2018 Smart Fortwo Cabriolet

SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Daimler announced the decision to convert the Smart brand to all-electric in North America, discontinuing gas-powered Smart cars. Smart cars are built by Daimler in France and sold exclusively through Mercedes-Benz dealers in the U.S. The current and third generation of the Smart Fortwo was introduced in 2015 in gasoline form. In June 2017, the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive went on sale and was recently followed by the cabriolet (convertible) model that will go on sale in spring 2018.

A year ago, I was invited by Smart to Miami’s South Beach for the media launch and first drive of the Smart Electric Drive, and last month to San Diego for the U.S. media launch of the cabriolet. The Smart cabriolet is the only all-electric convertible on the market.

Because of its diminutive size (just 106 inches long) it can turn a complete circle in 22.8 feet from curb to curb, complete a U-turn in the middle of the street, and park nearly anywhere. It makes sense that Daimler would introduce it in the Miami and San Diego markets, given its maneuverability in the city. Further, its short driving range isn’t much of an issue for in-town driving. It’s easy to see why you’ll see so many of them in congested European cities.

If you’ve never driven a Smart before, don’t let its size fool you relative to interior room for two occupants. I never felt cramped, crowded or claustrophobic, and had plenty of leg, head, shoulder and headroom to accommodate my extra-large 6-foot 6-inch frame.

It was sunny and warm the day I drove in San Diego, perfect weather to slide the canvas top back at the touch of a button. It can open partially, like a sun roof sliding along side rails, or further back for a huge sunroof experience. For even more open-air driving, the side roof bars above the side windows can be completely removed and stored in the surprisingly spacious trunk.

The Smart is powered by a mid-mounted 80-horsepower electric motor from the 17.6 kWh lithium-ion battery. During my three-hour drive in and about the San Diego metro area, the first thing I noticed was the instant gobs of torque darting away from every stoplight, beating other vehicles off the line.

And for its size, on-road manners are much better than expected. I quickly got up to 80 miles an hour on the highway and didn’t feel like it was affected by cross winds or turbulent air from semi tractor-trailer trucks. The engineers at Smart say that the heavy electric battery housed centrally under the front seats produces a low center of gravity for balanced handling. Top speed is electronically limited to 81 mph.

One of the first things most people ask me about the Smart has to do with safety, specifically how could anyone survive if it was involved in a violent crash. Smart engineers are quick to point out that the interior is protected from harm by a rigid shell: the tridion safety cell, using a high proportion of ultra-high strength hot-formed steels and maximum-strength multiphase steel. They indicate that the Smart Fortwo vehicles performed well in frontal collisions with the large S Class and smaller C Class Mercedes-Benz sedans.

While the 2018 Smart vehicles have not yet been crash tested, the mostly identical 2017 model was awarded 4 out of 5 stars overall and for frontal crashes, and 5 out of 5 stars for side crashes in tests conducted by the U.S. government.

Now, before I go any further, I should point out that not all is simply wonderful about the Smart Fortwo Cabriolet. Yes, it was actually fun to drive with the top down, zipping in and out of traffic, making quick U-turns anywhere, and accelerating from a stop light with power that surprised a lot other drivers.

However, two very huge drawbacks will be deal breakers for many shoppers: the driving range is just 57 miles, and the price of the Cabrio starts at $28,100. That’s not going to cut it with consumers.

Our test Cabrio with options that most people want on a new car – touchscreen infotainment/navigation, upgraded audio system, heated leather seats and more – pushed the window sticker to $32,180. That’s more than a well-equipped Nissan LEAF with 150 miles of range, and Hyundai Ioniq or Volkswagen eGolf with 125 miles of range — all priced around $30,000.

But even if you choose to forego the Cabrio for the very base Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Coupe — starting at $23,900 before available federal and state incentives, making it the least expensive new electric car you can buy — the sacrifices you make with room for just two, and the completely unacceptable 57 mile range will make it a very tough sell.

However, at the right price you can lease anything. One of the most interesting things to watch for in 2018 will be if Smart does anything interesting with the price. Is there a $99 per month Smart lease down the road?

Vital Stats
Base Price: $28,100 - $29,100
Price as Tested: $32,180
Fuel Economy: 112 MPGe City
Electric Driving Range: 57 miles before needing recharging
Engine: Electric motor drive
Horsepower: 80
Seating: 2
Safety Ratings Crash Test Results: NHTSA – 4-star frontal, 5-star side impact

Competes With:
Fiat 500e Sedan

Fab Features:
It’s a convertible
Triggerfish maneuverability
Roomier inside than you think

— Jim Prueter