Smart’s tiny cars have had a difficult time here in the land of Big Gulps, supersized fast food meals, and large SUV and crossovers. Its parent company Daimler, maker of Mercedes-Benz, is taking a different tack by making all Smart vehicles completely electric—even though EVs aren’t exactly sales leaders either. Still, we found the 2018 Smart Fortwo Prime Cabrio convertible fun to drive, and it looks more stylish and substantial than the outgoing gasoline-only model. It’s also quick to charge and surprisingly roomy and comfortable inside, although its short range and limited passenger capacity and storage room are drawbacks compared with competing EVs. Still, if you want an EV convertible, it’s your only choice.
Pricing and Design
The 2018 Smart Fortwo Cabrio comes in two trim levels, both with an electric motor that produces 80 horsepower that’s sent to a single-speed transmission to drive the rear wheels. When fully charged, the 17.6kWh lithium-ion battery’s total range is 57 miles. Charge time from empty to full using a 240-volt home wall charger is three hours, and up to 21 hours with the supplied 120-volt cable via the car’s onboard 7.2kW charger.
The Cabrio Passion starts at $28,100 and comes standard with exterior features including 15-inch five-twin-spoke alloy wheels, LED headlights, rear fog lamps, rain-sensing wipers, powered and heated mirrors, cruise control, a powered soft-top roof with a glass window and defroster, and removable roof bars with tailgate storage.
Standard interior features include automatic climate control, a three-spoke multi-function steering wheel, a charge status and power display, a 3.5-inch color instrument panel display, and a manual, height-adjustable driver seat. It also has power windows, a flat-folding passenger seat, a rearview camera embedded in the rearview mirror, a storage bag for the charging cable, and a retractable cargo cover.
Standard tech amenities include an audio system with AM/FM radio, USB and aux-in ports, Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free calling, and smartphone-enabled voice recognition. Safety tech includes hill start assist, as well as crosswind assist, which uses the car’s electronic stability control to compensate for strong gusts and automatically initiates the brakes if the car leaves its lane.
We tested the Prime Cabrio, which costs $1,000 more and adds heated leather seats, a leather steering wheel, front fog lights with cornering functionality, LED daytime running lights, and ambient interior lighting. Individual options on our test car included $100 for a center armrest and $250 for rear park assist.
Other bundled options included the $200 Climate Package with additional door and floor insulation and a heated steering wheel, and the $1,780 Smart Media-System with a six-speaker/200-watt JBL sound system with a removable subwoofer and a 7-inch in-dash touch-screen with Android Auto, navigation, live traffic info and other services provided by TomTom, parking sensors, and an Eco display. With a destination and delivery charge of $750, the total sticker price came to $32,180.
The Smart Cabrio signature shape is due its Tridion safety cell made of high-tech steel that absorbs impact to protect passengers—and answers the inevitable question about whether the car is safe in a crash compared with larger vehicles. The Tridion safety shell comes in colors that contrast (or match) those on the exterior body panels.
The interior is surprisingly roomy for such a small car, and the Prime treatment adds luxury touches such as leather seats and steering wheel. An analog charge status and power display on the far left side of the dash and a manual slider to set the climate control temperature add old-school flair.
Infotainment and Connectivity
The regular Smart Fortwo comes standard with an antiquated radio with a simple dot-matrix display. The Media-System option adds a 7-inch touch-screen that’s still rather basic, with only a volume/power knob, home button, and station/track forward/back toggle switch with a mute button in between. At least it has a straightforward, easy-to-use home screen that has separate favorites pages for various categories such as navigation and telephone.
The Cabrio has several connected features. TomTom Live services are included for three years and deliver cloud-based info such as traffic and weather info, traffic camera locations, and local search, while Android Auto is free (but Apple CarPlay is conspicuously absent). The 7-inch in-dash screen also shows energy consumption data, while the 3.5-inch instrument panel displays battery/charging status and eco features such as an energy-saving score and per-trip comparisons.
Because the battery provides instant torque, the Cabrio is amazingly fast from a standstill and fun to drive, although the zip fades quickly and top speed is governed at 80mph to enhance range. The suspension is comfortable, although the car’s tiny wheelbase seems to accentuate every bump.
The car is not only easy to park because of its size, but it’s 22.8-foot turning circle almost makes it feel like cheating when you spy an empty spot across the street and pull a tight u-turn. The Cabrio is also one of the fastest-charging EVs we’ve tested, and topping off the battery with the 120-volt cord was always quicker than expected.
The big issue with the small Smart Fortwo Cabrio compared with other compact EVs is that it only fits two people. There are several comparably priced EVs, such as the Chevrolet Bolt, the Nissan Leaf, and even the Tesla Model 3 (if you can get one) that have room for four and more gear inside.
By discontinuing its gas-powered models, Daimler and Smart have gone all in on EVs. Either they will be ahead of a trend when gas prices rise and SUVs fall out of favor (again), or Smart will continue as a niche car brand struggling in a country where bigger is better in the mind of consumers. But if you want a new EV convertible that’s fun to drive, easy to park, and quick to charge, the Smart Fortwo Cabrio is your best—and only—option.