Per Wikipedia, the Marxist theory of False Consciousness claims,

“material processes in capitalist society are misleading to the

proletariat.” Trabants aside, it’s pretty clear that the founders of

Communism would love today’s Smart ForTwo. It’s the one-dimensional

vehicle that denies its occupants the luxury of time, space and value.

But it’ll pop eyeballs like Gisele Bündchen in a Target. It didn’t hurt

that my tester had the blessings of noted Mercedes tuner, Carlsson

Autotechnik. Too bad it didn’t help.

Styling is one of the few (marketing) advantages of the Smart ForTwo,

and your average pedestrian and shallow fashionista already know that.

But I reckon most readers of this website cringe after spotting one.

The Carlsson styling upgrades neutralize that stomach acid but still

keep the general public’s interest. The muscled-up front fascia sports

a lower valance, subtle fog lights and a mesh grille are a vast (OK

tiny) improvement, while the rear’s wanna-be diffuser looks the part

with a quad tipped exhaust. Win.

But the metal’s meaningless without the 25mm lowering springs and

upgraded hoops; the standard 15-inch wheels make way for 16s in the

front, 17s at the rear. Measuring an inch wider than stock and pushed

to the fender’s edge, the Carlsson Smart ForTwo is a pissed-off tween:

adorable, assertive, but more than a little awkward.

Since everything’s bigger in Texas, I was more than a little surprised

at how well the Smart’s interior fared in a random test of excited

bystanders. Classy polymers, fabulous fabrics and a panoramic roof

offer more interior blingery than other “economy” cars. The Smart’s

ergonomically advanced dashboard is a boon to cubby-seekers: the

(normally wasted) space around the steering column makes a great home

for your Blackberry, finger foods or spare change. While Carlsson’s

aluminum pedals and embroidered floor mats look tuner car cool, they

aren’t over the top enough to draw eyes away from the factory stuff:

even the stock, leather wrapped, tiller feels even better than it looks.

Fire up the Smart’s three-banger motor and a robust one-liter of engine

displacement bellows through Carlsson’s tuned muffler. Even with the

hot-rod demeanor accentuated by the lively 10:1 compression ratio,

there’s no escaping the Smart’s disappointment of owning one (or three)

fewer cylinders than anything else at this price point. Put the tennis

ball stitched gearshift in drive and the letdowns roll on like a

government-funded bailout.

With an 1800 lb curb weight, the 75-ish horsepower (up from 71 hp

stock), naturally aspirated Carlsson Smart ForTwo is somewhat lively on

surface streets, especially between 20 and 40 mph in second gear. Leave

that magical window of respectability and the five-speed manumatic’s

absolutely horrendous gear changes crash the party. With the added

exhaust rumble magnifying the loss of engine revs, the dramatic

sighing-to-grunting action is “granny shifting” über alles. And it’s a

shame the wheel-mounted paddles can’t change the Smart’s tune.

From the moment you fart [ED: dart?] out of a parking spot to a WOT run

on an onramp, the Smart is a no fun zone. Freeway maneuvering is an

exercise in calculated risks, since you are faster than nobody.

Breaking free of the crowd risks exposure to stiff crosswinds that push

the Smart around with the veracity of Nelson Muntz. If more people knew

what it takes to keep a Smart ForTwo tracking straight in deteriorating

weather, the roadside “haw-haws!” would be imminent.

Given the European tuner car quotient, perhaps the improved handling

compensates. Like a stocker, the Carlsson Smart ForTwo pushes in

corners, unable to defy its SUV-worthy center of gravity. The larger

tires add an extra modicum of grip: a welcome margin of safety to

ensure the Smart’s copious body roll becomes nothing more than a wake

up call for wannabe hoons who missed the latest IIHS crash tests.

Turn-in and steering feel is unbelievably dull for a rear engine

vehicle: a not so subtle reminder that the Smart ForTwo is a commuter

car with zero sporting intentions.

Which normally equates to a smooth ride. But if a stock Smart ForTwo

can’t muster a reasonably isolated passenger compartment, the Carlsson

tweaks don’t stand a chance. The ride is terrible, “thanks” to low

profile tires, lowering springs and a miniscule footprint. Not to

mention the noise: road growl is so prevalent that an impromptu phone

call from Farago needed a follow up email to clarify our conversation.

Or lack thereof.

The Carlsson-fettled Smart ForTwo fixes none of the platform’s inherent

deficiencies. It’s still a deeply flawed fashion statement living in a

hotly contested price point. Product features, safety and dreadful

performance (on premium fuel) are only the beginning. But the Carlsson

Smart ForTwo looks like it’s got a pair, which admittedly is half the

battle. A better transmission is next on the wish list.