Test Drive: 2017 Smart ForTwo Cabriolet

A drop-top ultra subcompact designed for fun and practicality

If the best things come in small packages, then Smart’s 2017 ForTwo Cabriolet is the automobile incarnate of the idiom. Measuring at just over eight and half feet in length, the latest from Germany’s compact experts packs a surprising punch. While the car’s seemingly paltry 89 horsepower is about a third of what we’re used to, and the “ForTwo” in the car’s model name is more necessity than suggestion, the Smart was wholly impressive. On a recent test drive from Santa Monica to Indio for a weekend at Coachella, we found an unexpectedly fun and comfortable car that’s perfect for city driving and the open road alike.

The key to Smart’s success with the ForTwo Cabriolet lies in thoughtful design and quality production. For many drivers, especially in America where larger cars still rule the road, safety is a chief concern with Smart’s lineup. At a glance, the Cabriolet’s size suggests an amateur bodybuilder could move it without breaking a sweat. However, within the slight frame of the Smart lies a specially designed rigid shell.

Smart’s tridion cell surrounds the interior of the automobile, protecting the most precious cargo: the passengers. The uniquely Smart design is composed of a blend of hot-formed steels and maximum strength multiphase steel. Crash-test rated with larger vehicles, Smart designers made body safety a key priority. To keep the car’s weight down while maximizing strength, Smart looked to classic engineering techniques. The tridion cell’s shape takes cues from the classic hex nut. Like the nut, the shape of the tridion cell aids in the dissipation of force in the event of a collision. This shape, originally inspired by the nature’s light yet strong honeycomb pattern, is found throughout the car’s design language, from the head and tail lights to the grill.

“Smart stands for FUN.ctional design, as the brand is defined by two poles – the heart and mind,” explains Gorden Wagaener, Head of Design at Daimler AG. Defined lines through the mid-section of the body coupled with minimal overhangs in the front and rear make for an aesthetic that is both new and classically Smart. “The design idiom is clear and purist and therefore very progressive. The typical Smart attributes are being carried into a new era.”

And in that new era of Smart, the vehicle remains a driver’s car. Behind the wheel, it’s easy to forget you’re driving a car that’s only packing 89 horsepower and is around half the length of today’s leading luxury sports cars. Thanks in part to the premium building materials, the car has a solid feel on the road with tight handling that outpaces most domestic mid-sized sedans.

The turbocharged three-cylinder engine offers plenty of kick for California freeway driving and is outright fun on city streets. Parking the Smart is so easy it’s disorienting at first and it takes a few days to spot Smart-compatible spots that would otherwise be impossible. Smart also set a new benchmark with the car’s turning radius with a highly addictive 22.8 feet. On the freeway, the Smart remains quiet at cruising speeds even with the top down.

What’s most impressive, though, is that whether behind the wheel or in the passenger seat, the Smart doesn’t feel small. The interior is roomy and the car commands a presence on the road. Inside, the layout doesn’t lack amenities or room to relax. Maybe it’s the huge sound of the available six-channel JBL sound system or it could be the open-top, but after a three-hour road trip in the Smart, claustrophobia wasn’t on the horizon.

Available in three equipment options with various customizations, the Smart ForTwo Cabriolet will start around $21,000 when it hits lots in the US this summer.

Images by Hans Aschim