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
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.