2017 Smart ForTwo Cabrio First Review
The Smart ForTwo may be the most likeable, charming sub-subcompact car that most people won't buy. After all, it only has two seats, it doesn’t have the best fuel economy in the segment, and it doesn’t offer the same amount of cargo space that a hatchback would. But drive a ForTwo Cabrio in its natural habitat -- say, a congested city -- and put the top down, and the car makes a lot of sense.
Smart gave us gave us the keys to a Smart ForTwo Cabrio and let us loose in the streets of Brooklyn. Whether you want to take in the sounds, smells and sunshine or close it up and enjoy the A/C, you are a button-press away from letting in exactly as much of the outside world as you want.
Big Changes to a Small Car
Returning to the market for 2017 after a one-year hiatus, the ForTwo Coupe underwent a major makeover, with more interior space, new styling and a new engine. For 2017, the Cabrio benefits from all of those improvements. The design is charming and friendly, and our top-of-the-line Proxy Cabrio was white and midnight blue on the outside, with a matching two-tone interior.
With just overall length of 106 inches -- comparable to some motorcycles -- the ForTwo's cabin is quite roomy for two people, as the car is four inches wider than it was in 2015. The door is quite long, about half the length of the car, making it easy to get in and out. Storage is at a premium, but the rear hatch offers enough space for groceries and gear. The Cabrio's space is only slightly smaller than the Coupe's.
We hit a button to push the canvas top back, essentially creating a panoramic sunroof, and were on our way. Our Cabrio had the optional 6-speed dual-clutch transmission (a 5-speed manual is standard) behind the 0.9-liter, 89-horsepower turbocharged 3-cylinder engine. With the manual, fuel economy is 31 mpg city, 38 highway, which goes up to 33/38 with the dual-clutch. This is the smallest engine available in the U.S., and while it isn't a rocket, the Cabrio only weighs about 2,100 pounds, so the sub-1.0-liter engine holds its own. Unlike the previous model's transmission, the new 6-speed shifts smoothly and makes good use of the power. There was the occasional laggy shift, but switching to manual mode eliminates that.
Negotiating Brooklyn's crowded roads changes your mindset about cars. In these busy, narrow streets, where box trucks seem to be double-parked on every block, scooting past them while avoiding oncoming traffic is a lot easier in a Smart. You start to notice that it's nearly impossible to find parking (hence the double-parked trucks). Yet there are spots here and there too small for even an Elantra or an HR-V, but the Smart fits. I saw a Suburban whose owner had been lucky enough to find a parking space. But once parked, you basically have to leave it there or take a huge chance on finding a space that size later. So you can own a spacious vehicle you can't drive once it's parked, or you can get something smaller where your odds are better of finding another space. Ok, Smart. I get it.
In addition to a lack of rear seats and a tiny cargo area, ride quality is not as good as in other small cars. You can feel every uneven road surface and manhole cover. However, as you would imagine, the turning radius in this car is spectacular. Its 22.8-foot turning circle meant that when we missed a turn, it was easy to make a U-turn where other cars would require a 3-point maneuver. We zipped around and got back on track, and traffic opened up. We were able to move along a little more quickly, creating a breeze, so we decided to push the convertible button again to bring the top down. For the full convertible experience, you can also remove the roof bars and stow them in the storage area's tailgate, where there are foam cutouts to house them.
The ForTwo feels extremely stable at speed, and those that are concerned about the car's safety need not worry. The entire structure around the passenger compartment, called the Tridion Cell, is made from high-strength steel to protect everyone inside. Smart has done extensive crash testing with the ForTwo, plus additional safety tests with the reinforced Cabrio. Crosswind assist and six airbags are standard on our Proxy ForTwo, forward collision warning, an option. Even though the Smart has plenty of safety equipment, because of the ForTwo's short wheelbase, you have to presume that people can’t see you. It pays to be hypersensitive to surrounding traffic and, as if you're riding a motorcycle, do what you can to stay out of the blind spots of larger vehicles.
While the Smart ForTwo Coupe is available in four trim levels -- Pure, Passion, Prime and Proxy -- trims for the Cabrio start at Passion and move up from there. Pricing for the Passion Cabrio starts at $19,650 (add $990 for the dual-clutch automatic) and it's on sale now.
The 2017 Smart ForTwo Cabrio may not have the practicality of something like the Honda Fit, but it isn't supposed to. This is a car that doesn't take itself too seriously, and that lighthearted feeling of fun is what differentiates this minicar from the other sub-subcompact cars out there.