For a century or so, cars were all about getting bigger, faster, and swankier. Then, in 1997, the smart fortwo redefined size. And made the smaller footprint cool. Now in its third generation, the smart has become even more practical – while retaining its compact size.

While the number of mega cities continues to rise, their residents share less and less space. Things are getting crowded. High time for new ideas on how to live well on a smaller footprint.

At the same time, amid the constant stream of changes, one thing remains certain: Mobility continues to drive urban lifestyles, making new, intelligent solutions for getting from A via B to C with a possible stopover at D a clear priority.

Clever people have been wrapping their minds around this change for a while – but a lot of the time, the route to solutions that both help and inspire people is less than direct.

NAFA + Swatch = smart

So, let’s rewind to 1981, a good 17 years before the smart fortwo saw the light of day, and the so-called “NAFA”, Mercedes-Benz’ local traffic vehicle (German: Nahverkehrs-Fahrzeug). Underneath the hood, this early study of a modern-day micro car already boasted many innovative details.

But even for the stark 1980s, its pared-down design proved too plain. After all, this was the time when a riot of colors brightened the wrists of many youngsters and young-at-hearts: The Swatch had captured markets, minds and the global zeitgeist.

Thankfully, its inventor Nicolas Hayek was someone who liked to think ahead and set the gears in motion. Just like the Mercedes-Benz development team, he decided to tackle an even more pressing challenge: To keep driving fun in times of increasing traffic.

Origin of the smart DNA: The transport vehicle "NAFA" by Mercedes - Benz
Origin of the smart DNA: The transport vehicle “NAFA” by Mercedes – Benz

Reduce to the max

To offer maximum flexibility at the smallest footprint, these visionaries had to ignore nearly everything usually associated with four-wheeled status symbols: like a long wheel base, large engines or a heavy chassis.

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Two seats, trim 2.50 m length, and three-cylinder rear engines, ranging from 46 to 61 hp: the smart City-Coupé of 1998

In the city, none of these features are necessary – people prefer a quick parking spot search over the sound of roaring engines. Time had come for a car like the smart city coupe (now: smart fortwo) with its two seats, trim 2.50 m length, and three-cylinder rear engines ranging from 46 to 61 hp.

Creative design held it all together by optimizing the car’s use of space: The smart proved a lot more spacious inside than its interior might suggest – an automotive reduction to the max of historic dimensions. Naturally, it also passed all other benchmarks with flying colors: Thanks to ESP, ABS, airbags, and the tridion safety cell, it easily reached the safety standard of larger classes.

The second generation: the smart fortwo introduced in 2007
The second generation: the smart fortwo introduced in 2007

The many faces of cross parking

In 2000, a diesel version joined the mix and immediately added a record: Its 0.8 liter three-cylinder engine became the world’s smallest mass-produced diesel engine. Another historic effect: By cross parking in small spaces, drivers discovered an early urban hack to make use of the city’s smallest gaps.

From 2007, the second generation of smarts not only offered stronger, even more efficient engines, but also more comfort and convenience at the same level of flexibility.

And just like the Swatch brand, i. e. spinning countless of new and exciting versions from an ingenious idea, the smart also comes in many different guises: the short and compact fortwo, the spacious forfour, the open convertible, the smooth electric drive, the speedy roadster, the extravagant Brabus model, plus several special editions, e. g. collaborations with BoConcept and Jeremy Scott.

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smart fortwo Cabriolet 2012
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smart fortwo electric drive
new smart fortwo smart magazine
smart roadster BRABUS V6 biturbo
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smart BRABUS Xcludsive red edition, 2014
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smart fortwo edition by Jeremy Scott, 2013

The new generation is available now

The new generation smart fortwo and smart forfour continue to fly the flag for unique mobility: While the overall length remains unchanged at 2.69 m, they come with additional pedestrian safety measures and the smallest, world record-braking turn radius of all micro cars (just 6.95 m kerb-to-kerb).

The new generation smart fortwo and smart forfour continue to fly the flag for unique mobility.
The new generation smart fortwo and smart forfour continue to fly the flag for unique mobility.

And then there is the completely overhauled interior: Sneaker-style mesh covers the dashboard and instrument panel while the screens splice the look and functionality of tablets. Meanwhile, smooth smartphone integration takes drivers online in just a few clicks. Ready? Go!

At the same time, three new three-cylinder engines – soon to be joined by an 90 hp turbo engine – promise ultimate efficiency coupled with a choice of manual five-speed transmission or an automatic twinamic six-speed duplex clutch transmission. High-tech electronics guarantee optimum safety with ABS, ASR, and ESP while the standard side wind assistant keeping the smart on track at all times.

A perfect timing

Right now, the era of urban challenges enters a new, exciting phase: Networked mobility, pervasive use of digital devices, crowd sourcing, life hacks – anyone exploring today’s metropolises will come across countless of amazing ideas that improve our everyday coexistence.

smart has always been one of them. So, the arrival of the new smart fortwo and forfour is perfectly timed to give us an ultra-modern interpretation of the pioneering model that opened our eyes to a new perception of space: One where less size means more freedom.

All the pictures, incl. the header image: Daimler AG