For the 2018 model year, every Smart fortwo model runs on electricity alone. In that battery-only respect, the minicar emulates Tesla, but at the other end of the price and size spectrum.
Gasoline-powered Smart two-seaters were previously available, but sagging sales prompted Mercedes-Benz, its parent company, to abandon that powertrain and turn strictly to battery power. So, all 2018 Smart fortwo models are electric cars.
Coupe and a soft-top Cabrio versions are available in the newly simplified lineup. A 10th Anniversary package is offered.
Three trim levels are offered: Pure, Passion, and Prime.
A 60-kilowatt, 80-horsepower electric motor powers the Smart fortwo. Developing 118 pound-feet of torque, a significant increase over last year, it drives the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission. Rated 17.6 kilowatt-hours, the lithium-ion battery pack sits beneath the passenger compartment.
With the onboard 7.2-kW charger, a full charge takes 3 hours. Although the Smart Company claims a range of 70 to 80 miles before recharging is needed, the EPA estimate is lower than 60 miles.
Redesigned for the 2016 model year, the fortwo retains its status as the easiest U.S.-market car to park on crowded streets. With electric drive, the Smart car becomes what it should have been all along: quirky, with limitations, but smooth, quiet, and eager to zip around town.
On the downside, few active-safety features are available, and up-to-date crash-test data has not yet been revealed. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the 2017 gasoline version four stars overall, that federal agency specifically avoided the electric model. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2017 Smart car only two ratings: both Good, for side-impact and moderate-overlap frontal crash tests.
Smart cars are built with an extremely stiff safety cell. Eight airbags and a rearview camera are standard. Crosswind Assist can brake and steer the car automatically, to counteract gusty conditions. Newer electronic safety systems, such as automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning, are not available.
Built in France, Smart models are eligible for a federal income-tax credit up to $7,500, a $2,500 rebate in California, and various other state, local, and corporate incentives. Still, the fortwo ranks as basic compared to electric cars that cost only slightly more.
Smart fortwo Pure Coupe ($23,900) comes with automatic climate control, power windows, cruise control, LED running lights, Bluetooth streaming, and 15-inch steel wheels. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Passion Coupe ($25,390) gets a stylish two-tone interior, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated power mirrors, and a retractable cargo cover.
Passion Cabrio ($28,100) features a fabric roof.
Prime Coupe ($26,740) and Cabrio ($29,100) upgrade with silver-colored trim, accent stitching on black leather seat upholstery, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Also standard are a panoramic sunroof, LED lighting, foglamps, heated seats, and rain sensing.
A 10th Anniversary Edition package for Passion or Prime Coupes includes Sapphire Blue Metallic paint, plus BRABUS floor mats, shift knob, and 16-inch grey wheels.
Despite its minuscule 8.8-foot length, the fortwo exudes a degree of road presence when viewed from the front. Comparatively tall and slab-sided, the Smart car leads off with a snub nose and retains what some might call a cheeky demeanor.
The Tridion safety cell, which outlines the body structure, is available in contrasting colors. A small, fixed glass pane sits at the rear of each door, while door handles fit into a beltline bulge.
Cabrio convertibles come with a power-operated, roll-back fabric roof. Currently, the fortwo Cabrio is the only soft-top electric car sold in the U.S. Removing the door-top beams strengthens the open-air sensation a bit, though the roll bar remains in place.
Two Smart occupants can expect comfortable seating, though luggage space is limited. Seat cushions may be a tad short for longer-legged occupants, but headroom should satisfy even those who top 6 feet. Seating positions are high and upright.
As its name indicates, the fortwo, lacking a back seat, cannot accept a third passenger of any size.
Though basic and simple, the cabin is essentially modern, not nearly as utilitarian in tone as early Smart cars. A small gauge cluster contains the speedometer around its circumference. The tachometer sits within a dashboard-top pod. A central display contains knobs and dials, along with a small video screen.
Above the rear-mounted electric motor, a cargo bay holds 9.2 cubic feet. That’s more than a Mini Cooper. A retractable cargo cover can be removed and stowed ahead of the rather high load floor.
Door inserts and the dashboard are covered by coarse-grained fabric. Interior trim includes hard plastic components. Outward visibility is good, but nfotainment and smartphone integration are weak spots.
Ease of parking, as demonstrated in TV commercials, is the Smart car’s most compelling feature, apart from its thrifty and smooth electric drive system. A tight turning circle (22.8 feet) makes for startlingly nimble urban behavior. No other car can whip into tiny parking spots with such ease, or make U-turns, where permitted, in such narrow spaces. Maneuverability and agility are hard to beat.
Front fender wells are deeper than those in pre-2016 models, allowing sharper wheel angles. Overall width is 4 inches greater than in the past, too. A low-mounted battery pack makes the center of gravity appropriately low. Even at highway speeds, the 2018 Smart car feels confident and secure. With either 15- or 16-inch tires, the fortwo grips the pavement well.
A substantial torque increase in the electric motor for 2018 makes highway driving more feasible, though the Smart car still functions best as a capable urban contender. Highway acceleration is still on the sluggish side. Charging time is reasonably short (3 hours or less); but naturally, regular access to a charging station is mandatory.
Despite its short wheelbase, the Smart fortwo promises decent ride comfort, with a suspension that absorbs most pavement imperfections. On most surfaces, the ride is surprisingly smooth and quiet.
As for operating cost, the battery-powered Smart fortwo Coupe is EPA-rated at 124/94 MPGe (equivalent miles per gallon) City/Highway, or 108 MPGe Combined. The Cabrio rating drops to 112/91/102 MPGe. Range is EPA-rated at 58 miles (57 for the Cabrio), though the company claims 70-80 miles.
Parking ease and urban agility might make the Smart car tempting. So might the smoothness and efficiency of its electric drive. Assembly quality is good, and plenty of options are available. Otherwise, it’s essentially basic transportation, with no back seat and a quirk or two to contend with.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.