2010 smart fortwo cabriolet Road Test Review

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Isn't it amazing how simply removing the roof can transform a car?  The smart fortwo is a clever little transportation pod; it's not for everyone, but it gets the job done.  Add in a three-stage folding canvas roof, however, and suddenly you've got a tiny little barrel of laughs on your hands. 

They're the good kind of laughs, too.  Top up, our smart fortwo cabriolet garnered the usual sidelong glances of drivers surprised to see the tiny thing on the freeway, and not much more.  As soon as the sun came out and we dropped the top, fellow drivers were all smiles and thumbs-up.  A gaggle of teenagers went completely insane as we drove past the high-school fundraiser car wash, begging the little smart to pull in for a wipe-down. 

Of course, this might have been because the fortwo cabriolet would've required about a third of the effort than washing a regular car would.  The much-publicized cube of a car only takes up about half the space of a regular car, after all, and that's not very much sheet metal.  In fact, it's even less sheet metal than it appears to be, as the smart's high-strength Tridion "safety cell" means that many of the body panels are non-structural (and dent-resistant) plastic.  When you step out of the smart, you're practically behind it.  This car was designed to be parked nose-in to the curb in parallel parking spaces, so it's about as long as the average car is wide. 

Letting the Sun shine in is a simple affair, requiring the push of a button.  The canvas roof slides back to create an extended sunroof, and a second stage folds it down across the rear, blocking visibility in the spirit of small, cheeky convertibles from the Volkswagen Rabbit to the Mini Cooper.  With the top completely retracted, the roof's side bars can be removed and stowed in a recess in the tailgate for a complete open-air experience.  The folded top doesn't encroach on cargo space, and when it's stacked to the gills the smart cabriolet will carry up to 340 litres (12 cubic feet of stuff), just like the coupe. 

The smart cabriolet is quiet on the freeway, with very little of the additional noise traditionally associated with convertibles.  This is partly because of the canvas roof, albeit partly due to the smart coupe's already above-average freeway noise. 

So here's the thing: the preconception is that the fortwo is too small to be a "real" car.  It's only natural to assume this, given its size.  In truth, though, the only serious skill the fortwo lacks when compared to a Toyota Yaris or Chevrolet Aveo is that it's a bit too small to avoid being nudged around by crosswinds on long freeway trips.  But, to be honest, the Aveo and Yaris aren't all that stable in strong crosswinds either.  The fortwo makes up for its physical shortcomings with attitude and real-car fitments.  The speedometer is centrally mounted, and the unique "eyeball" air vents help to increase the interior's apparent room.  Air conditioning, front and side airbags and a decent sound system are part of the package as well.  The smart is only a two-seater, and the cabin is snug but comfortable.  The passenger seat has an additional six inches of legroom compared to the driver's seat, and the handsome cloth upholstery and funky interior trim prevent the smart from being saddled with the "cheap" stigma that many small cars receive.  Of course, you'll be exchanging that for a "weird" stigma, but that doesn't seem to bother a lot of buyers.  On top of that, the convertible makes it fun. 

In congested urban areas and on the car-choked Los Angeles freeways where we sampled the fortwo cabriolet, the car fit right in.  It'll run eighty (130km/h) with the rest of traffic when the situation allows it, and then the anti-lock brakes will bring it smoothly to a halt when traffic inevitably backs up.  Electronic stability control is standard equipment. 

The "automated manual" transmission's hesitations will stymie drivers who expect it to behave like a traditional automatic.  Once you get used to the long shifts, which are just like economical shifts in a manual transmission, the car's weird behaviour makes sense.  Basically a manual transmission with an automated clutch, the gearbox is smart's answer to maintaining decent economy in congested stop-and-go urban situations without forcing the driver to endure the hassle of dealing with a clutch.  In traffic, it's best to slip the transmission into manual, paddle-shifted mode to avoid gear hunting, as the economy-geared transmission is always seeking the highest gear possible.  In fourth or fifth gear, the 70 horsepower, one-litre, three-cylinder engine is not exactly a torque monster, and sudden throttle applications will result in… nothing at all.  In its powerband, the tiny three-cylinder puts out enough twist to urge the smart into motion rapidly, and fears of being run over while trying to enter the freeway are unfounded. 

Taken in the right spirit, the smart cabriolet is a delightful little vehicle.  Don't ever expect it to be normal, though.  The smart cabriolet is available only in "passion" trim, which is top of the line, and pricing starts at $21,250.  Optional equipment on my test car included power steering, a clock/tachometer gauge combination and two-tone paint.  That price seems a bit steep, but when I asked onlookers what they thought it should cost, most responses were in the $20,000-$22,000 range.

Having no top definitely makes a big difference.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Convertible, smart, 2010, fortwo cabriolet, $10,000 - $19,999, $20,000 - $29,999, Subcompact,

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