Taking Your Half out of the Middle
The tiny Smart, produced by Mercedes-Benz and sold in selected dealerships, is now offered exclusively as an electric vehicle in the U.S. This slightly larger and much improved second-generation Smart Fortwo ED, introduced a couple of years ago, presents a unique choice in the growing world of EVs.
There’s something of an optical illusion going on with the Smart. It looks like a ridiculously stubby egg, but it doesn’t feel small on the inside. Although the two-seat car may stretch just under nine feet nose-to-tail, it’s a reasonable 65.6 inches wide and stands a generous 61.2 inches tall. There’s just not much more than a passenger compartment to it.
The electric Smart wears its clever Electric Drive (ED) logo proudly on its colorful side. The Tridion safety cell in my car was painted a lava orange metallic while the rest of the body wore a contrasting white—a 50/50 ice cream bar in metal. Mercedes-Benz is a safety-conscious company and developed the Tridion passenger cell to be extra strong against the expected larger other car it would collide with. Smarts fare well in crash tests with their S-Class cousins.
The Power for Two
The Smart ED is powered by a rear mounted 60 kW three-phase electric motor, which puts out 80 horsepower. That’s why the car needs very little nose or tail. A 17.6-kWh battery sits under the seats, centrally mounted for stability. As with other electrics, the Smart has a single forward speed in its automatic transmission.
The car may be microscopic, but it’s up to the task of accelerating from a stop, entering the freeway, and keeping up in traffic. It’s 0-60 time is 11.4 seconds, not fast, but not a complete slug, either.
Although you may feel like a regular-size entity driving down the road, I found that during my weeklong test, motorcycles didn’t see me, and one driver in an old Corolla accused me of cutting him off on a turn—when I clearly wasn’t at fault. No respect!
The Smart comes in two forms—a coupe and a canvas-topped Cabrio (convertible). The only fully electric convertible on the market now, the Cabrio draws back its power top in two stages, giving you flexibility as to how open you want to be. If you really want to be jaunty, you can remove the bars above the doors and stow them in the tiny rear trunk lid, which drops down like a miniature tailgate. The trunk itself in the Cabrio has room for about four large pizzas.
Not Low Rent Inside
The interior accommodations are not low rent. The sweeping dash still features protruding vents on top, covered in a cloth that’s a bit like that found on Nike running shoes. The concave dash panel is a silvery gray that highlights the center screen that pops out with loads of useful information. The seats are firm, nicely proportioned and wear optional leather in the top-level model.
As an EV should, the 2018 Smart ED provides a gauge showing your battery status–charging or discharging–and a meter for percent of battery that’s still available. It sits on a cute little stalk to the left of the steering wheel, which is fat and leather-wrapped.
Besides carrying two people, the Smart can take you to your band practice, if your amplifier is already sitting at the rehearsal space. I put an electric bass in the passenger seat and my stands and books in the pizza-carrying trunk, and it did just fine.
Small Battery=Small Range
The Smart’s small battery is good for just 57 miles of range, making it unsuitable for any kind of extended trip. But that’s not the Smart’s job. I was able to use it every day to commute to work and back (36 miles), charging only at work during the week. When I plugged it in there, the battery wasn’t completely empty, so It took just an hour or two to top off on a level two (240-volt) ChargePoint charger. At home on the weekend, I plugged it in to the wall and it filled up overnight.
The Smart is a nifty grocery getter and errand runner, partly because it’s fun to drive. Yes, you heard that right. The steering ratio is quick, and the 22.8-foot turning radius means you can turn around in the middle of the street in a single loop. The battery provides a low center of gravity, and the 118 pounds-feet of torque is plenty good for the mini machine.
The Smart Numbers
EPA numbers are 112 MPGe city/91 highway/102 combined. EPA green numbers are perfect 10s for Smog and Greenhouse Gas.
As before, the updated Smart comes in three ascending levels: Pure, Passion and Prime. My tester was the Cabrio with the $1,000 Prime package, giving it nice looking leather upholstery, heated seats, rain-sensing wipers, light-sensing headlamps, foglamps and fancy lighting features. My car also had the $200 Climate Package, including a heated steering wheel, an interesting climate control system with a slider to pick the temperature and extra insulation.
My car also included the optional and desirable JBL sound system ($1,780). Thanks to a virtually silent powertrain and that extra insulation, it made for satisfying traveling music every day, even in a convertible. My car did not come with SiriusXM Satellite Radio, but I was able to plug in my phone and stream it.
With destination and delivery, my little test Smart came to $32,180, a hefty price tag for such a tiny car. However, consider that this car will cost next to nothing to run and service and is packed with extra features, it starts to look better. Also, if you like the concept but want to keep it simple, the base Pure with nothing extra comes to just $24,700, including destination. And remember, you can still get state rebates and federal tax breaks (up to $10,000 combined in California), making it even less of an outlay. Just for comparison, the small Fiat 500e starts at $32,995, and it’s not built by Mercedes-Benz (although it does have a useful hatchback and a rear seat).
I was impressed with the drivability of the little 2018 Smart ED, which feels like much more car when you’re behind the wheel. The firm suspension and feeling of durability in the controls adds to peace of mind. The doors slam with a solid thunk. Unlike a low-slung sports car, the Smart sits up high, adding to a sense of control and visibility.
Like other EVs, the Smart encourages you to drive gently to save charge and extend your range. The car has a screen that shows acceleration and anticipation (braking) behavior. I earned 88/100 overall, with great acceleration and pretty good braking.
So, who is the customer for this car? They are likely urban or suburban. With its 57-mile range, the Smart is not meant for long freeway trips, although it can cruise at 70 mph with no problem. I’d say it’s a perfect third car, designated for commuting and errands. The challenge is whether there are too many other small EVs that fit that job description, and whether anyone is looking for a third car at all. However, if you’re seeking a pure electric car, the price, especially in basic models, is hard to resist. And it’ll look cute occupying one quarter of your driveway.
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