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Smart's recently overhauled Fortwo loses its roof, but inflates its price in the process. Does it make sense to thrifty city car buyers?

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?

26 January 2016

What is it?

It's the roofless version of Smart's unique two-seat city car, which like its solid-roofed Coupe 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.

Smart is launching the Cabrio on the back of 120,000 sales globally last year and 100% growth in the UK. Some 200,000 Cabrios have been sold since 2000, but the model still only contributes to around 15% of total Smart sales.

The Cabrio is offered with the same engine choices as the Coupe: a 70bhp naturally aspirated 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit or an 89bhp turbocharged 0.9-litre triple. At launch, a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox will be the only option, but in March a £995 cheaper five-speed manual will also become available.

As with the standard Fortwo, there are three trim levels to choose between: entry-level Passion, and higher-specced 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 89bhp Proxy with Smart's Twinamic auto 'box, which forgoes the Prime's standard leather seats, but instead gets range-largest 16in alloy wheels, a sports steering wheel with paddles (for auto models), a chrome tailpipe and a 10mm-lower sports suspension set-up. 

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-pillar 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. The turbocharger does a good impression of a (very) mini 911 Turbo on-boost, too, but both it and the engine settle down nicely at a cruise.

This engine and gearbox combination work well together. There's decent low-down pull and intelligent enough gearbox software to ensure well-timed self-downshifts in both Normal and the quicker Sport mode. Progress is surprisingly eager even with two adults onboard, even though this is the heaviest of the Cabrios, which, at 995kg, are between 40-55kg heavier than the standard Fortwo.

That said, driving the Fortwo quickly still requires commitment. Manual gear changes via the paddles are quick, but a combination of the Fortwo's very short wheelbase and its relatively quick steering make it 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 the Fortwo 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 in sport suspension-equipped Proxy guise, not comfortable. 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. Some forgiveness could be offered if the Proxy's body felt taut through tight bends, but it doesn't.

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 Proxy 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 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 poor responsiveness and a lethargic sat-nav. Most smartphones running Google maps would do a better job.

In any case, Bluetooth, aux 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 Cabrio is claimed to achieve more than 60mpg and emit less than 100g/km CO2, but given the higher price and poor ride of the Proxy Twinamic, we'd suggest choosing Passion trim instead; the lower price, softer chassis and larger sidewalls make more sense. As good as the auto is, a drive of the cheaper manual later this year might convince us that's the way to go, too.

So is the Smart 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, and it isn't 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 Smarts because they're different, and if two seats and a sub 2.7-metre long car is for you, there's no doubt the Fortwo Cabrio is a better prospect than it was before. 

Smart Fortwo Cabrio 90 Proxy Twinamic

Location Valencia, Spain; On sale Feb 2016; Price £15,550; Engine 3 cyls, 898cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 89bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 100lb ft at 2500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch auto; Kerb weight 995kg; 0-62mph 11.7sec; Top speed 96mph; Economy 67.3mpg; CO2 rating & BIK tax band 97g/km/14%

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Comments
1

27 January 2016
Autocar wrote:

vSmart 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-pillar 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.

I think they've all done that. The first gen was slightly different. It would open as a sunroof, then you press again to release the roof, and you would manually lock it into the fully open position. The second gen and this one, that is done by the button entirely.

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