Smart City/Fortwo Cabrio (2002 - 2007) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

Although the initial novelty may well have worn off, the sight of a Smart City Cabrio buzzing by with its top down is still enough to paint a smile across the face of other drivers. With its cheeky looks, park anywhere ability, surprisingly zippy acceleration and low running costs, these cars have sold very well to those who don't major on practicality. Now that used models are available in reasonable numbers it's tempting to take the plunge. Here are some guidelines.

Models

Models Covered: (600/700 cc petrol [smart & pure, smart & pulse, smart & passion, Silverblue, Brabus])

History

The Smart City Cabrio open top car, based on the smart & passion trim level was unveiled in March 2000, with British orders starting in April 2001. Right hand drive versions were introduced to the UK in autumn 2001, but the CDi diesel version has yet to appear, having been on sale in Europe since December 1999. In summer 2002 the Smart crossblade debuted, a chopped down version of the cabriolet with a distinctly big price - £15,990 - and designed for those with big egos. A Brabus version of the cabrio was unveiled toward the end of 2003 with a 74bhp engine and a styling kit that managed to make the car look even squarer. Then, at the start of 2004, the City Coupe and City Cabrio models were re-named as the Fortwo Coupe and the Fortwo Cabrio. The engine was uprated to a larger capacity 698cc 61bhp unit and an ESP Electronic Stability Programme was fitted as standard to help you out should all that power go to your head. A Silverblue limited edition model was also briefly available. In Spring 2004 we saw the introduction of the body-kitted Brabus model with its 74bhp power output. An all new Smart Cabrio arrived in September 2007.

What You Get

Assuming you like the idea of peeling back the roof in an urban traffic jam, would you really want one of these? Well yes, you very well might. For a start, the electrically-folding roof is very cleverly designed, fully justifying the £2,000 premium over the equivalent Fortwo Coupe. There are three roof removal options and you can set it to any position you want while the car is in motion with a flick of a switch. You can also lower the electrically locked rearmost roof section. Just remove the roof columns and store them in the special area provided on the inside of the boot lid. Safety was a key development priority and here, the Smart claims to better all its citycar rivals, offering safety standards comparable with a mid-range family saloon. The steel passenger cell retains its shape in the event of a collision and reduces the effect of impact to a minimum. Other safety elements include the sandwich platform construction, front and rear crash boxes and a crash management system. To avoid a crash in the first place, there's 'Trustplus', an electronic stability programme which reduces power and applies gear intervention to correct the car if it swerves. Twin front airbags, ABS, self-tensioning seatbelts, knee impact bolsters and a collapsible steering column are all standard, and the Smart rated highly in recent Euro-NCAP crash tests.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Early left hand drive models have been known to suffer from broken rear screens. Under certain circumstances it can shatter due to the glass failing to cope with the heat generated by the heating element. The problem lies in the shape of the element and on newer models the design is changed from a horizontal layout to one where the bars are turned up at the end to resemble a letter 'U'. Existing owners can have the modified screen fitted under warranty by an authorised dealer if the screen breaks, but many won't want to wait. Best to buy one with the new style screen already fitted. Smarts are also known to leak through the rear hatch, the rear windscreen wiper motor resting against a rubber strip and deforming it. This happens to most models so don't think a slightly damp hatch is anything too serious. The City Cabrio has been in production long enough now for many of these teething troubles to have been ironed out and the later 700cc cars have proven very reliable.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on 2002 City Cabrio) Despite the 'premium' feel of Smart products, spares are surprisingly affordable. A new clutch assembly retails for a fairly reasonable £165, and an exhaust system costs about the same. Front brake pads are only around £25, which given that they're about the size of a matchbox would seem about right. Rear pads are a bit pricier at approaching £60. An alternator is £140 and a starter motor a mere £90, whilst a headlamp can be bought for £70.

On the Road

The driver gets a 6-speed clutchless and sequential gearbox (just like the saloon car racers): you simply push up to go up the gearbox and down to go down. Easy in theory, but it tends to take a little practice before you get the hang of seamless up and down changing. You shouldn't get any Michael Schumacher ideas though - this is merely an urban runabout - though the tiny three-cylinder 698cc turbocharged engine of the later models does its best. It isn't just that the performance is so limited (rest to sixty takes 16.8 seconds on the way to an artificially limited top speed of 85mph). You're also pretty restricted on luggage space and of course, there's only room for two people. As you might expect, fuel economy is dazzlingly good (expect at least 60mpg on a regular basis) and if you're willing to unleash the exhibitionist in you and park it nose in to the kerb, you'll draw more stares than a Ferrari parked in the next bay.

Overall

Yes, you can buy bigger and quicker convertibles for less, but if you want a car that feels like a piece of automotive jewellery, there's little to touch the Smart City Cabrio. We'd opt for the added zip of the 700cc engine but even if you can't run to this you'll end up with a car that's something out of the ordinary.