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We drive Smart's latest Fortwo Cabrio in the UK for the first time. Does the sun shine on this all-new tiny two-seat cabriolet?

Our Verdict

The second generation Smart Fortwo
The first-generation Smart Fortwo was launched back in 1998

It's bigger and bolder than before, but is this new city car any better?

18 March 2016

What is it?

It's the roofless version of Smart's unique two-seat city car, which, like its solid-roofed Coupé stablemate, is still built in Hambach, France, rather than in Slovenia together with the Forfour and that car's chassis-sharing cousin, the Renault Twingo. Importantly, the Coupé's iconic length, width and height are retained, but the Cabrio is £2140 more expensive across the range.

The Cabrio is offered with the same engine choices as the Coupé: a 70bhp naturally aspirated 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit or an 89bhp turbocharged 0.9-litre triple. A six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is available as an option, but there's also a £995 cheaper five-speed manual.

Read our review of the regular Smart ForTwo here 

As with the standard Fortwo, there are three trim levels to choose between: entry-level Passion and higher-spec Prime and Proxy versions that both command the same £695 price hike. The former focuses more on the luxury, the latter on 'performance'. 

Smart says there are more than 100 body colour and roof combinations, although the fabric roof is only offered in black as standard or red or blue for £115. Here we drive the 70bhp Prime with Smart's six-speed automatic gearbox.

What's it like?

Let's start with the talking point: the roof. Pressing a switch next to the gearlever or on the keyfob begins a 12-second opening sequence that can be initiated at any speed.

Smart is also proud of the fact that you can now choose more than just having the roof open or closed. One push of the switch gives a partial roof opening that's essentially an extended sunroof, and a second push wraps the roof over the B-pillars and bunches it behind, together with its integrated glass rear screen. Finally, for the full open-top experience, with the roof in this second position, the Fortwo's roof bars pop out and have a dedicated storage solution in the bootlid.

Roof down and side windows up, only the very tip of your barnet is ruffled, even at motorway speeds. With the roof up at these higher speeds, however, there's quite a bit of road noise that makes holding a conversation hard work. 

This engine/gearbox combination doesn't work as well as the 90hp version and auto ’box we tried earlier in the year. There are too many lulls in power and delayed gearchanges to make swift, confident progress. Sure, there is just enough to keep you zipping through traffic around town, but it's a struggle on A-roads and motorways.

The very short wheelbase and relatively quick steering can make the Fortwo Cabrio feel nervous. There's never enough meat or communication felt through the wheel to build confidence, either. This arguably isn't really an issue, because this car will spend 95% of its time in cities. Here the light, quick steering and hilarious sub-seven-metre turning circle all contribute to making the Cabrio superbly manoeuvrable urban transport. 

Manoeuvrable, yes, but the ride isn't quite comfortable enough. The low-speed secondary ride is extremely busy, and because large obstructions such as speed bumps are hit by both axles without much pause, a pronounced vertical bounce is sent through the cabin.

There's lots of space for two adults inside and the driver sits relatively high, providing good forward vision, but steering wheel and driver's seat height adjustment are both optional even on this range-topping Prime model. Despite its compact dimensions, the over-the-shoulder view is largely obscured by the Fortwo's rear pillars and roof, too.

Boot space is claimed to be 340 litres with the roof up and 260 litres with it down, but the space is hindered by its awkward shape. The cabin is largely solidly constructed and our car sported an attractive array of glossy plastics set against a fabric dash, although it was difficult to ignore some of the cheap-feeling Renault switchgear dotted about the cabin. 

Our car was also fitted with Smart's optional 7.0in Media system (£795 as part of a Premium pack), but our experience would suggest sticking with the standard smartphone cradle. The optional system is essentially the same as the Twingo's and suffers from poor responsiveness and a lethargic sat-nav. Most smartphones running Google Maps would do a better job.

In any case, Bluetooth, aux in and USB connections, a multi-function steering wheel, climate control, 15in alloy wheels, electric windows and LED daytime running lights are all standard, so there's little reason to spend much more. 

Should I buy one?

Every Fortwo Cabrio is claimed to achieve more than 60mpg and emit less than 100g/km of CO2, while Prime trim gives you a good level of kit for not too much money over the entry-level Passion. With this engine, we'd stick with the five-speed manual gearbox, as the automatic isn't as well suited. If auto gearshifting is your preferred choice, we'd recommend you look at the more powerful 90hp engine, as our experience suggests this configuration works better.

So is the Fortwo Cabrio worth considering over its rivals? Objectively, no, it isn't. It's less spacious and practical than a Fiat 500C or Peugeot 108 Top; nor is it as comfortable, refined or as good to drive as those rivals. It's also more expensive to buy at list price, although these cars' popular monthly finance packages will close that gap.

However, cars that offer such extreme personalisation like the Smart Fortwo and Fiat 500 are rarely bought on objective measures. Smart buyers buy them because they're different, and if two seats and a sub-2.7m-long car is for you, there's no doubt the Fortwo Cabrio is a better prospect than it was before. 

Rory White and Matthew Griffiths

Smart Fortwo Cabrio 71 Prime

Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £15,550; Engine 3 cyls, 999cc, petrol; Power 70bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 67lb ft at 2850rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch auto; Kerb weight 975kg; 0-62mph 15.5sec; Top speed 94mph; Economy 65.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 99g/km, 13%

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Comments
1

19 March 2016

[quote=Autocar] It's also more expensive to buy at list price, although these cars' popular monthly finance packages will close that gap.[/autocar]

Which is what counts at the end of the day, and Smart do some decent deals to tempt people

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