Pedro Arrais review: Smart car the perfect antidote to high gas prices

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The 2018 Smart Fortwo EQ Cabriolet is unique in so many ways — but are they enough to ensure the survival of the model, let alone the brand?

Smart is a brand and division of Daimler AG, the same folks who manufacture Mercedes-Benz. In North America it has only one model — the ForTwo, a two-seater micro-car.

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The ForTwo is the smallest car offered for sale in North America — its first unique aspect.

Last year the company, facing poor sales, decided to stop selling its gasoline-powered cars in North America, concentrating instead only on all-electric versions — wow.

That’s a brave and gutsy move, given the electric vehicle adoption rate in Canada hovers at about one per cent of total vehicle sales.

I got to drive a cabrio version of the ForTwo, the only electric convertible for sale in Canada. For 2018, Smart has changed the model from being called the ED to EQ. This is to align it with the upcoming Mercedes-EQ brand, which, you guessed it, will offer only electric vehicles.

The coupe version is the least-expensive EV on the market, at $29,050 (less a $5,000 incentive in British Columbia).

Full disclosure: I am a big Smart car fan. I owned one of the first ones to come to Canada in 2005. I subsequently bought a second generation ForTwo in 2008 and currently own a 2014 ED (Electric Drive).

I have driven thousands of cars in my life, and can tell you confidently that owning and driving a Smart car is a unique experience.

Some people talk about downsizing — in a ForTwo, which measures 2,695 millimetres tip to tail, you are close to a motorcycle in size. In some instances, the wheelbase of vehicles are longer than the whole Smart car.

The trunk is equally tiny, but surprisingly spacious. One day, my wife and I were shopping at Costco and were about to load our groceries and supplies into the car. Another shopper stopped dead in her tracks because she couldn’t believe we could load all the contents of the cart (Costco carts are larger than conventional grocery shopping carts) into the trunk. We did.

The reason is that the 96-cell lithium-ion 17.2 kWh battery is located under the floor of the car. I was just in a Toyota Prius Prime, where the batteries were placed in the trunk, thereby robbing the car of cargo capacity.

The major difference between the last-generation Smart Car and the 2018 has to do with width, which increases by a whopping 104 millimetres, which improves shoulder room for the occupants — a welcome change.

The car might be wider, but engineers went a step further, reducing the turning radius to a mere 6.9 metres — the smallest on the road. The Mazda MX-5 feels ponderous by comparison at 9.4 metres. That means that if you see a parking spot on the other side of the street, you can make a U-turn on a city street to snag it in the blink of an eye.

The electric powertrain is mostly the same as the previous generation. An electric motor produces 80 horsepower and 118 foot-pounds of torque. That might not sound like much, but the car only has to haul around 1,115 kilograms and the power comes on instantly. Zipping in and out of city traffic is this vehicle’s raison d’être.

Smart has introduced an Eco button on the centre console for 2018. I couldn’t discern any difference with it engaged.

Bank on a range of about 110 kilometres (weather dependent). Turn on the air conditioner and you will see your estimated range drop by nearly 20 kilometres. The heater fan will take slightly less draw in the winter.

The car also has heated seats - they draw less power than the heater in cold weather. A bonus is a heated steering wheel that comes on automatically when you turn on the seat heaters.

The range is the Achilles heel of most EVs, and the Smart lags as competitors pile on larger batteries to increase their range. The new Chevrolet Bolt has a 60 kWh battery with a more than 300-km range, for example.

Smart has upgraded its dash electronics for 2018. My car has very basic information. The 2018 gives you more, but compared with the Nissan Leaf and others, it still falls behind in the scope of the information, the attractiveness of the images and the ease of use of the interface.

What hasn’t changed much is the ride, which probably can’t be helped with a wheelbase of merely 1,873 mm. Be prepared to bob with every imperfection on the road.

EVs are the future, even with our dismally low percentage of electric vehicles compared with internal-combustion engines. Last year EV sales grew 68 per cent, with a total of close to 50,000 electric vehicles on Canadian roads so far.

The Smart ForTwo is positioned as the smallest urban car, the least expensive and the only one available as a convertible. For some, like me, it is the perfect antidote to high gas prices and squeezing into parking spots everybody has to pass.

You can increasingly find EV parking spots in shopping malls and recreation centres — with free charging. The only downside now is finding a free spot, as more and more EVs hit the roads.

As a bonus, electric vehicles in B.C. displaying an official decal are allowed in high occupancy vehicle lanes regardless of the number of passengers in the car.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: City car, rear engine, rear-wheel-drive

Engine: Three-phase synchronous electric motor, 80 hp (60 kW) and 118 lb.-ft. of torque

Transmission: One speed

Battery: 17.2 kWh lithium-ion

Dimensions (mm): Length, 2,695; width, 1,663; height, 1,552; wheelbase, 1,873

Curb weight (kg): 1,115

Price (base/as tested): $32,050/ $34,990 (includes $100 AC tax)

Options: Touchscreen package $1,395, LED lighting package $695, metallic paint $395, ambient lighting $230, centre armrest $125

Tires: 155/60 R15 front, 175/55 R15 rear on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Electricity

Fuel economy (Le/100km): 1.9 city/ 2.5 highway

Warranty: Four years/80,000 km new car

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