2011 smart fortwo passion Cabriolet Review and Owner's Counter Point


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2011 smart fortwo passion Cabriolet

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THE AUTO PAGE
By JOHN HEILIG

SPECIFICATIONS: 2011 smart fortwo passion Cabriolet
Model:2011 smart fortwo passion Cabriolet
Engine: 1.0-liter 3-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 70 HP @5800 RPM, 68 lb ft @4100
Transmission: 5-speed smartshift automatic with manual mode
Wheelbase: 73.5 in.
Length/Width/Height: 106.1 x 61.4 x 60.7 in.
Tires: P175/55R15 (F)/P155/60R15 (R)
Cargo volume: 12 cu ft. (est.)
Fuel economy: 33 mpg city/41 mpg highway
Fuel capacity: 8.7 Gallon
Curb weight: 1852 lbs.
Sticker: $21,590 (includes $750 destination charge, $3,150 in options including $1,290 for a radio that didn't work on anything but AM)

Five reasons to buy this car

1. Fun, to a point
2. Unique
3. There aren't any more
4. ?
5. ?

The Bottom Line: In my more than 27 years of testing cars, I have never driven anything like the smart fortwo, except maybe the Suzuki Sidekick two door. The difference is that the Suzuki at least had something resembling a trunk. A better comparison would be with the Yugo, which took me a long time to get and even longer to get rid of. Fortunately, the fortwo was gone on time.

I have been driving cars for a long time - all types, price classes and levels of luxury and/or performance. Nothing compares with the smart fortwo. Please note that smart chooses to do everything in lower case, reflecting the lower case performance of the fortwo.

Let me get rid of the punch lines first. First, the car is mis-named; it shouldn't be smart, it should be dumb. Sure, the size is sensible for urban travel. We saw lots of them in Rome in our trip there eight years ago. They were the enclosed variation of the omnipresent scooters. However, in New York City or Philadelphia, the tiny 15-inch wheels might get stuck in potholes, so I question the smart's practicality in the US.

Second, with the truly horrible engine and automatic transmission, the smart fortwo earns its place in the dictionary; under "piece of junk" you' find a picture of the smart fortwo.

The one liter, three cylinder engine allegedly develops 70 horsepower, but in our tester this was hard to come by. Also, the engine is noisy. God is it noisy. Fortunately, the radio didn't work on anything but AM, so I can't complain that the engine made so much noise that I couldn't hear it.

Connecting the engine to the front wheels is a 5-speed "smartshift" automatic that was equally pathetic. The pause between shifts was so long I felt I could read a book (okay, it wasn't that bad, but it was there). I have mentioned several times that my manual shifting isn't that great, but even that is better than the smart's automatic. One solution was to put it in manual mode and shift through the gears manually, using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, until we reached fifth, then shift back into automatic.

Handling is just so-so with the smart. I would have expected something better. I cut my teeth on small sports cars, but this is in no way a sports car. With the short wheelbase and small tires, ride quality is poor. We only drove the smart around town, so we didn't take it on the highways.

Of course, with its size, the smart is easy to park. Parallel parking is a breeze. We also drove to the supermarket one day and found some clown in a pickup truck had parked midway over the line separating two front-and-back spaces. I parked behind him.

The brakes are very good. I would like to see similar brakes on some higher-performance cars.

Entering the smart is easy with the large doors. It seemed strange to open the doors from what seemed to be the C-pillar over the rear wheels, but you soon get used to that.

Once inside the smart its diminutive size isn't apparent. Interior room is comfortable for two people. There's even a halfway decent trunk out back. One disconcerting factor is that the trunk "lid" opens downward like a pickup truck's tailgate.

Probably the first thing I noticed inside was that the inside rearview mirror isn't rectangular; it's shaped so that the headrests don't interfere with your vision.

This was a cabriolet, and the manual top was easy to lower and raise.

In keeping with its unique design the HVAC controls had two slide switches for the temperature and fan and a dial for air control.

Yes, the smart is unique. If you can overlook its many deficiencies, it may make sense for around-town driving and trips to the market. But with its price, you can get a small four-door sedan of much better quality for a lot less money.

2011 The Auto Page

smart fortwo Owner's Counter Point

Regarding John Heilig's review of the 2011 smart fortwo cabriolet, as an owner and enthusiast for nearly three years I would like to make a correction and some observations:

- Mr. Heilig states "Connecting the engine to the front wheels is a 5-speed..." when all smart fortwos are rear wheel drive. Journalists that have "27 years of testing cars" under their belt might want to check some basic facts about the car they are testing.

- Mr. Heilig asserts that "the tiny 15-inch wheels might get stuck in potholes, so I question the smart's practicality in the US". Obviously, Mr. Heilig must seriously question the practicality of the 2011 Honda Fit, 2011 Ford Fiesta, 2011 Toyota Corolla and other compact/subcompact vehicles with 15" wheels or God forbid, the 2012 Hyundai Accent GLS with its standard 14" wheels. Perhaps vehicles with less than 18" wheels and Z-rated rubber should be banned from city streets? Mental note, I shouldn't have driven my smart to Philadelphia, DC, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Saint Louis, Montgomery, Orlando, New Jersey, Delaware...

- Mr. Heilig also seems to have a problem with the convertible's as tested price. Perhaps he would want to find a less expensive convertible with the same options from another manufacturer to review?

- Mr. Heilig fails to mention one of the smart's most unique features: the plastic, interchangeable body panels. These panels and the composite panoramic roof have saved my $14K coupe from hail damage and shrugged off a deer strike with only a broken headlight to show for the impact. They are also responsible for the car's extremely low insurance premiums (lowest risk factor possible with my company).

- Mr. Heilig also doesn't seem to care about fuel economy as I see no discussion of the mileage obtained during testing. That is one of my favorite features for a commuter car. I have averaged over 43 MPG for over 52,000 miles. (Source: http://www.fuelly.com/driver/xcapepod/fortwo)

- I would also disagree with the comments about the single clutch automated manual transmission, but I do drive in manual mode 99% of the time and the auto mode programming does leave something to be desired. I even made a video to demonstrate the transmission shift speed and quality between the two modes of operation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuVCj6o2MeE

- Lastly, and this is just a writing style observation, the comment that "the smart fortwo earns its place in the dictionary; under 'piece of junk' you'll find a picture of the smart fortwo" sounds like it came straight out of a 5th grade bathroom. That's the best insult Mr. Heilig could conjure? Well, I think his momma wears Army boots and he obviously has cooties.

As with all other cars, the smart is not perfect and it makes compromises to safely achieve its small size and low environmental footprint. However, even I could write a more balanced piece on the car exploring the pros and cons of ownership. I would request that the factual error be corrected and that Mr. Heilig better conceal his bias against small, fuel efficient cars in the future.

Thank you.

Robert F.
Charleston, WV

Documentary video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVn4XXO06UU
Orlando event video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDJMflnj42A

Co-publisher's Note: No No thank you Robert F. Keep on fortwo'n and be sure to keep on TACH'n.

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