Smart cars – Smart For Two
The original Smart cars – Smart For Two was conceived as a two-seater car that could tackle city streets like nothing else. Famously, it was so short that you could park it nose-on to the kerb without obstructing traffic, while tiny engines kept running costs to a minimum.
We understand that most folks will quickly lose interest once they see that the Fortwo is 8.8 feet long and has 89 horsepower. But what doesn’t shine through on the spec sheet is how the latest Fortwo now feels almost like a real car. A full four inches of added width dissolves much of the previous model’s scrawny tall-and-narrow look while helping keep the car more planted to the road. No one can pretend the Fortwo cabrio suddenly looks butch, but the extra width and rectilinear headlights and taillights imbue it with a French bulldog’s confidence.
It helps that a lot of the droptop’s features seem more substantial, from the removable roof rails that stow in a trunk compartment that resembles a rifle case, to an electrically operated cloth roof that can be raised or lowered while on the move—at any speed. Most convertible-top mechanisms are locked out above 25 to 30 mph; in the Smart, you can cruise at 96 mph—the little car’s top speed—and open and close the roof all day. Try that in a Porsche 911 cabriolet, the only other rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive convertible available in the U.S.
With the roof and its components stowed, the cabriolet neatly imitates a half-cracked pistachio. The view aft is narrowed to a slit by the folded cloth roof, fixed structural pillars, and a hard crossbar; the views to the sides and forward are expansive, however. Raising the Smart’s sliding roof even halfway—at which point the glass rear window sits vertically in its “closed” position—improves rear visibility greatly. The roof can be left in any position you prefer between fully closed and fully open, although wind buffeting in the cabin is lowest when the roof is all the way down. Roof up, the interior is only slightly louder than the Fortwo coupe’s, and conversations at highway speeds don’t demand shouting.
On the Spanish roads in and around Valencia where we drove the Fortwo, scooters buzzed around the streets, the streets resembled sidewalks, and the sidewalks were filled with attractive people. One of them, a young woman, even smiled at us. Or maybe she just liked our Fortwo’s red-and-white, candy-cane-themed paint scheme. Anyway, we couldn’t detect any negative effects from the cabrio’s extra 88 pounds of underbody bracing and windshield pillar reinforcement, but there was precisely zero chassis flex, even on cobblestone roads and a curb we drove over for a photo. Speaking of curbs, we took advantage of the Fortwo’s 22.8-foot turning circle to perform several U-turns on streets narrower than the typical American two-lane.
Escaping to faster roads outside of the city revealed that pushing the Smart hard no longer is a heroic action. The suspension is both more comfortable and more stable-feeling than before, with much less body roll and more positive reactions to driver inputs. The newly electrically assisted steering is light in weight and feedback but has a quicker ratio than before and is accurate. The 89-hp turbo three-cylinder engine trades linear response for punch—peak power is delivered in one great lump at higher rpm. Far smoother is the new six-speed dual-clutch automatic, which represents a huge improvement over the old Fortwo’s detestable single-clutch automated-manual transmission. The coupe’s five-speed manual isn’t available in this variant, but that seems appropriate given the cabrio’s mission. Languid initial response accelerating from rest and the occasional odd gear selection in Standard and Eco driving modes are the only flaws we detected in the dual-clutch ’box. Manually shifting gears using the console lever—or, on certain models, the steering-wheel-mounted paddles—adds some spice. While the shifts are satisfyingly quick, the computer automatically upshifts close to redline. Sporty the Fortwo is not, but it is agile and zippy.
The Fortwo cabrio is a better execution of the small-as-fun theme than its coupe counterpart. Unmet expectations of high fuel economy throw the basic Fortwo coupe’s compromised packaging under a harsh light; shorn of sensible pretense, the easygoing, for-the-fun-of-it cabrio transcends complaints about cargo space and purpose. Treated as a tiny ball of curious entertainment that no longer makes its driver look like a total dweeb, the Fortwo cabriolet finally is a viable alternative to Fiat’s similarly priced 500C droptop or, for some shoppers, even a base-level Mazda MX-5 Miata. Well, provided you aren’t in a hurry—remember, it has just 89 horsepower
- Low running costs
- Tight turning circle
- Extremely manoeuvrable
- Unrefined at higher speeds
- Entry-level engine is slow
- Poor crash-test rating