while Smarts are generally tough and capable of high mileage, they suffer for being serviced by garages that don’t know them. It provides plenty of evidence to back up its claim. Study it before you go shopping for your Fortwo.
An expert’s view - Ben Coleman, Smart Tecnic: “I took over Smart Tecnic, where I’d worked for nine years, last September. We’re a specialist Smart dealer in Birmingham and customers come to us from far and wide. The cars may be intended for urban use but we work on many with very high mileages. There’s a Mk2 Fortwo in the workshop with 159,000 miles, although the highest-mileage car we service is a Mk1 model with 288,000.
"Mk2 Fortwos have their problems but, assuming servicing is kept up to date, are robust and reliable. My choice would be a 1.0 83bhp Passion with the flappy paddles. Besides us, there are other good specialists around the country and a good social media community who love their Smarts, so you’re never far from help.”
Engine: Look for evidence of regular oil and filter changes (at least every 10,000 miles or 12 months) using M-B229.5 oil. Beware the MHD, whose auxiliary belt is prone to snapping, causing the engine to overheat. The DPF-equipped diesel engine can develop sensor issues. Also on this engine, look for evidence of coolant in the exhaust caused by a faulty EGR cooler. On later petrols, check the condition of the exhaust flexipipe. On all engines, ensure the coolant pipe isn’t wearing through on the rear subframe.
Transmission: The automated manual gearbox is robust and reliable but check for trouble-free changes (especially reverse). Most issues can be resolved with a software update.
Suspension and brakes: Inspect the front springs, which are soft and can break. Listen for clonking over speed humps caused by worn wishbone or anti-roll bar bushes. With the handbrake off, check the car rolls easily as the alloy rear brake cylinders corrode, causing the brakes to seize.
Body: The plastic body panels and Tridion safety cell are trouble-free but check the rear crash beam that bolts to the rear subframe for corrosion. Inspect the rear window and engine cover seals, which can deteriorate and allow water or even exhaust gases into the cabin.
Interior: Ensure everything, including the horn, works. Feel for damp carpets. The gearbox ECU is under the passenger seat and, especially on the cabrio, can be damaged by water ingress.
Also worth knowing: For a wealth of excellent model info, visit smarttecnic.co.uk and evilution.co.uk. The latter is written by a serial owner of Smarts and covers every model in exhaustive detail.
How much to spend
£1500-£2699: Choice of 2007-10 coupés and cabrios but most of them MHDs. First 2009 diesels from around £2400.
£2700-£3999: Mainly low-mileage cars (many still MHDs) from 2009 to 2012.
£4000-£6500: Lots of very low-mileage, 2012-14 cars with good specifications, plus some earlier, higher-mileage Brabus cars.
£7999-£9250: A few electric Fortwos and some late, low-mileage Brabus models.
One we found: Smart ForTwo Cabriolet 1.0 83bhp, 2011/60-reg, 51,000 miles, £3950
Tidy, two-owner car with a full service history. Appears to have been an urban runabout so we’d check for regular oil changes using the correct grade. We’d also ensure the cabrio roof works and the seals are snug. Feel the floor for damp (especially near gearbox ECU).