The city car loses its roof.Two questions. Are you ready? OK.
First: What is the second-cheapest convertible you can buy new in the United States? Think you got it? OK. Hold on to that.
Second: How many drop-tops can you buy with less than $20,000?
OK, the first question above was a bit of a trick. The second-cheapest convertible for sale in the United States is the Fiat 500c. The answer to the second question is one. Can you guess which it is?
Yes, the smart fortwo cabriolet is the cheapest new convertible that money can buy. In a way, that's both surprising and entirely appropriate--the former because it's a niche product of Daimler AG; the latter because it's pretty much the smallest assemblage of automotive components that could still reasonably be referred to as a "car."
It has four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel and a roof (well, most of the time). It's capable of 94 miles per hour and it can get to 60 in somewhere between 10 and 12 seconds, depending on your transmission choice. Neither a rickshaw nor a Rapide, the smart fortwo walks a fine line between automobile and mobility tool in a manner not often demonstrated by vehicles sold in the United States.
So, how do they do it? How do they manage to fit all the components of a car into a final product that is a mere eight feet long?
The short answer? Packaging.
It starts with the powertrain. Like another well-known German automobile, the smart fortwo is rear-engined. Rest assured, any comparison to a Porsche 911 ends there. Under the rear cargo area of of the fortwo cabriolet, you'll find an 89-horsepower, three-cylinder engine fitted with a turbocharger. It's mated to either a five-speed manual or six-speed, twin-clutch automatic transmission. The manual is good for 31 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway; the DCT ups that to 33/38.
The rear-engine, rear-drive setup means smart's engineers were free to use the rest of the space between the front and rear axles almost exclusively for the passenger cell. Like the fortwo coupe, the cabriolet's occupancy zone is defined by its tridion safety cell-essentially an integrated roll cage that forms the outer bounds of the passenger compartment.
While the top rails of the cabriolet can be removed to maximize its drop-top fun, it was still required to pass the company's roof-drop test. Thanks to both the inherent strength of the cell and strategic reinforcement of various chassis and body components (the a-pillars especially, in this case), it did just that.
If we're honest, the fortwo doesn't impress on paper. Between the cramped interior and sub-40-mpg-fuel-efficiency, it's not particularly noteworthy. After all, most modern subcompacts are significantly roomier and more fuel-efficient. They're "real cars" that also happen to be small and practical.
But until you get behind the wheel of a fortwo, you can't properly calibrate your brain to understand exactly what this car is. It's a car, make no mistake, but even to compare it with the likes of the Ford Fiesta or the Fiat 500 is disingenuous. They may negotiate the urban environment more effectively than, say, a GMC Yukon, but they're still an entire world removed from the smart fortwo.
The fortwo cabriolet calls to a very specific group of customers. These customers aren't simply city-dwellers with the occasional (or even frequent) need for private transportation. The fortwo cabriolet doesn't exist to fulfill needs. It's a car for people with wants.
They don't purchase cars despite the fact that it runs counter to their urban lifestyles. They want one that enables--even enhances--them. They want to experience the city behind the wheel the same way they do on foot. They want to be surrounded by the urban cacophony with which they have developed an insoluble affinity.
These shoppers don't have to forgive the fortwo cabriolet for occasionally exhibiting a ride that would make a Jeep Wrangler seem Maybach-like. They don't care that its cargo space allows basically the same utility offered by their own two hands. Why? Because these aren't discomforts or inconveniences. They're simply part of the city lifestyle that has shaped them--a lifestyle they truly love.
Leftlane's bottom line
The smart fortwo cabriolet is not a car for everybody. In fact, it's not a car for most people. But for the very few to whom it appeals, there's no reasonable alternative.
2017 smart fortwo cabriolet base price, $18,900; as-tested, $23,660
proxy package, $2,000; 6-speed "Twinamic" dual-clutch transmission, $990; proximity warning, $250, dash-mounted cluster, $120; black alloy wheels, $100; armrest, $100; smartphone cradle, $100; Midnight Blue finish body panels, $350; destination, $750