smart fortwo cabrio review

The smart fortwo has always been a quirky choice, but one that has its own cult following. As with previous generations, a cabriolet version is available for city dwellers who want to go topless. The experts at Car and Driving check it out.

Ten Second Review

The third generation smart fortwo has answered many of the criticisms of the first two models. While many would still prefer a four seater (there's the forfour model for that), you could argue an open-topped version of the fortwo makes more sense. Could this be the cheapest new cabrio currently available?

Background

Since 1998, smart has offered what has become known as the fortwo, a two-seat city car with a rear-mounted engine. Famous for being able to park nose on to a curb legally, this model has something of a cult following. While the first generation was pretty awful to drive and the second still blighted by a clunky semi-auto gearbox, the third generation car offers a much more enjoyable driving experience. This will be crucial in winning new customers, something the cabrio version may be able to assist with. While a two-seat supermini is not really an option for many, an open car with room for only a pair of people is more acceptable. With a clever three position roof that can be opened at any speed and a reasonably low starting price (for a cabrio), could this be the smart's time to shine?

Driving Experience

Compared to its predecessors, the latest fortwo is something of a revelation to drive. Gone is the gearbox's hesitancy, meaning you no longer look (and feel) like a nodding dog as you accelerate. The manual gearbox is nothing special but its light, easy to use and no longer a source of constant frustration. Coupled with the 71PS version of the normally aspirated three-cylinder engine, its fine around town, although the car runs out of puff easily on the open road. 0-62 takes an agonising 14.9 seconds, while hills will often require a down change or two, especially at speed. A 900cc turbocharged engine is available boasting 90PS and considerably more torque. This brings the 0-62 time down to 10.8 seconds and should prove a much happier companion on A-roads and motorways. Neither engine can even manage 100mph but that's probably for the best. A much improved semi-automatic gearbox is available but this makes both variants even slower to accelerate. Thanks to significant strengthening of the shell, handling shouldn't be too different to the hard-topped car. That means lots of understeer and electronic intervention should you push too hard. At least the turning circle is tighter than ever at just 6.95m curb to curb.

Design and Build

At the core of the fortwo cabrio is the 'tridion' safety cell made of high strength steel. The visible area of this cell has been re-profiled for a sportier look. This provides the smart with good crash protection despite its diminutive size. There's also additional underbody reinforcement to help with the removal of the roof. Speaking of the roof, the 'tritop' soft top can be opened like a giant sunroof at any speed. For the full open air experience, you can remove the remaining roof bars and stow them in the boot, something rivals such as the Fiat 500C can't offer. Despite the opening roof, the rear screen is made of glass and is heated. Inside is the same funky interior we've come to expect from the regular fortwo. This means a fabric topped dashboard that, like the rest of the interior, can be had in a variety of colours. At first glance everything seems pretty well put together, although further inspection reveals quite a bit of cheap plastic in certain areas. At least the additional width of the third generation car means you won't be bumping elbows with your passenger.

Market and Model

On top of the pair of three cylinder engines smart is offering, there's also three trim levels to consider as well; passion, prime and proxy. While the hard-top starts at just over £11,000, you'll need a budget starting at around £13,500 to get this cabrio variant. Going for the pokier 90PS turbo engine requires a premium of around £600, while the auto 'box is nearly £1,000 more. Add the touchscreen infotainment system, heated seats and a few other trinkets and you'll be looking at over £16,000. All smarts come with alloy wheels, daytime running lights, a multi-function leather steering wheel, climate control and a stop start system. The 'prime' trim level adds funkier wheels, heated seats and a panoramic roof while 'proxy' models get lowered suspension, sportier wheels plus a distinctive white and blue interior colour scheme. On top of the usual airbags and electronic helpers, there's a crosswind assist, brake assist, hill start assist, forward collision warning and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

Cost of Ownership

This is an area where the smart should excel, so it's a bit of a surprise to see that both manual and auto versions of the 71PS engine only manage CO2 emissions of 99g/km. The 90PS engine also manages 99g/km, although this drops to 97g/km if you opt for the auto 'box. Although those figures will mean free tax, you would expect them to be even lower. Fuel economy is promised to be good if not exceptional; 65.7mpg on the combined cycle for all variants apart from the 90PS auto. For that combination, consumption is reduced to 67.3mpg. The smart is a bit of a niche vehicle, so resale may not be too bad if you don't go crazy with the options. The warranty is also better than many; it may only be for three years but at least its unlimited mileage.

Summary

The smart fortwo is always going to be an off the wall choice thanks to a relatively high price and the fact it's only a two-seater. It should also be said that although it's much improved compared to its predecessors, the fortwo is still a car that is most comfortable around town. The 71PS model especially can struggle at motorway speeds, particularly if you have to go up a reasonably steep hill. Look at it as a cheap convertible however and you can start to see more of an appeal. The removable roof rails make for a truly open vehicle as opposed to something with a big sunroof, while the interior is an enjoyable place to be if you look past the odd bit of cheap plastic. Considering how much better it is to drive, this car could make an interesting alternative to a regular cabrio.

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