These days, few cars can claim to be truly without rivals, but the Smart Fortwo Cabrio is probably one of them. Its two-seat, cabriolet, city car body style is unlike anything else on the road.
The convertible Fiat 500C and Peugeot 108 Top are similar, but both of these offer rear seats and neither can claim the Fortwo Cabrio’s tiny sub 2.7-metre length. Importantly, the Cabrio retains the Coupe’s iconic tiny height and width, too.
The Cabrio also gets the Coupe’s engines: 70bhp and turbocharged 89bhp versions of a 0.9 three-cylinder petrol. At launch, only a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox will be available with either engine, but, from March, a five-speed manual can also be ordered with both.
The Cabrio’s party piece is its folding fabric roof with integrated glass rear screen, which can be slid back electronically in 12 seconds at any speed. It can be partially opened like an elongated sunroof, bunched up behind the B-pillar, or, for the ultimate open-air experience, the Cabrio’s roof bars can be removed completely.
Here we’re focusing on the higher-powered engine in the cheapest of the tree available trims: Passion. Prime and Proxy trims both cost £695 more, the former is the luxury option, and the latter the sportier choice.
What is the 2016 Smart Cabrio 90 Twinamic like to drive?
Smart’s decision to ditch its old automated manual for a new dual-clutch auto gearbox with its latest Fortwo was a good one. The Twinamic works well with the surprisingly willing little three-cylinder, never getting too excited and changing down too many gears, while swapping with minimal fuss.
This 89bhp 0.9 has enough low-down pull and outright power to sling a couple of adults and luggage across undulating, hilly terrain with ease. More expensive Proxy models get the benefit of wheel-mounted paddles for manual changes, but it's also easy to make manual changes via the Passion’s auto gear lever.
Dynamically the Cabrio is less impressive. Its steering is vague off centre and it never really weights up enough to offer confidence in the front wheels at speed. It’s light, quick nature, together with the Fortwo’s tiny short wheelbase also cause it to feel nervous turning into bends and trying to maintain a line on the motorway, while there’s noticeable body lean in tight corners.
Of course, more importantly for a city car, the Cabrio is superb at scooting through cramped, twisting urban streets. That light, quick steering is much better at low speeds when darting through traffic, and its class-leading sub seven-metre turning circle allows for U-turns and parking manoeuvres that are scarcely believable.
However, it’s never a very comfortable experience over lumps and bumps because while the Fortwo’s first axle is dealing with a crack or pothole, its second hits it soon afterwards, often resulting in vertical bounce. That said, having also tried the Passion and Proxy versions, the Passion’s higher, softer suspension - while far from perfect - does a better job of absorbing broken surfaces.
Under load, this higher-powered motor's turbocharger can be heard wooshing away centimetres behind you, but at a steady cruise, both it and the engine as a whole settle down. Roof up, though, wind and road noise are an issue above around 40mph, but with the roof down and side windows up, only the very top of your hair is ruffled by the wind even at motorway speeds.
What is the 2016 Smart Cabrio 90 Twinamic like inside?
It's small, but there's easily enough room for a couple of tall adults to stretch out with the roof in any position, while the driver sits quite high for good forward vision. Unfortunately, both steering wheel and driver's seat height adjustment don't come as standard and visibility over-the-shoulder is obstructed by the Fortwo's rear pillars with the roof up or down.
Boot space is claimed to be a reasonable 340 litres with the roof up and 260 litres with it down, but its practicality is hindered by its awkward shape.
The cabin is largely solidly constructed, and our car sported an attractive array of glossy plastics set against a fabric dash, although it was difficult to ignore some of the cheap-feeling Renault-derived switchgear dotted about the cabin when you're paying a premium.
Our test car was also fitted with Smart's optional 7.0in Media system (£795 as part of the Premium pack), but our experience would suggest it's better to stick with the standard smartphone cradle. The optional system is essentially the same as the Twingo's, and suffers poor responsiveness and a lethargic sat-nav; most smartphones running Google maps would do a better job.
In any case, Bluetooth, aux and USB connections, a multi-function steering wheel, climate control, 15in alloy wheels, electric windows and LED daytime running lights are all standard, so there's little reason to spend much more.
Should I buy one?
Cabrio versions of the Fortwo cost £2140 extra across the range compared with their Coupe equivalents, which seems a lot on paper, but the cost will count for less when broken down on monthly finance - a very popular method of buying a city car.
Passion trim is the pick of the range, mainly because it's the cheapest. Its smaller wheels and softer suspension are also more comfortable and there's enough standard kit to keep most buyers happy. While this engine and gearbox combination work well, the cheaper lower-powered engine and manual gearbox may be a better choice once we've driven it; and it may gain another star in our ratings.
The trouble is, even with the Cabrio in its cheaper guises, rivals such as the 500C and Peugeot 108 Top are better to drive, more spacious and practical, better refined and similarly well equipped for similar or less money. True, the purchase of a cabriolet city car with hundreds of personalisation options is rarely based on such objective measures, but ultimately the Fortwo Cabrio struggles to warrant our preference.
What Car? says...
Smart Fortwo Cabrio 90 Passion Twinamic
Engine size 0.9-litre petrol
Price from £14,855
Torque 100lb ft
0-62mph 11.7 seconds
Top speed 69mph
Fuel economy 67.3mpg