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Smart ForTwo Cabrio review

The Good

  • Distinctive looks
  • Easy to drive and park
  • Convertible roof is very cool

The Bad

  • Fidgety ride
  • Edgy handling
  • Pricey
1.5

Rory reviews the new convertible version of the Smart ForTwo. Does the little car live up to its £14,000+ asking price?

Smart released its coupe ForTwo and family-oriented ForFour roughly a year ago to good reception. Fast forward to 2016 and it’s set to unleash the new Smart ForTwo Cabrio, which provides all the city car thrills of the standard coupe model, with the bonus of roof-down thrills.

We hopped into the 90hp auto model, priced at £14,305, to see how it fared on a variety of road styles.

Design

Whatever your opinion of Smarts, it’s hard to deny the fact the ForTwo is a conversation starter. It’s littered with talking points, which is more than can be said of some of its similarly-sized rivals. The over-sized front and rear lights and large front air intakes are particularly noteworthy, giving it a slightly aggressive, but still cutesy aesthetic.

The cabrio model is very similar to its coupe cousin, but for the most obvious change – a hole where the metal roof used to be. Providing shelter is a three-layer electric fabric roof that can be opened and closed in 12 seconds and at any speed.

It has several modes; fully closed, fully open, or with the integrated rear screen left in place. What’s more, the roof bars can be removed and stowed on the inside of the tailgate, allowing an unobstructed view of the sky.

Practicality

Don’t buy a Smart ForTwo if you value practicality. It will only seat two passengers for a start, and very little luggage alongside them. The storage directly behind the seats is large enough for a pair of medium-sized bags, while the boot has either 260 litres or 340 litres of storage from floor to ceiling, depending on whether you’ve got the roof bars stowed – enough for a couple of bags.

Performance & Handling

Jiggly. That’s probably the best way to sum up the ride of the Smart ForTwo Cabrio, especially with the optional Sports package, which uses 16-inch wheels and ride height 10mm lower than the standard car’s. It’s almost intolerably jerky on anything but the smoothest roads. If you value your spine, you will opt for standard models with smaller wheels and normal suspension.

Outright performance is surprisingly good. Power comes from a choice of either a 71hp 999cc naturally-aspirated engine, or the smaller, but more powerful 90hp 898cc turbocharged engine. The 11.7-second 0-62mph time looks slow on paper, but it will keep up with just about anything you encounter on a day-to-day basis when pulling away from the lights aggressively.

Its exhaust note is oddly likeable, too. Imagine a small child doing a surprisingly good, but ultimately quite feeble impression of a Porsche 911.

It’s an agile car, but driving it aggressively can be a hair-raising experience. Performing an emergency stop is downright terrifying, as the Smart ForTwo has a tendency to edge into the beginnings of a spin – particularly if one side of the road has less grip on than the other, and particularly if you’re not holding the steering wheel dead straight at the time you stab the brakes. Luckily, electronic stability control ultimately prevents the spin, but it would be an understatement to say the experience concentrates the mind.

Fast cornering probably isn’t a good idea, either. Throw it into a roundabout at speed and it will first understeer, drifting wide of your intended path, before jerking into oversteer. If you have ever driven a go-kart in damp conditions, you will have an idea what we’re talking about here. Bottom line: the Smart is most at home in the city doing the sensible stuff.

Motorway sojourns are possible. It’s reasonably composed at high speed, though it can get slightly twitchy if you encounter crosswinds. It never feels dangerous, though, as Smart has installed some clever crosswind mitigation technology that chips in to help if it thinks your’e being blown off course. It’s reasonably quiet at 70mph, but having a conversation with the person next to you can be a little difficult if the top is down.

Economy & efficiency

Oddly, it’s the more powerful engine option that offers the best fuel economy. The 90hp model is said to return 67.3mpg, while the 70hp model manages 65.7mpg. The engines emit CO2 at a rate of 99g/km and 97g/km, respectively – par for the course in this sort of car.

Price & value

The Smart may be small, but its price is fairly mighty. It’s available in three lines; the entry-level passion, and more pricey prime and proxy. The base model prime cars cost £13,860 on the road and includes the lower-powered engine, 15-inch 8-spoke alloys and a black fabric interior. Standard equipment includes automatic climate control, electric windows, remote operation of the roof, FM and AM tuner with USB and Bluetooth connections, multi-function steering wheel and some pretty feeble speakers.

Prime and proxy both retail for £14,555, but provide different specs. Prime gets silver alloys, black radiator trim, and the possibility of the dashboard, seats and door upholstery trim finished in orange fabric.

The more sporty proxy gets you 16-inch y-spoke alloys painted in black, blue interior trim, a rev counter, a chrome exhaust tailpipe, stainless steel pedals, sports suspension lowered by 10mm, and shattered back vertebrae.

The more powerful, more economical 898cc turbocharged engine will set you back £595, but it’s worth the upgrade given the fact it will save you money in the long run.

Safety

Smart has long waxed lyrical about its tridion safety cell, which it says is effective in protecting the ForTwo and its occupants from harm. The cabrio model doesn’t have an uninterrupted shell, particularly when the roof bars are removed, but Smart has specially reinforced the cabrio in ‘decisive places’ in comparison to the coupe.

These mods include scissor struts and two torsional bulkheads, all on the underside of the car, as well as an inner tube in the A-pillars made of ultra-high-strength hot-formed steel.

There are also a host of electronic safety aids. Crosswind Assist, active from 80kmh when driving straight ahead and on gentle bends, brakes specific wheels when it detects the vehicle drifting off path, causing an adjustment in its course, meaning less steering input is needed to stay on your intended track. Lane keeping assist helps reduce the likelihood of you drifting out of lane into another vehicle.

Electronic stability control, meanwhile, helps keep the Smart ForTwo Cabrio facing in the right direction, even when its braking or handling characteristics conspire to push it towards a spin. All Smart models come with driver airbag, driver kneebag, passenger airbag and head and thorax sidebags as standard.

Conclusion

The Smart ForTwo Cabrio is a difficult car to justify buying, particularly as it’s reasonably pricey. It is also not particularly rewarding to drive – its fidgety handling and occasionally scary brakes mean it’s not something you drive for fun.

But it is a fantastic city car, made all the better thanks to that convertible roof, which makes driver and passenger feel at one with their city surroundings. If you have the cash, like the brand and you want a car that genuinely stands outs, the Smart forTwo is worthy of a look.

Specification

Engine898cc turbocharged three-cylinder
Power90hp
Torque135Nm
Acceleration0-62mph in 11.7 seconds
Emissions97g/km
Economy67.3mpg
Price£14,305

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