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2011 Smart ForTwo Cabriolet review:

2011 Smart ForTwo Cabriolet

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Appropriately sized for the small ForTwo, the engine brings in fuel economy numbers of 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. In freeway testing, the instant fuel meter averaged around 40 mpg. During CNET's time focusing primarily on city driving, it turned in only 26 mpg. Put that low figure down to typical car reviewer driving, mashing the gas pedal at every start.

The transmission's manual mode does not eliminate the slow shifting problem.

Holding the ForTwo back is its most technically advanced piece of performance tech, the transmission. Similar to versions of the Lancer Evo and Volkswagen GTI, the ForTwo's five-speed transmission uses an automated clutch. But unlike those cars' dual-clutch systems, the ForTwo only gets a single clutch, so gear changes take a horribly long time.

This gearbox has evoked much criticism of the ForTwo, and will make first-time drivers of the car think it almost undriveable. Accelerate from a stop, and the car picks up speed until the first gear change, when power drops drastically. And again, from second to third, another long power drop. It is unnerving until you get used to it.

And the transmission's manual mode does not cure the problem; telling the car to upshift delivers the same, slow gear change. After some time with the car, however, you can adjust to it, timing the shifts and throttle control to smooth over the dips. The addition of a tachometer, which the ForTwo lacks, would really help drivers time the shifts. The transmission is one area of the car that Smart could definitely stand to improve.

As much of the car is designed to save money and space, it does not come with power steering, which becomes immediately noticeable on trying to crank the wheel around from a stop or at slow speeds. It takes effort, even with the car's tiny tires. But this issue can be fixed with the optional electric power steering unit, a feature that Smart should really make standard.

Power steering is an option in the Smart ForTwo.

One aspect of the ForTwo that probably can't be helped is the awful ride quality. Its small wheels and short wheelbase lead to plenty of jouncing around, the car getting lifted back and forth by any bumps in the road. The suspension tech in front is fairly modern, if average, with Macpherson struts, but the rear uses a solid bar, a DeDion axle that keeps the rear wheels from completely independent travel.

The brakes are also troublesome, as they don't feel like there is any power assist at all. Drivers of the ForTwo must anticipate braking situations much more than in other cars, as it takes a lot of effort to stop the car.

Although the ForTwo can easily keep up with freeway speeds, it can feel a little scary. Wind and grooves in the pavement pull the car around more than they would a heavier vehicle, and the ForTwo is not particularly aerodynamic. Although the car can feel tippy in cornering, its stabilizer bars keep it surprisingly balanced. And its short length allows for easy traffic maneuvering, jumping into gaps too small for other cars.

In sum
If it weren't for its options, the 2011 Smart ForTwo would have been a complete failure for cabin tech. But the available navigation system, iPod support, and iPhone app all bolster it. The surround-sound audio system is a surprise feature that also contributes to its cabin tech score.

As to performance tech, the engine is only average, and the suspension is very rough. But the transmission, despite its slow shifts, pushes the tech envelope, and the electric power-steering unit also gives it a boost.

The ForTwo's real win is design. Some people might find it ugly, but it is certainly a unique car. And the two-seater practicality is really amazing, giving occupants plenty of headroom along with usable cargo space--more so than in a typical roadster.

Tech specs
Model 2011 Smart ForTwo
Trim Passion Cabriolet
Power train 1-liter 3-cylinder engine, 5 speed automated manual transmission
EPA fuel economy 33 mpg city/41 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 26 mpg
Navigation Optional flash-based navigation
Bluetooth phone support Optional
Disc player Optional CD/DVD
MP3 player support Optional iPod integration
Other digital audio USB drive, auxiliary input
Audio system Two speaker standard, optional 7 speaker surround system
Driver aids Park distance sensor
Base price $17,690
Price as tested $19,620

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