We drove the Smart fortwo cabrio: massive open air fun (only) for two…

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Some cars have the clever fun factor written all over it. Indeed, they have grown to become true icons of just simply smart, pleasurable transport. Such a car is of course the Smart.

It has come a long way, and the latest generation has gained in comfort, driveability, road holding. This fortwo is now honed quite close to perfection. We decided in these beautiful late summer days to take the wheel of the open top version of this nimble two seater.  And indeed, what clever fun this car proved to be…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Stepping into the latest generation Smart one finds a youthful, fresh, well designed dashboard, with the iconic rev counter placed in a separate clock in the left corner, close to the A pillar, with the things that really matter, like the big arched speedometer, set right in front of you. The rev counter sits there just like in the very early 2 CV Citroëns, and indeed, breathes a bit of this Bauhaus efficiency of the iconic “deuche”.

In the centre of the neatly finished dashboard the digital age has taken its proper place, and one finds a touch screen which shines with simplicity, having easy to use, self explaining icons. It truly puts a smile on your face, when you discover this Smart has no secrets for you, as you literally find you way in all its functions within 60 seconds.

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Now just turn the (surprisingly) classic, straightforward Smart ignition key and the thoroughbred 3 cylinder 999 cc engine jumps to life.

Oh, yes, first things first: when you see only the slightest hint of sunshine, just push the button to the right of the gearshift and open that roof. You can open it in any position, and when you are less brave, this open top Smart will just be a car with an ordinary sliding roof.  The beauty is that you can also open this roof at speed.

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Push the knob longer, and you will be treated to an unobstructed sky view, with the top neatly folding down behind you. A massive roll bar will further protect you from any mishaps, so no safety worries there. When you keep the side windows up, you can cruise at motorway speeds with no strong winds or turbulence disturbing or ruffling your style.

When closed, you are well insulated from road and traffic noise, as well as the elements of course, and this cabrio will feel just as, well, a fixed roof Smart.

Driving experience is vastly improved…

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This latest generation Smart still bears a strong family resemblance to its predecessor, but when it comes to its driving behavior and handling, nothing seems the same any more.

Gone is the jerky ride on uneven tarmac, indeed, this new Smart gives you true comfort on any road surface, and swallows even the nastiest urban potholes with ease. No nervous rocking motion anymore on rougher secondary roads, this new Smart stays utterly stable, and offers a ride which completely belies the short wheelbase and compactness of this two seater. You can also throw the Smart with abandon around corners, it will steer a neutral course up to very high speeds.

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On the motorway, you can cruise it with utter confidence between 120-130 kmh, with the engine barely audible and purring along at 3000 rpm or so, keeping pace with the traffic in the left lane completely effortlessly for hours on end. Indeed, this Compact smart rides like any big car, and Gran Turismo driving is a true pleasure in this Smart. In windy conditions, there is some sensitivity, and yes, you have to be a bit more active in keeping a straight course with this two seater.

Is this Smart now holding its very own on the open road, it is a true master when it enters the urban jungle. One of the things we liked very much is the small turning circle, (merely 6,95 meters) coming in so handy when you want to make a U turn when you are faced with yet another closed road due to never ending roadworks and repairs.

The light and precise steering, the very good visibility and last but not least the very compact dimensions makes it a true star in urban traffic.

Mechanical refinement is now also transformed. Gone are the slow and notchy gearchanges, this automatic box changes up as fast and smooth as any modern day double clutch or in good German D(oppel) S(chaltendes)G(etriebe) box, and makes an automatic Smart now a true pleasure to drive.

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The gearing is ideally adapted to the torque characteristics of the sporty engine, which in this “normal” version is good for 52 Kw, or 71 HP. Remember, this was in the early fifties the power of a standard 356 Porsche, and with a kerb weight being only slightly higher than its iconic predecessor, this Smart is just as fast as this legendary car from Zuffenhausen. The Smart engine is a thoroughbred unit, and needs really to be revved to show its merits. Torque is 91 Nm at a relatively high 2850 rpm, maximum power is at 6000 rpm. But the excellent 6 speed double clutch gearbox, dubbed twinamatic, takes expertly care of that.

It changes gear with superb smoothness, and what’s more, chooses the right gear in all driving situations. Indeed, we set this box for most of our test just in “E” drive, and just left it there. This Smart has no gearshift paddles on the steering wheel column, and quite frankly, it doesn’t need it.

You can opt for the “S” or sports mode, the engine will rev higher in every gear, but you don’t need to do this really, or just maybe because you don’t like the vibrations when the unit is pulling harder in the lower rev ranges. We just kept the “Eco” mode, and when more power is needed,  we just floored the throttle, and saw the box choose with lightning speed the proper gear and rev the engine up to 6000 rpm, under beautiful staccato. Performance is lively. 0 to 100 costs 15,5 seconds, top speed is 151 kmh.

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Urban consumption is now down to a mere 5,1 liters, with average consumption being 4,3 liters.  Driven with some restraint and anticipation, it is easy to achieve an average of well below 5 liters per 100 km.

Practical

The open roof is immensely useable, as we told earlier. This lets you enjoy cabrio driving every time the sun is out, and what’s more, this roof does not take up any luggage space. Not that you have lots of it, but 340 liters will get you a long way for two occupants. You don’t have to be ashamed to do some decent shopping either. When you have to carry somewhat more bulky items, just leave the luggage door open, fasten everything nicely with the pre-mounted straps, and you are safely on your way, sympatico!

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The two doors open wide, so getting in and out of the car is also a breeze. Of course, one finds wide door bins to lodge those many little items one carries around, and in the centre console there is room for two larger drink bottles or cups. We also liked the somewhat higher stance of this compact Smart, giving you excellent visibility and adding greatly to the “Zen” mood which pervades you in this urban champion.

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Conclusion

If you are looking for a fun recipe for your mobility, just take a close look at this Smart. It lets you enjoy open air driving, but also treats you to the pleasures of a refined, thoroughbred engine, a superb gearbox, a comfortable state of the art chassis and suspension, providing excellent handling and agility.

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Add to this the feel of quality, excellent workmanship and clever engineering, with last but not least the image of cleverness and environmental responsibility, and you agree with us that this Smart is more attractive than ever…

 

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

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