The ultra compact Smart Fortwo switches to a fully electric lineup for 2018, but keeps its disproportionately large price tag.
The Smart Fortwo is an odd car. Though larger than ever before for this generation, it's still one of the most compact cars on the market. The economics of importing and relatively low sales volume have stuck this very small car with a disproportionately large price tag. That's likely why, despite enjoying relative success in carsharing services and fleets (where the upfront costs are hidden from the consumers), the Smart has struggled to make an impact in the North American market.
Last year, Smart's parent company, Daimler, announced that the brand was moving to a fully electric lineup, discontinuing the gasoline engine that we tested previously. Now, the only motor available to 2018 Smart drivers is a three-phase electric motor at the rear axle connected to a single-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels.
I hit the road in a two-tone 2018 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Prime Cabriolet to see how this short stack stacks up.
The e-motor makes 80 horsepower (60 kW) and 118 pound-feet of torque which makes for decent acceleration in a car of this size. Zero to 60 happens in about 11.7 seconds. The Fortwo's top speed is also fairly modest at 81 mph.
Providing power to the party is a 96-cell lithium-ion battery pack with a 17.6-kWh capacity. (For comparison, a Fiat 500e rolls with a 24-kWh pack and the Bolt boasts a 60-kWh unit.) Juicing the Fortwo's battery is a 7.2-kW onboard charger and a full recharge takes between 2 and 3 hours at a 240V fast charging station. Using a 120V home socket and the included power cable, you can trickle charge the Fortwo in 17-21 hours, so that method is only really useful for top-offs.
The EPA estimates a 57-mile range, but I noticed that the Fortwo's the trip computer read a more optimistic 80 at the end of each charge. Ultimately, real-world mileage will vary depending on your driving habits -- low, urban speeds will yield more range while highway speeds (over about 50 mph) will take more of a toll on the battery. As I'll get to shortly, the Smart Fortwo isn't exactly the type of car you'd want to spend much time at highway speeds.
My example was outfitted with the optional Cabriolet convertible top, though it operates more like a glorified moonroof under most conditions. At the touch of a button, the fabric top panel slides back on rails -- rather than lifting and folding -- stopping first just at the edge of the roof. Pressing that button again slides the top back more, folding away the rear glass but also blocking most of the rearward visibility with the bunched fabric.
The roof rails stay in place under normal operation -- they can be manually removed and stowed within the tailgate, but you'll have to stop the car and get out to do so. This is about as open air as the Fortwo Cabriolet gets though it leaves a rollover safety bar and the thick rear pillars of the Smart's Tridion Safety Cell sticking up awkwardly.
I'm a massive roadster fan and, in warmer climates, the novelty of dropping most of the top and enjoying the open sky is nice, but even I find it tough to justify the $4,200 premium -- nearly an 18% hike in price -- over the fixed roof version. Especially given the clunky roof rail removal and the significantly increased wind noise on the highway even with the top closed.
Most compact EVs are weighted toward urban operation, but the Smart's ultra compact design and low range make it especially poor for highway hauls, but well-suited for the city.
Its short (73.7 inch) wheelbase makes for a particularly jostled ride over freeway expansion joints and bumps and its steering feels twitchy at highway speeds. There's quite a bit of road noise and -- on my Cabriolet -- wind noise from the fabric top. Plus, with a top speed of 81 mph, the Electric Drive can feel underpowered and out of its league on the interstate amongst larger, faster moving vehicles.
However, around town it's not so bad. The nature of the single-speed transmission and instantaneous electric torque makes for pretty good off the line acceleration away from intersections and a responsive pedal feel at lower city speeds.
Meanwhile, the Fortwo's surprisingly small 22.8-foot turning radius makes maneuverability nice. You can make a U-turn on many two-lane roads without making a three-pointer and threading the EV into tight spaces is extremely easy. The compact footprint (106.1 x 74.5 inches) is about half that of your average "compact car," allowing me to take easy advantage of many awkward streetside parking spots that others couldn't.
For a car so small, the Fortwo boasts a surprising amount of shoulder and headroom for two passengers but, with only 8.7 cubic feet of cargo space, not much for packages in the rear hatchback. I ended up having to leave the Smart home while running some errands due to lack of hauling space.
The base audio system is a fairly standard setup with six speakers, Bluetooth , and auxiliary and USB connectivity. It doesn't have a CD slot, but it can be upgraded with a $100 smartphone cradle that snaps onto the Smart's dashboard and allows users to use their mobile device's touchscreen to queue up media via the Smart CrossConnect app for Android and iOS devices.
Drivers who prefer an in-dash touchscreen can opt for a 7-inch Smart Media System that features onboard navigation with traffic and smartphone screen-mirroring compatibility. Even this system is pretty basic. Organization of the menu structure and screen quality verging on bad are this system's biggest "cons."
Making up for almost all of the tech shortcomings are Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. Simply plug your iPhone or Android device into the USB port and gain maps, audio streaming apps, and voice command far better than the Smart can offer out of the box.
Driver safety is mostly of the reactive type -- the Tridion crash Safety Cell, the "basket handle" roll bar and eight airbags -- but there are a few proactive safety technologies.
There's a standard feature called Crosswind Assist. Using a forward looking camera at speeds above about 50 mph, this system detects when the lightweight coupe is being pushed around by strong gusts of wind over bridges or large trucks passing. When drift is detected, the system intervenes with braking intervention to help yaw the vehicle back on course.
However, there is no lane-keeping assistance, no adaptive cruise control and no pre-collision alert or braking assist -- features available on most of the Fortwo Electric Drive's competition. That European models can be had with optional forward-collision warning and Lane Keeping Assist makes the North American omission even weirder.
The 2018 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Coupe starts at $23,900 plus a $750 destination and delivery charge and is available in three trim levels: Pure, Passion and Prime. The Cabriolet comes in at $28,100 plus the $750 destination charge and is only available as Passion or Prime. (The addition of a sunroof being the primary difference between Pure and Passion makes the Pure trim level unnecessary for the drop-top.) My Prime Cabriolet with its Smart Media System, JBL premium audio and other options tested close to fully loaded at $31,430.
For the money, I would more freely recommend the Hyundai Ioniq, Fiat 500e or new Nissan Leaf, all of which offer over 100 miles of stated cruising range, significantly more confident highway performance, better tech and amenities and more room for people and cargo. Meanwhile, Chevrolet's Bolt boast nearly three times the range for just a little bit more than our loaded Fortwo Cabriolet.
Despite all of its shortcoming and compromises, I don't hate the Smart Fortwo. Once you accept it for what it is -- a specific kind of car for a very specific job of urban transport -- the Smart Fortwo starts to make sense. In fact, I rather enjoyed its novelty and uniqueness during my week of testing. But although I enjoyed driving it, I can't really recommend buying it.