2017 Smart ForTwo Cabrio: First Drive

Abigail Bassett
·Contributor

What it is: 2017 Smart ForTwo Cabrio, two seat convertible microcar

Price Range: not yet established.

Competitors: Fiat 500C

Alternatives: Mini Cooper Convertible, Honda Fit, Mazda Miata, Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, Chevy Spark

Pros: It’s tiny, has an unbelievable turning radius, and is pretty fun to drive around on tight city streets.

Cons: It’s tiny. Also, getting that top down is a bit of a trick.

Would I Buy It With My Own Money: Part of me would. I love the silly fun that this car inspires and the fact that in its weird cutesy proportions it turns heads. In reality, there are a lot of other options that make a whole lot more sense.

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I’m zooming around Valencia, Spain in 60-degree weather, topless, in January. Did I mention that I’m also participating in a scavenger hunt around the 2,000 year-old city, ticking off landmarks like the 14th Century city walls and the Cat Hotel on a smart phone, and taking selfies in front of graffiti covered walls? This is the epitome of Smart culture as experienced from the driver’s seat of the new 2017 Smart ForTwo Cabrio.

And I’m kind of loving it.

Sitting in the driver’s seat, you’d never know that the back of the car is mere inches from the back of your seat. Looking forward through the cabin, the Smart ForTwo Cabrio feels like a regular-sized car rather than the Micro Machine-sized thing I’m wheeling the wrong way down cobblestone streets surrounded by orange trees and old buildings. The steering is direct and quick to respond when dodging pedestrians and traffic. Within the confines of the city, the tiny 0.9-L turbocharged three-cylinder engine that puts out 89 hp and 100 lb. ft. of torque seems like just the right size. With the top completely down, the interior space feels more than ample and comfortable, and not overly noisy. I can easily hear my co-driver’s instructions as we tootle around.

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The soft top has three different positions, giving the Smart ForTwo Cabrio a considerable bit of flexibility. With the roof closed, the car is comfortable and quiet, although both passenger and driver become far more acutely aware of how tiny the car is. In the second position with the top open and the roof bars still installed, occupants get the giant sunroof experience. While the top can go back to its fully retracted position in just 12 seconds at any speed (including highway speeds), the wind dynamics become strange. We tried it on the highway in cold weather and found that it was far more chilly and noisy than having the roof fully down without the roof bars in place.

To get the roof into the final and most open position, you and your passenger have to stop, park, and do a bit of dancing to get the bars to release and stow in the tailgate. Smart says you can take it down or up in 30 seconds or less. Having tried it a handful of times, that’s probably only realistic for someone who’s practiced it a lot and has help. The roof rails also take up a considerable amount of space in the already minuscule trunk—so much so that two small backpacks tucked in with the roof rails and the folded roof with the glass rear window make for a very tight fit.

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The interior of the Smart is decidedly sparse. Round air vents (reminiscent of those found in other Mercedes models), and a retro-styled temperature slider make up the components of the climate control system. Don’t expect any push button start in the new Smart ForTwo Cabrio—the ignition is the old-fashioned, put-the-key-in-the-slot-and-twist kind. The version we drove came with navigation that, quite frankly, was infuriating. Powered by Tom-Tom, directions were incredibly delayed and often required us to make sudden, unanticipated, lane changes across four-lane avenues to make a turn or, as I mentioned before, sent us the wrong way down one-way streets. Since we were competing for prizes in the scavenger hunt that Smart set up for the group of American and European journalists attending the launch, expediency was crucial and the navigation system was a major drawback. We missed turns because of bad directions more than a dozen times. Lucky for us the Smart ForTwo Cabrio has an incredible tiny turning radius—just 22.8 feet—which we demonstrated repeatedly, U-turning across the city.

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No conversation about the new Smart ForTwo Cabrio is complete without a discussion about the transmission. The old Smart transmission felt a lot like a Lamborghini Aventador without the resulting speed or inherent style. The last generation required the driver to have kidneys of steel and was more comfortable when driven in manual than in automatic because you could at least modulate the rough shifts. For the fans, the transmission in the new Smart ForTwo Cabrio has been hugely improved. The standard six-speed dual-clutch transmission is far smoother and considerably more comfortable than past versions.

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Mercedes has also improved the safety and durability of the new Smart ForTwo Cabrio, strengthening the body of the Smart ForTwo Cabrio by 15 percent. They even put the tiny car through more strenuous tests like their roof-drop test in which the car is dropped onto its roof at an angle. New inner supports made of hot-formed steel inside the A-pillars help keep the roof from collapsing on occupants in a crash. The ForTwo Cabrio also gets enhanced safety technology like Mercedes’ Crosswind Assist that helps keep the vehicle traveling flat and straight in high winds.

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Safety upgrades aside, I’m still not sure how comfortable I’d be taking the Smart ForTwo Cabrio out on U.S. highways. I was able to do a short jaunt on local Spanish highways outside of Valencia, and the low horsepower definitely left one without much margin for merging or overtaking. In the Smart ForTwo Cabrio you wont be riding in the fast lane all that much—passing can be difficult, especially considering that the top speed on the little auto is just 96 mph. Mercedes estimates that the 0-60 time is around 11.6 seconds.

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According to Annette Winkler, the Head of Smart, the goal of Smart is to improve the life of city dwellers for young people: “We wanted to develop a car that has a cult following and is tailor-made for the city.” While it certainly does make wheeling around tiny European city streets quite a blast, taking it on a long-haul cross-country trip in the U.S. would be doable, but beyond its intended use.

The Smart ForTwo Cabrio hasn’t been rated by the EPA yet, and Mercedes-Benz has yet to announce pricing. Suffice it to say that this little city-going car will likely cost a fair bit above the $15,000 hardtop ForTwo in even its base version. It goes on sale this summer.

All Photos Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz/Smart