2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Michael Clark

Photo Gallery:
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet

Are we smart enough for Smart?

Perhaps the more important query addresses our current mode of transport. Consider the expanse of real estate that surrounds you on your daily commute: when you eliminate the empty seats, the cavernous void of a trunk, and the 200-odd units of extra horsepower required to effect respectable forward motion, the Smart Fortwo is as logical as a Spock soliloquy. It has also become less of a shock on Canadian roads, especially with the arrival of a petrol-fed 70-horsepower three-pinger, and a new five-speed automatic that tosses the previous shift soundtrack by The Vagues. ‘Novelty’ is no longer a fair moniker for smart. ‘Sensible’? Let’s ask the Flying Fickle Finger of Interior Debate, which is pointed in an amused fashion at the Passion Cabriolet, the top drop-top version of the 2008 Smart Fortwo. It may have yet to spawn Caps Lock, but this particular version of the Fortwo is easily the least expensive new power-topped convertible in Canada, with a base MSRP of $21,250.

2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet. Click image to enlarge


Cabin

Controls: The Quirk that is Smart continues to be evident for Oh-Eight, though the styling direction has been softened a smidge for the masses. The cabin continues to deceive in size. Ignition key start remains aft of the gearshift, which can be set to automatic shift mode, or manual switch, via the gearshift, or through the use of the steering wheel-mounted paddles on the Passion trim level.

The Passion Up-Bump includes power break-away exterior mirrors, complete with electric heat treat. Window lifts are power, as is the impressive two-stage cabriolet soft-topper. It can slide back to varying degrees of sunroof footprint, or open entirely to collapse the rear portion. For 2008, the Passion Cabrio gets a glass rear window with electric defrost. The steering column does not possess any tilt or telescoping functionality, though the position never seems out of place for comfort.

Speaking of comfort: the Passion level includes air conditioning, with automatic temperature control. Door lock/unlock can be controlled inside via dash-mounted switches that flank the hazard flasher switch. The optional cockpit clock and rev counter is a $160 bump, but let’s face it, if you drive a Smart, this feature is becoming as mandatory as the bud vase in a Beetle. The instrument cluster gets a multi-functional display, which includes gear selection, fuel level, coolant temperature, outside temperature, and service interval indicators. Wipers get speed-sensitive sweep logic, and turn signals have the Euro tap-pass set-up. With 70 horsepower, the term ‘pass’ is now within the reach of the Fortwo.

2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet. Click image to enlarge

Convenience: As the legendary George Carlin put it, when you travel, you have to take a smaller version of your ‘stuff’. That definition may need to be re-written for the Smart Fortwo. Both driver and passenger doors get storage cubbies, with a sensibly-sized lockable glove-box, and additional stuff gullies to each side of the steering column pod. The floor mount cupholder has a removable soft rubber cinch bladder, and a plug-in holder that elevates your bevvie to the mezzanine level. The Radio 10 sound system includes an in-dash six-CD changer, and a built-in subwoofer in the speaker array.

A 12-volt powerpoint is found on the lower curve of the dashboard, directly above the cupholder system. The gas cap has a proper holder on the fuel door, which also locks securely with the smart’s central locking system. The driver’s side keyhole has a unique feature; a plug that stays in place until the key is actually needed, which should help alleviate corrosion and/or winter freeze-ups.

Seats: You may not want to stare at the Salvador Dali-esque swatches for too long, but the Fortwo seats provide excellent comfort, good side bolstering, and an acceptable height for most drivers. The recline lever is found inboard on both seats. The passenger seat can be flat-folded, for additional cargo-haul savvy.

Safety: All Fortwo’s get the cushy goodness of dual frontal airbags, as well as head/thorax side airbag protection. To date, the Smart Fortwo has not been crash tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There is a test for a 2007 model through the European New Car Assessment Programme. (www.euroncap.com) The Fortwo scored 4 out of a possible 5 stars for overall protection for driver and passenger, as well as two out of four stars for ‘Pedestrian’, which is a EURONCAP exclusive. The organization simulates impacts with crash test dummy-issue pedestrians.

Fit and finish: The Mercedes-Benz touch is definitely at work within the plant walls of its three-cylinder cousins. My only lament is the possible long-term wear effects of the fabric material on the dashboard. Otherwise, it’s spot-on.


Spare/Trunk/Cargo


2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet. Click image to enlarge

Ummm, what spare? There’s certainly no place to stow it in the Smart. The Smartmove Assistance Program lasts for four years from the date of purchase, and includes, quote “flat tire inflation”. That must be some magical air in those canisters. The trunk can be accessed by the tailgate, the flip-up portion of the Cabrio top, or both. The tailgate has an additional storage compartment, which has Styro-biscuits for the fitment of the roof braces, which can be easily removed on the Cabrio for greater open air feel. The Passion sports a retractable cargo cover, and a fabric divider panel with Velcro mounts to keep away prybar eyes. The Velcro panel also has mesh-style pockets for additional stowage.


Engine


2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet
2008 Smart Fortwo cabriolet. Click image to enlarge

There are actually two bonnets for the Fortwo. The three-cylinder mill is found below the rear cargo floor. The metal cover isn’t particularly easy to remove, or to put back in place. Outside of oil level checks, the rest of the underhood activities is up to your dealer. The front bonnet, or panel, has two release catches at the corners of the grille, which allow the panel to be removed for access to popular fluid levels, as well as headlamp bulb replacement.


Clarkey rating

It may not be what you want to meet a Ford Super Duty in, but when one considers the cerebral purpose of the Fortwo, you can’t help but feel a broad grin creep across your stoic demeanour. It has an early Beetle’s quirky, yet attractive nature. Best of all is that size truly didn’t matter in the features department. 5 stars.

Next week: 2008 Dodge Caravan

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