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First drive: 2017 Smart Fortwo Cabrio

Tiny, quirky ... and topless: Smart's Fortwo Cabrio is an urban enigma

If you rarely venture outside the urban jungle, Smart’s Fortwo Cabrio is tough to beat.

With the diminutive Smart Fortwo, a little charm goes a long way. The modern micro car has made a home for itself in cities across the U.S. where bigger might not necessarily be better. Heck, even the NYPD have incorporated it into its fleet, finding the Fortwo ideal for patrolling the dense urban streets of Manhattan swiftly and efficiently.

It might seem that with this tiny, quirky runabout leaves little room for improvement, but Smart has an easy way around that: Just take the roof off.

The Smart Fortwo Cabrio is the open-air version of the two-seater city car. The 1-liter turbocharged three-cylinder housed within gins up 89 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque. Power routes to the rear wheels by way of either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Tear the roof off the sucka

Even in a place as quirky and eclectic as Brooklyn, the two-toned color contrast between the Smart’s Tridion safety cell and body panels stands out. Fun is important as function, so there are around 100 exterior color combinations available. While still 5.4 feet wide, the car is 8.8 feet long, making ideal for this dense metropolis, where parking is at a premium.

2017 Smart ForTwo
Alex Kalogianni/Digital Trends

With the Cabrio, the Fortwo trades its hard top for a retractable soft top. The lid slides along the roof bars to open up the cabin to the sky, similar to its diminutive counterpart, the Fiat 500 convertible. Unlike the Fiat, however, the roof bars are removable for more of a drop-top look and feel. As such, Smart refers to this as a “tritop,” since you can have three different levels of roof experience. It takes 12 seconds come down and since it’s on rails, it can come down at any speed.

Pure imagination

I set off through the bustling borough, a mere dot in the middle of a herd of Honda Odysseys, dodging them like Simba dodged wildebeests in The Lion King. The incredulous looks I received came as no surprise as the wild two-tone interior matched the exterior.

First off, for a micro car, the Fortwo indeed fits two adults with complete comfort. In fact, it’s such a good fit, it’s easy to forget that you’re in such a compact car until reminders pop up, like a car that seems to stop way too close behind you an intersection, but it just feels like that because the there is so little “rear.”

Everything seems to have a quirky aesthetic to its design, from the HVAC controls to the air vents that spin in their sockets.

Hard glossy plastics throughout the cabin will contrast with more textured touch-points in the color combo of your choosing. Everything seems to have a quirky aesthetic to its design, from the HVAC controls to the air vents that spin in their sockets. The entertainment system juts out of what looks like a cartoon mouth – you can choose either a touch screen or a standard Smart radio unit compatible with a proprietary phone cradle. With this, the phone takes the place of the optional touchscreen.

The Gauge cluster displays the Fortwo’s speed in an arc that rainbows over a 3.5-inch color information display. This is where drivers can monitor how economical their driving is.

Related: Smart’s redesigned Fortwo Electric Drive will scoot into the Paris Motor Show

As suitable as the Fortwo is for human beings, the obvious trade-off is the lack of cargo space. Behind the seats is about 12 cubic feet of storage area that’s accessible from the rear by way of a tiny tailgate. It fits about two large backpacks snugly, and if you decide to stow the roof bars in their bespoke tailgate cubbies, you lose about a third of that.

Either out of economy of space or just in step with the car’s wackiness, the tachometer is on a stalk in the top-left corner of the dashboard. One could argue that the average Smart driver isn’t eyeballing the revs, but they should be, even with the automatic.

Rascally runabout

Under the hood (well, hood-like flap that dangles off the front of the car, if you unfasten it, which also gives no warning to the driver that it’s not attached when you drive away …) is the series of components that make up the Fortwo’s power plant. It’s tiny and tucked away, so even as it’s working to get you where you want to go, 89 horsepower doesn’t exactly scream out of the tailpipes. This is especially true when the Smart is surrounded by the loud cities it’s meant for and the top is down.

Thus, you have to rely on the offset tachometer to gauge just where the little engine that could is at in the power band, even when using the six-speed dual clutch automatic. Why? because the Fortwo has a tendency to short shift when left to its own devices. To squeeze out every drop of the power available, slotting the Smart in manual mode and using the nifty paddle shifters is your best bet.

The Fortwo takes a good 10.7 seconds to go from 0 to 60, and probably a little more if you’ve had a large lunch. It tops out at a jaunty 94 mph, which I was able to test out on a sparsely populated stretch of the Belt parkway. You have to go flat-out, but the car’s got enough oomph to get around stragglers in normal New York highway traffic.

Though the Fortwo rides on double-tube shock absorbers, there’s only so much they can do with such little travel, so big bumps feel big. It does handle smaller divots quite well.

The tradeoff, of course, comes when its time to park or maneuver in dense urban areas. The Smart’s size makes finding parking spots easier, and can it can squeeze through gaps in gridlock that would leave full-size vehicles stuck. The 22.8 feet of turning clearance means that at full lock, the Fortwo can pull a mean U-turn in areas where even other compact cars would struggle.

Conclusion

So how smart is it to saddle-up with a Smart? The brand proudly states that the Fortwo Cabrio is the only convertible in the United States that starts at under $20,000, thanks to the manual edition and dual-clutch automatic coming in at $18,900 and $19,890 respectively. All told, the Fortwo I tootled around in came in at $23,660 with options and destination fee. This puts it in a very competitive segment, as many hatchbacks and economy vehicles vie for prominence at this price point. I daresay, a lot of the competitors you get a lot more car for the money. I’m hesitant to refer to the Fortwo as gimmicky since it’s proven to have staying power, but it is certainly niche. Thus, if your life has said niche, and the Smart Fortwo can fit comfortably in it, the cool, configurable Cabrio is the way to go.

Highs

  • Great for quick trips around town
  • Comfortable cabin for two adults
  • Easy to maneuver in traffic
  • Surprisingly decent on the highway

Lows

  • Stowing the roof rails eats up precious cargo space
  • Off-center tach is more quirky than helpful