The redesigned 2017 smart fortwo cabriolet is, as Mercedes-Benz puts it, “not for everybody, but it is for somebody,” which sums up the car better than we ever could. This is the third generation of the open-top smart, although it’s the second generation we’ve seen in the United States. The base model comes in at $18,900 before delivery. The 89-horsepower, 0.9-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine comes paired with a 5-speed manual transmission at this price. Other standard features include LED daytime running lights, cruise control, crosswind assist, and Bluetooth wireless integration. The easy-to-use cloth top power retracts to three different positions, and for a full convertible experience, the roof rails quickly pop off and store in a cubby.
Our test car came with the optional 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Other options include a variety of upholstery choices, an upgraded stereo, and ambient lighting. An available Brabus sport package adds paddle shifters and upgrades the wheels and suspension.
Mercedes-Benz and smart want to make it clear that the 2017 smart fortwo cabriolet is “purpose-built” — and for our purposes, that meant we were flown to Brooklyn to test the car. Casually upscale yet also completely frenetic, it was instantly clear why Mercedes-Benz has identified Brooklyn and its residents as a prime example of the smart fortwo cabriolet’s target market. The car’s designed to cater to urban-dwelling singles and couples who have plenty of upward mobility (M-B cited a median annual income of $107,277) but suffer from a lack of parking and buy only a couple bags of groceries at a time. If you want an entry-level smart fortwo cabriolet, you really can get one for less than 20 grand, but M-B knows that most people who buy this car will spend more for one that really stands out in a crowd. To wit, the smart cabriolet is offered in two trim levels, with tons of optional tech features, and in more than 100 color combinations, when the fabric roof, body panels, and “tridion safety cell” are taken into account.
The tridion safety cell — a steel cage that peeks through the body panels as that contrasting “wraparound” — is as crucial to the smart cabriolet’s purpose as anything else. Yes, M-B assures us, the smart fortwo cabriolet is safe, engineered to the same standards as every car in the Mercedes lineup. The safety cell encases passengers and strengthens the car’s structure; the car’s axles are so close together that they’ll act as extra reinforcement in a T-bone collision. If you ever find yourself trying to politely and respectfully drive someone else’s tiny car in an unfamiliar city, only to be swarmed on both sides by larger and more aggressive vehicles, such reassurances are indeed comforting.
Best for Short Drives
Driving in urban areas — narrow streets, heavy traffic, seemingly suicidal cyclists and pedestrians — is a chore in even the comfiest car. And the 2017 smart fortwo cabriolet is not the comfiest car. This has little, if anything, to do with the car’s dimensions or its interior quality; we actually found the sporty cabin surprisingly accommodating, with more leg room than expected. It’s just that the smart is exhausting to drive as the day wears on.
Put simply, the car transmits a lot of vibration. Note that this is not an indictment of its build quality in any way. Rather, this is the inescapable result of the fact that driver and passenger are sitting on top of the engine. During our test drive, it was worse while at a standstill than while moving, but, as the hours passed, it considerably contributed to our fatigue. It took a while to figure out the reason for our weariness,because the smart is otherwise a capable partner. It’s easy to steer, corners well, turns on a dime (with a best-in-class turning radius of 22.8 feet), and actually impressed us as it managed to weave through a number of hair-raising traffic scenarios. But the car’s size depends on its rear-engine layout, which, turns the engine into a not-entirely-welcome massaging seat module.
Consider this a cautionary tale rather than a dire warning. There are certainly upsides — the car is fun to fling down open stretches of road, the open-air cabin lends plenty of excitement, and if you like attention, you’ll get plenty of it. If the smart fortwo cabriolet is used mainly for darting through traffic on short trips and finding parking in tight spots, it’s serving its purpose well.
Not as Efficient as You’d Think
Official EPA ratings for the 2017 smart cabriolet come in at 33 MPG city, 38 MPG highway, and 35 MPG combined. Those seem low, considering the car’s size, weight, and modest power output. A 130-horsepower Honda Fit, for example, weighs nearly 400 pounds more, offers three more seats and a lot more cargo space, and has similar fuel economy estimates. We’ll bypass the obvious comparisons to a subcompact EV, simply because a street-parking urban dweller who might buy a smart probably wouldn’t be able to charge a car overnight.
So, the smart fortwo cabriolet’s EPA ratings are a little disappointing. What’s worse, though, is that during our test drive, the smart cabrio struggled to achieve anything near its 35 MPG combined rating — our average fuel economy for the morning ended up being in the 19 MPG range. Of course, when sitting in a traffic jam, fuel economy is effectively zero miles per gallon. And if you drive the smart cabriolet the way smart wants you to drive it, that’s probably what you’ll be doing.
Niche Market is Growing
Mercedes-Benz and smart are confident that the 2017 smart fortwo cabriolet will reach a bigger audience than the previous version. They’ve identified a secondary target market of customers who use the smart fortwo as a second car, and have the income to splurge on the cabriolet instead of the coupe. Mercedes readily acknowledges that in many ways, the smart cabriolet is a luxury purchase, even though it’s one of the least expensive convertibles on the market (recently undercut by a price reduction in the FIAT 500c, the smart fortwo cabriolet’s main competitor).
In fact, smart cars are a relatively common sight in Brooklyn, even though individuals don’t own any of them. A car sharing service called car2go operates a fleet of 550 smarts for 50,000 members across Brooklyn and Queens, and the NYPD recently bought 150 smarts to use for parking enforcement. Of course, while fleet sales provide exposure, they don’t quite create the kind of buzz smart needs to make the 2017 fortwo cabriolet a success. The company’s biggest challenge could be convincing its customer base to buy a new car in places where it might just make more sense to walk.
For more information, options, and pricing, please visit our 2017 smart fortwo cabriolet page on AutoWeb’s search and configure site.
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