Smart is a word that carries a couple of meanings. It can refer to clothing or intelligence, but since 1998 it's carried a third meaning - a small, ingeniously packaged and seriously useful city car.
The first Smart car from Daimler was iconic. The little box-like motor could be put into a parking space nose-first, laughing at all those other cars that couldn't find a space on city streets, were too big for the spaces available or simply had drivers who couldn't parallel park for love nor money.
Now in its third generation after an update in 2007 and a huge refresh in 2014, Smart has decided its time to start flirting again, taking the top off its new ForTwo model with the Smart ForTwo Cabrio.
The third-generation saw a few big design changes compared to the first and second generations, but it remained an icon and the Smart ForTwo Cabrio might have gone topless, but make no mistake, you will recognise it as Smart - it's just even more fun.
Smart ForTwo Cabrio: Design
Smart boxes in the same ring as Fiat with its 500 and Mini. All three have prominent, instantly identifiable designs and whether they are first, second or third gen, you'll recognise each of them bouncing around the streets.
The Smart ForTwo third-generation made some big design changes in certain areas, although thankfully not in the 2.69m length. The company introduced a snout and what you could call a bonnet, even if it isn't really a bonnet at all because the engine is under the boot floor in the rear.
Overall, the look created was a wider and more squat, offering a more four-square appeal than the tall and lean look of the first and second generation. The narrower front wheels waved goodbye and the result was a far sturdier car that handled and drove much better than its predecessors. The same applies for the Smart ForTwo Cabrio. It takes on the same third-gen design but adds a triple-layered soft top to the party, as well as some extra reinforcements.
The soft top includes a glass rear screen and roof bars that are removable for a full cabrio experience - something which is unique in this section of the market. These bars can then be stored on the inside of the tailgate so none of the precious boot space is taken over. The roof can be opened using the key or a small button next to the gear stick at any speed, giving you sunshine (depending on your location) in around 12 seconds. Of course, if you want the full cabrio experience, you'll need to stop and remove the roof bars or take the chance and remove them before you set off.
In terms of reinforcement, the ForTwo Cabrio features scissor struts underneath, two torsional bulkheads at the front and the rear, as well as an inner tube in the A-pillars. Like the coupé, there are three lines of Cabrio available - Passion, Prime and Proxy, all of which will come in two engine models - a 999cc petrol option and a turbocharged 898cc petrol model.
We drove the middle-specced Prime model, which came with a six-speed automatic gearbox. A standard manual gearbox will be available to order from March 2016, but the automatic option does make sense for a city car, even if the gearbox has zero character in comparison to the exterior of the car.
The exterior is fun, exciting and it looks cool, which is what we have come to expect from Smart. The interior however is less exciting. There are a couple of lovely features, such as the pixel-speaker door and the cool jersey material that covers the dash, along with the goggle-eye spinning air-vents but overall, it's pretty basic. Smart obviously chooses to spend the money elsewhere, but in comparison to the Fiat 500 and Mini, the interior of the Smart ForTwo and ForTwo Cabrio is certainly not as fun as the outside would lead you to believe.
You get a large touchscreen in the centre, which is great and we will go into that in more detail in a second, but the speedometer area could definitely have seen a little more love. A rectangle display sits in the middle, surrounded by the speedometer dial around it, but it doesn't quite have the same appeal as the Fiat 500 or Mini.
There is a way to make things more exciting though as Smart will be offering the Brabus Tailor-Made option from Summer, which will allow you to choose from over 1000 colours, 30 leather interior colours that can be combined with various seam lines and there is also the option of detachable body parts. The standard exterior colours available for the ForTwo Cabrio are great but the blue Brabus model we saw really popped, especially in terms of its interior. It looked much more exciting and reflected the bold vibe we associate Smart with.
As standard, the Passion models come with 15-inch eight-spoke alloy wheels, automatic climate control, a smart audio system and a choice of orange and black or grey and black interior. The Prime models, which we tested, offer 15-inch five-twin-spoke black alloys, a more serious black leather upholstery with grey stitching, and heated seats as standard. The top-specced Proxy model has 16-inch eight-Y-spoke alloys, a blue and white interior with Artico and cloth upholstery and the sports package, which comes as standard. This includes a perforated leather multi-function steering wheel, sports suspension lowered by 10mm, steel sports pedals and a chrome exhaust finisher.
We loved the white and red Prime model we had as our test car, although the Prime has the most serious interior and as we said, we would have preferred a more exciting interior and one that reflected the fun of the exterior.
Smart ForTwo Cabrio: Infotainment
The MirrorLink infortainment system on the central 7-inch central touchscreen runs on effectively the same Android-car based operating system as the Renault Clio, Captur and Twingo, known as R-Link.
Our test drive model came with TomTom's mapping systems and all in all, it works well and it's an extra we would gladly pay for. The buttons around the side of the display aren't the biggest so they can be a little fiddly but the interface itself was slick and easy to navigate.
Smart has skinned areas of the system, with the menus differently colour coded, and some nice scrolling functions for things like tuning the Radio. However, DAB isn't standard, which it should be, given Smart's semi-premium positioning and the price.
With the centre display there's a much higher-quality screen than found in the Renault - it looks derived from Mercedes' displays, and tells you how you're doing in terms of fuel economy with high-definition graphs - but annoyingly won't let you display the speed in big digital numbers there.
Smart ForTwo Cabrio: Experience
Our experience of the ForTwo Cabrio came in the form of the non turbo-charged 999cc engine. It's a comfortable car and despite its compactness, we didn't feel cramped at all. In fact, it feels more spacious than the Fiat 500 even though that has space for two extra people.
Around town our little Smart car was nice and nippy, cornering well and dealing with the tiny Valencia streets without batting an eyelid. It attracted lots of attention from onlookers and it was excellent for weaving in and out of lanes. Its 6.95m turning circle is really impressive and it was a godsend after accidentally turning down a small pedestrianised street. Reversing back onto five-lanes of traffic wouldn't have been ideal, so the tight turning circle was our favourite feature at that point in time.
With such a small wheelbase the Smart ForTwo Carbio skips around a bit on faster roads, but it's far better than the second generation and it copes with all but the worst bumps pretty well. It's simple to drive and the controls are solid in action. That might seem like a silly thing to comment on, but the indicator stalk moves with confidence whereas the Fiat 500's indicator can be a little weak in comparison.
Having the roof down around town is a lovely experience, especially when the sun is out. It operates smoothly and being able to do this whilst driving 70mph down the motorway is a nice touch, although it is a much nosier and colder then when pottering around town.
Our only real complaint is the slugglishness of the start/stop feature. There were times when driving in slow traffic through town where it felt like the start/stop wanted to come into action, despite us still moving, making it feel a little like it does when you come close to stalling in a manual. It also took around a second too long to spring into action when moving away, but the second Prime model we drove felt a little quicker so we might just have been unlucky with our first test car.
For those not just interested in looking good while driving around, but feeling good about doing something for the environment too, the Smart ForTwo Cabrio has low enough emissions to be tax free.
All three of the 71bhp lines offer 99g/km, along with the 90hp manual Prime and Proxy models. The 90bhp automatic Passion, Prime and Proxy models reduce this further to 97g/km. Driving round town, our 71bhp Prime model was quick and we had no problems when we drove it on faster roads out of town too.
We liked the Smart ForTwo coupe a lot - it had a lot going for it and it ticked plenty of boxes. Add the fun you get from a Cabrio and you have yourself a very exciting and iconic little car that makes driving around town easy and well, breezy too.
The Prime has a more serious interior than the other models, which doesn't seem to fit the Smart vibe as well as the other lines, but pick a model with a more exciting interior or tailor-make it and this car isn't likely to disappoint. Some might prefer the more serious interior, but it tainted our opinion a little as we expected fun and it just felt a little boring.
You certainly don't feel cramped despite its size and its mean and stern design makes the ForTwo Cabrio feels as secure as the ForTwo coupe did, despite losing its hard top. The Smart ForTwo Cabrio is fun, colourful and a pleasure to drive. The tiny turning circle really is more impressive and useful than you'd ever think and the fact that the roof is so easy to get the down definitely earns it some extra brownie points.
That leaves one major stumbling block which is the price. The Smart ForTwo Cabrio starts at £13,265, which makes it a couple of thousand more than the coupe version as standard. Too much for such a small car? Well, that depends on how you look at things. You're paying for compactness and in the Cabrio's case, the thirlls that come with a topless car.
Like the Fiat 500 and Mini, Smart is in a unique position offering a special, semi-premium appeal. It's not quite as exciting on the inside as the Fiat 500 or the Mini but there is no denying the ForTwo Cabrio remains a very clever little car, as its name suggests and with one of the bolder interiors, there's nothing not to love.
The Smart ForTwo Cabrio starts from £13,265 and is available to order now, with the first cars arriving in February 2016.