By: Jag Dhatt
If you are an urban dweller, living in downtown Vancouver, and are used to a smaller condo, then the Smart ForTwo Cabriolet might just be your cup of tea. For others, it’s not an easy sell.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not looking at the 2017 ForTwo Cabrio in the negative. In fact, it’s kind of fun, even with its quirks. What’s unique about the ForTwo is that it’s for a niche market. Yes, in addition to urban dwellers and those who want a small vehicle, the Smart is the car of choice for food and parts delivery services and car share programs, like Go Car.
The Smart brand has had a long history, dating back to the late 1990’s, when the Daimler owned Smart had a diesel option that gave pretty good fuel economy. In 2004, the ForTwo was introduced in Canada under Mercedes-Benz and still carried the diesel engine. And I think that’s what really made the ForTwo attractive – the diesel engine. For years, smaller cars and trucks in North America never carried a diesel option; it seemed that variant was, and is, reserved for the European and Asian countries, where it continues to sell like hotcakes.
Fast forward to 2017 and the third generation Smart ForTwo, complete with gas power. I was fortunate to have some seat during some great June weather, where the Cabrio function could actually be useful. Waiting for me was a gold-coloured Cabriolet that, in all honesty, looked really cute. What? Did I really use that word? Well, yes, it’s a cute car. It doesn’t have the presence of let’s say a Mini Cooper, but in this shade, it really does make one look. The optional Passion package also adds to the appeal.
Getting into the car is easy, but one thing I noticed is that with this small car, the doors seem large and bulky. They also clunk when closed, but remember, it’s not bad considering a base price that starts at $21, 800. Surprisingly, the interior is roomy. No, it’s not an S-class but I’m almost six-feet tall and I felt very comfortable inside the ForTwo.
The cabin of the ForTwo is simple, yet has all the functionality for what’s required for an urban vehicle. Two seats, two cupholders, two vents per person, and some panache. Storage space is minimal and with the engine mounted in the rear cargo area, trunk space isn’t ideal either. That being said, the cabin did feature nice use of materials, with very good fit and finish.
Firing up the 898cc turbocharged engine gives a shake to the car, which does stay most of the time. It’s not bad if you are taking the car on short trips – again, built for the city mostly – but I wouldn’t recommend the ForTwo for the highway. We’ll get to that later.
In the city, the Smart ForTwo is nimble car. It’s easy to bounce in and out of traffic with ease. The 89 ponies of horsepower isn’t much, but push the little engine and it can move to get you up to highway speeds. My test vehicle was equipped with a 5-speed manual gearbox and although I like manuals, this one just didn’t have much enthusiasm. I’m sure that the 6-speed automatic is even less spirited. Regardless, I can’t really knock the engine and transmission because again, it’s built for a purpose, and going fast isn’t really it. One positive aspect about this car that needs to be mentioned happened most times when I had to change lanes or merge – people let me in without really thinking twice. Had I been driving an E or S class, I’m sure I would have heard a honk rather than seeing a wave to usher me in. Yay, Smart ForTwo!
Being in a small car did make me cringe a few times, especially when a huge truck was tailing behind me. One time, a semi truck took a little longer than expected to brake and stop. But, rest assured – the ForTwo is built around a safety cage that keeps its passengers safe in case of a collision. I’d rather not test that theory, of course.
One aspect of the car that is amazing is its ability to park – this car can be parked anywhere. Even in the tightest of spaces, any parking spot feels huge, like one you’d find at a Costco in the USA. Add the factor of an amazing turning radius and you’ve got a car that even a rookie driver can park in a tight space. I actually had fun zipping around a parking lot, just going into and out of empty spots.
The few times I took the ForTwo on the highway, I couldn’t wait to take an exit. The car shakes and is noisy. I’m sure that a hardtop would be less noisy, but with the Cabrio setup and location of the engine, there was a fair bit of noise. The ForTwo also has a high centre of gravity. Why is that important? Well, taking corners at slightly higher speeds needs some getting used to. If you’re not careful, your heart may just skip a beat.
It may seem that I knocked the 2017 Smart ForTwo in this review, but in reality, the car fulfills its purpose quite well. It’s for city driving, delivering pizzas or auto parts, or just the vehicle for a dweller in a cramped downtown. While the ForTwo does have a steeper price tag than competitors like the Nissan Micra, Fiat 500, and Chevy Spark, it does have the heritage of Mercedes-Benz as its backing. I do wish that the diesel variant would be an option, however.
Pros and Cons:
+ Easy to park and drive
+ Cool styling and panache
+ Fully functional
+ Improved powertrain and road manners
– Noisy, especially at higher speeds
– Requires premium fuel
– Lack-lustre transmission; 5-speed is the way to go
– Higher price tag compared to the competition