October 16, 2015 - 3:13 pm
Smart sales are lagging in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean its parent Mercedes-Benz has given up.
The refreshed Smart ForTwo cabrio debuted at the Frankfurt International Motor Show on Sept. 15.
Droptop Smarts hit Euro markets back in 2000. Changes since then have been sparse: Model year 2006 introduced the electric actuation for the top, and in 2010, additional top colors of blue and red were added.
As it happens, our current relatively low gas prices are blunting the appeal of tiny cars like the Smart. The zippy Scion iQ has dropped out of sight, and Smart year-to-date sales are off about 30 percent from the same period the year prior.
Still, there’s enough worldwide demand for the Smart to make a continued U.S. effort sensible. Gas prices won’t be this low forever, and when U.S. buyers eventually revisit the smaller end of the automotive scale, they’ll find a Smart ForTwo cabrio that has a different look and some worthwhile updates.
First off, there’s a more conventional front end. The slit-like lights of its predecessor have changed to something more large and familiar, like you might find on any mid-range hatchback. If some of the original edginess has to go, then at least what takes its place will be something more buyers can relate to.
It’s the same in back, with Mini Cooper-like lenses that are bigger and bolder than the gelatinous ones that preceded them.
Inside, the toy-like atmosphere of the previous Smart gives way to something softer and more conventional. Curves on the door panels and dash lend a bit more heft to the shaping, and there’s plenty of bright trim for your eye to find.
You can choose a more muted theme, without the contrasting accents, and the floating center screen is pretty neat. Nice that Smart resisted the temptation to lop off the external buttons and knob to go all-touchscreen as Honda has.
As before, the Smart offers a wide-open convertible experience, with side rails that pop off and stow neatly in the trunk’s door.
European markets will get the revised Smart ForTwo cabrio first; we in the U.S. will have to wait until early summer 2016. At that point, we’ll also get to sample its added 19 horsepower (up to 89) while still marveling at the ForTwo’s massively tight 22.8-foot turning circle.