Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 22, 2017
The first two generations of the smart fortwo were rather difficult to recommend to buyers. Sure it had the turning radius of a dog chasing its tail, a quirky rear-engine rear-wheel drive setup, and a vehicle length so short that it could park perpendicular to the sidewalk, but this city car’s unique quirks were overshadowed by its unrefined powertrain, shuddering chassis, and relatively high price tag.
For the third-generation smart fortwo, they’ve aimed to solve those issues with more cabin space, extra width and stiffening to the chassis, more power, and fresh new styling. We’re currently testing the 2017 smart fortwo cabrio, the open-top happy-go-lucky sunshine mobile, and it’s fairly impressive on paper.
With a starting price of $21,800 ($4,500 more than the coupe), the cabrio retains its rear-wheel drive, rear-engine setup with a 898cc turbocharged inline-three engine under the hood delivering 89 hp and 100 lb-ft. The five-speed manual is still standard, but a new twinamic dual-clutch six-speed transmission joins the ranks with a $1,400 premium. The smart fortwo cabrio has also received a multitude of parts to increase torsional rigidity for better handling and increased safety.
It drives better than the outgoing model too, but it’s still no hot hatch. Driving the smart fortwo is more like operating a golf cart - the high center of gravity and tendency to understeer with top heavy body roll sucks out the ability to handle the fortwo quickly around corners. Best to take it slow and let the weight disperse before powering out. On the bright side, the turning radius is practically negligible. So when it comes to parking, the smart fortwo is essentially a contortionist - it can bend, turn, and mold into a spot better than any existing car. The variable-ratio steering helps cut the amount of effort needed to turn as well, making it quite the car for beginners petrified of parking and scraping bumpers.
To my surprise, the tiny three-cylinder engine is quite potent and gets the smart up to speed very quickly. You’d be forgiven for doubting this roadrunner’s top speed, but the smart can punter on fairly quickly when pushed thanks to that turbocharger. There is a great deal of turbo lag as the smart squats and gets ready to dash, but it can get up to highway speeds without much fuss or drama. There’s even a turbo gauge on the dashboard so you can monitor the pressure, and an analog clock flanked underneath so you’ll know if you’re running late. The new dual-clutch transmission is also ten times smoother than the outgoing gearbox, and enjoys holding gears in the higher rpms where the majority of power resides.
On a side note, I’m not sure why smart isn’t bringing their electric variant to Canada. I think it would be way more attractive than the gasoline variants, and will speak to a larger audience and fit this small city car’s theme of efficiency and savings.
The fortwo cabrio is surprisingly rigid despite not having a proper fixed roof - it’s 15% stiffer than the outgoing model. That’s because the smart went nuts with bracing and rollover bars, resulting in a well mannered vehicle with praisable on-road stability. It handles potholes and bumps in a gentle but forgiving nature - kind of like a firm handshake - and the cabrio feels almost as rigid as the coupe, so you’re not losing much by opting for more Vitamin D.
The fabric roof is rather neat too. It can operate even when driving at top speed, meaning you’ll never have to stop on the side of the highway once the clouds turn ominous and start spitting. The top fully opens in 12 seconds and can actually be left in any position you like. The opening procedure is separated into two stages. The first stage folds back the roof to make for a large sunroof. The second stage drops the rear window for that open air feel.
Now this may all sound nice and dandy, but the smart fortwo cabrio still has many faults - more like sacrifices that have to be made for it to retain its miniature stature and chic appeal. The first thing you’ll notice when driving the smart is the shake, and I don’t mean just a small rumbling of the chassis. I mean vigorous shaking and shuddering that made me feel quite nauseated after an hour on the road. Some of our passengers even gave it the nickname of Shake N’ Bake.
The smart fortwo has also managed to turn a vacuum cleaner into an exhaust system. Frankly, it doesn't sound very nice during acceleration, like a leaf blower gone haywire. Premium 91-octane fuel is also required, an odd request from a vehicle made famous for its small footprint. However, most of these shortcomings only become apparent when driving for long periods of time. Keep the commute to a minimum, and the smart fortwo will entertain.
There’s a chic appeal to the smart, maybe not so much as a Fiat 500 or a MINI Cooper, but it gives off a Teutonic aura with its two-tone paint, cartoon-like snout, and bug-eyed headlights. It’s not a premium or luxury car by any means even though it’s associated with Mercedes-Benz, but there’s enough unique garnish on this economy platform to be fresh on the eyes and revitalizing to drive.
Contrary to popular belief, the smart’s interior is rather spacious. I stand six-feet tall and am able to find a comfortable and snug seating position with ample legroom and headroom to spare. I’d say it’s more comfortable than the horrid driving position in any of the Jeep Cherokees. You sit high up and that offers impressive outward visibility all around. When the roof is folded down, it does hinder the view out the rear, but it’s better than what the MINI Cooper Convertible offers. Wind buffeting isn’t amazing but with the windows up and the roof down, cabin noise is tolerable.
Despite the spartan cabin design, the smart fortwo cabrio has modern creature comforts like auto air conditioning, heated seats, cruise control, and even an optional forward collision warning system. It also has some quirky features like rotatable air vents, a standard smartphone holder, and manually adjustable side mirrors - that means moving the mirror with a protruding knob. When was the last time you found yourself doing that? You have to spend $190 to get powered and heated mirrors.
Storage is what you’d expect from a vehicle with two seats and only two doors. Cargo room isn’t exceptional and with the roof folded down, trunk space is even more limited. Best if you’re the sole occupant when going for a large grocery run, but it is nice that drivers have access to the trunk when sitting inside, allowing for easy reach of items.
Overall, the smart fortwo cabrio definitely sits in its own niche. There’s a strict line of appeal to it - less of a fashion statement and more of a quirky and unique mode of transportation, an appliance with a small footprint. It’s novice-friendly city maneuverability, upgraded stiffness, smoother powertrain, and improved road manners make it easy to recommend to dense city dwellers looking for a commuter car.
The starting price is rather high, whereas a similar Fiat 500 Convertible costs $18,995, and mainstream compact hatches like the Nissan Micra and Chevrolet Spark costing much less. However the smart fortwo has more substance than style, and lends itself as an accessible and more refined city car that its niche community will most definitely find more attractive than ever before.
型号 Model: 2017 smart fortwo cabrio passion
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $21,800
試車售價 Price as Tested: $23,630
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 1,873
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 2,695 / 1,663 / 1,552
車重 Curb weight (kg): 975
引擎 Engine: 0.9L (898 cc) turbocharged inline-three
最大馬力 Horsepower: 89 hp @ 5,500 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 100 lb-ft 2,500 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed twinamic dual-clutch transmission
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Rear engine, RWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 7.0 / 6.3 / 6.7
油耗 Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 9.7
輪胎尺碼 Tires: Front 165/65R15; Rear 185/60R15