The iconic smart car was completely redesigned last year, but there’s already been a huge change. The 2018 smart fortwo is available only as the electric drive model, meaning the old gasoline 3-cylinder has been confined to history and other global markets. This means that the smart car now leaves just as tiny of an ecological footprint as it does a literal one — but there are drawbacks.
First, though, let’s talk about that tiny literal footprint. Regardless of what powers it, the smart can make a real difference when living in a crowded city where parking can be a royal pain. Perhaps it’s the scourge of "compact" spaces or the SUVs that defiantly trying to squeeze into them. Maybe it’s the limited parallel parking spots and the jerks who leave a gap too tiny for regular cars to fit into. Whatever the scenario, having something smaller than everything else on the road can make life much easier. Plus, unlike most other diminutive vehicles, the smart has distinctive styling and a certain premium vibe.
Now, those drawbacks. For starters, the fortwo electric drive can only drive 58 miles before it runs out of juice. That’s about 30 fewer miles than the next-worst-performing electric car. Sure, you’re only going to go so far in a smart car (its choppy ride, susceptibility to crosswinds and general vulnerable feeling never made the gas versions appropriate for highway travel), but there’s no way around the fact you’re going to have to recharge it more than rivals. Plus, despite having a lower price tag than those rivals, we’re not sure if it’s really low enough to counteract its electric deficiencies and lack of versatility. Because as much as parking can be a pain, so too can leaving friends or stuff behind because your smart car has two seats and not enough cargo space.
What’s New for 2018?
The gas-powered smart fortwo has been dropped altogether, leaving behind the smart fortwo electric model. It’s now available in the same sort of trim level variety as the old gas model was.
What We Like
Park-anywhere size; funky interior design; much improved interior quality from previous version; quirky styling
What We Don’t
Very limited range; surprisingly expensive; ride can be harsh; limited regenerative braking; feels vulnerable in a world of SUVs and trucks
The 2018 smart fortwo electric drive, as the name suggests, is an electric car. It uses a single electric motor that produces 80 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque. According to range estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, it can only go 58 miles on a charge (57 cabrio). That is paltry compared to every other electric car, and barely outdoes the all-electric range of some plug-in hybrids. Its 108 miles-per-gallon-equivalent rating is also unremarkable.
Standard Features & Options
The 2-seat smart fortwo is available only as the electric drive model. The solid-roof coupe is available in pure, passion and prime trims, while the part-convertible cabrio model is only available in passion and prime.
The base pure ($23,800) trim comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, a rearview camera, cruise control, power locks and windows, automatic climate control, a flat-folding passenger seat, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth, a USB port, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and a 2-speaker sound system. Simulated leather upholstery is an option.
The passion ($25,290 coupe; $28,100 cabrio) adds alloy wheels, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, heated power mirrors, upgraded interior trim and a cargo cover. These items are available on the pure as standalone options. The cabrio passion has a power-retractable soft-top roof. This trim level also opens the door to additional color options.
The prime ($26,640 coupe; $29,100 cabrio) adds a panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights and wipers, fog lamps, leather upholstery and heated front seats. These items are available as stand-alone options on the passion. Options for the prime include a JBL sound system and a Sport package (16-in wheels, a lowered suspension, a chrome exhaust tip and shift paddles for the obligatory auto-manual transmission).
That bit of contrasting trim that wraps around the smart fortwo isn’t just there for decoration. It’s actually something called the "Tridion safety cell," which provides the fortwo with immense strength and crashworthiness despite its tiny size. Beyond that, the fortwo comes with antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum), traction and stability control, side airbags that cover the body and head and knee airbags. A frontal-collision warning system is a stand-alone option.
The government gave the fortwo 4-star overall and front crash ratings along with a 5-star side crash rating. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the best possible rating of Good in the moderate-overlap front and side crash tests.
Behind the Wheel
With its tiny exterior dimensions and ridiculously small turning circle, you can park the smart fortwo in places no other new car could manage. You even sit up a bit higher than normal, which makes negotiating tough spots even better. The steering’s also pretty light, and the electric-only powertrain exorcizes the demon that was the terrible old single-clutch transmission and growly gas engine. Being powered by electricity certainly gives the smart a little extra bit of oomph around town, although it doesn’t have much power and runs out of steam quickly as speeds rise.
Overall, the smart is an adventure to drive at best, and a bit scary at worst. In a country filled with SUVs, trucks and big rigs, you can feel pretty vulnerable despite that safety cell. Handling is also tippy, the ride is harsh and there’s plenty of interior noise.
We do like the interior design that came about with last year’s complete redesign. It’s funky, colorful and should put a smile on your face. The materials used are high-quality for an electric car of its price, and adding cloth trim to the dash is always a nice way to spruce things up. In terms of space, even taller drivers should be able to get comfortable, and there’s enough room for five to seven shopping bags in the 9.2-cu ft. cargo area.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 FIAT 500e — It’s been a while since it’s undergone a redesign, but the 500e offers city-friendly proportions, more interior space than the smart and a quirky retro character. It can also go considerably further on a charge. Its base price is higher than the smart’s, but lease prices are notoriously extremely low.
2018 Hyundai Ioniq Electric — Yes, the Ioniq has a higher base price, but it’s not that much higher and you get way more car for the money. It’s also surprisingly spacious and fun to drive. One of the better electric choices.
2018 Nissan Leaf — The Leaf was completely redesigned for 2018, and again, although pricier than the smart, it’s a far superior car — electric or otherwise.
Used Chevrolet Spark — Want an inexpensive electric car? Consider a used or certified pre-owned Chevrolet Spark. It’s considerably more spacious than the smart and goes 30 extra miles on a charge. Oh, and since we’re talking used Sparks, expect pricing to be about $10,000 less than a smart fortwo electric.
First, we’d think long and hard about whether your parking situation is really that limited. Otherwise, it’s just really hard to make a case for the fortwo electric, given its drawbacks and competitors. Find a smart fortwo for sale