The Best Smart Cars of The Year

2018 Smart Cars

The Smart Fortwo has been a smash hit in Europe, but failed to gain a foothold in America outside of major urban centers.  The tiny two-seat vehicles and their underpowered engines may not be the right fit for the United States, but the city cars continue to be sold here, and have found an audience looking for an ultra-compact car that’s easy to park and easy on gasoline. This year an all-electric Fortwo joined the line-up. Conceived as a partnership between Swiss watchmaker Swatch and Mercedes-Benz, the original Smart Fortwo debuted in 1999 with both gasoline and diesel power, but the first exports didn’t arrive Stateside until 2007. Grey imports trickled in from 2004, but Penske Automotive did not get an approved distributorship until 3 years later.

The charming and nonconformist Fortwo’s mission is to make motoring easy for urban dwellers with its maneuverability and compact shape. The turbocharged 0.9-liter inline-three makes 89 hp; a five-speed manual or optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic sends power to the rear wheels. Offered as a coupe or cabriolet, the Fortwo can be customized with add-ons such as heated seats, ambient lighting, and JBL sound system that can quickly drive the bottom line close to the price of larger rivals.

Think of the 2017 Smart Fortwo cabriolet as the vehicular equivalent of a raccoon. Both the city car and the masked mammal can be cute and strangely endearing, but both are best avoided entirely.

Compared with the previous Fortwo cabrio, though, the newest version of the convertible city car shows some signs of domestication. Like its coupe counterpart, the cabrio rides on a fresh platform co-developed with Renault. Overall length once again measures 106.1 inches, matching the previous-generation car, while the wheelbase sees a modest 0.2 inch increase. Width, however, grows by a substantial 4.1 inches.

Despite this added girth, the tiny two-door is incredibly easy to maneuver thanks to its impressive 22.8-foot turning circle—5.9 feet better than the previous car and a whopping 12.9 feet better than that of a Honda Civic. As with the Fortwo coupe, the cabrio’s exterior features short overhangs, large doors, expressive headlights equipped with LED daytime running lights, and Smart’s trademark contrasting color scheme.

In place of the coupe’s metal roof and two-piece tailgate, the cabrio adds a power-folding soft top that can be rolled partway back like a sunroof or retracted completely. The fabric roof can be opened or closed at any speed, and it features a pair of removable roof rails that can be snapped out and stored in a compartment within the tailgate. Although removing the rails provides a more traditional convertible experience, we suspect most drivers will leave them in place, as their presence is required to close the top.

Power Hour

Like its forebear, the Fortwo cabrio’s engine is mounted below the cargo floor and just ahead of the rear axle. Forward momentum comes courtesy of a turbocharged 0.9-liter inline-three that doles out 89 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque. The engine comes mated to either a standard five-speed manual transmission or an available six-speed dual-clutch automatic—a $990 option featured on our test car.

Acceleration in the 2235-pound Fortwo cabrio is a leisurely affair. Zero to 60 mph requires 10.2 seconds, while passing from 50 to 70 mph in top gear took 7.8 seconds. Still, the new Fortwo cabrio has made huge progress versus the previous-generation version, whose naturally aspirated 70-hp 1.0-liter three-cylinder needed a painstakingly long 13.6 seconds to reach 60 mph and 10.5 seconds to saunter from 50 to 70 mph.

The new three-cylinder nonetheless suffers from prodigious turbo lag, waking up only after the tach eclipses the 2500-rpm mark and making merging into traffic from a stop a hair-raising experience. While the Fortwo’s dual-clutch automatic operates with a level of refinement missing from the old model’s clunky five-speed automated manual transmission, the new gearbox is hesitant to downshift and slow to respond to manual inputs.

The cabrio averaged a meager 27 mpg on recommended premium-grade fuel during its stay with us, far off the EPA’s combined figure of 35 mpg. We did record 40 mpg during our 75-mph highway test, bettering the EPA’s 38-mpg highway rating.

Big Little Car

In spite of the Fortwo cabrio’s diminutive size and relatively low curb weight, the little droptop never feels particularly tossable or light on its feet. Blame the softly sprung suspension that lets the body bob and weave with every turn of the vague and lifeless steering wheel. The narrow 15-inch Continental ProContact TX all-season tires do the car no favors, either, as it managed a trucklike 0.71 g of grip on our 300-foot skidpad before the undefeatable stability-control system intervened. On the plus side, the Fortwo tracks straight at highway speeds, and its standard Crosswind Assist system keeps the slab-sided Smart from being tossed about in its lane by the wake of passing trucks.

Stopping exposed another dynamic failing, as the car’s front disc and rear drum brakes needed a long 188 feet to bring the Smart to a halt from 70 mph—18 feet longer than a three-plus-ton Ford Expedition. Adding insult to injury are pronounced brake dive and a brake pedal that isn’t very linear in operation.

Be Seated

Even so, the little droptop’s cabin is pleasant enough. Thanks to its additional width, the driver and passenger no longer sit shoulder to shoulder. Meanwhile, the massive windshield and upright seating position give the driver a confidence-inspiring view of the road ahead.

Unlike the Fortwo coupe, which is offered in an entry-level Pure trim, the cabrio’s order book opens with the better-equipped Passion model. Along with a height-adjustable driver’s seat, power mirrors, and 15-inch aluminum wheels, it also includes features found in the Pure coupe, such as automatic climate control and Bluetooth audio and phone streaming. Prime and Proxy trims are the higher rungs in the Fortwo’s lineup and bring additional standard equipment.

Atop its base price of $20,640 (including the automatic transmission), our Fortwo Passion cabrio test car’s optional equipment included a $100 center armrest, a $120 dashtop-mounted tachometer, $120 automatic headlights and windshield wipers, $240 heated seats, $250 rear proximity sensors, and a $490 premium audio system. There also was a $100 smartphone cradle that plugs into the center of the push-button audio system and allows the driver to easily view and interact with a phone’s music and navigation apps. The carmaker also offers its own Smart Cross Connect app that can display navigation functions and play music stored on the phone.

Our test car wore $350 worth of Lava Orange paint and a $400 Lighting package that adds fog lights, LED taillights, and LED light bars within the headlights. When everything was tallied, our test car wore an as-tested price of $22,810. That’s a lot of money for a little car, and although the Fortwo cabriolet’s power-folding soft top adds some distinction to the model, a more spacious and equally stylish Fiat 500C Pop can be had for as little as $17,485. Meanwhile, the racy 500C Abarth starts at $22,485—$325 less than our Fortwo cabrio test car.

Overall, the Fortwo cabriolet makes little sense in the U.S. market, where its tiny size is rarely an advantage. And it appears that Smart has come to grips with this reality. For 2018, the Fortwo coupe and cabrio will be sold exclusively in EV form, with an 80-hp electric motor and a 17.6-kWh battery pack. It’s a move that’s sure to put the Smarts into an even smaller niche.

smart Automobile 

(stylised and marketed as “smart“) is a German automotive marque and division of Daimler AG, based in Böblingen, Germany. It ranges in microcars and subcompacts, primarily the Fortwo and Forfour with its primary assembly plants located in Hambach, France and Novo Mesto, Slovenia. Marketed in 46 countries in Asia, North and South America, Africa, Australia and Europe, production of the Fortwo had surpassed 1.7M units by early 2015.

The design concept for the company’s automobiles began at Mercedes-Benz in the early-70s and late-80s. After brief backing by Volkswagen, the first model was released by Daimler-Benz in October 1998. Several variants on the original design have been introduced, with the original being the “Fortwo”.

smart derives from cooperation with Swatch and Mercedes: Swatch Mercedes ART. In its branding, the company lowercases its logotype and the logo incorporating a “c” and an arrow for “compact” and “forward thinking” respectively. All letters spelled out in lowercase as “smart” is incorrect.

Origins

In late 1982, SMH (makers of the Swatch brand of watches) CEO Nicolas Hayek began developing an idea for a new car using the same type of manufacturing strategies and personalization features used to popularize Swatch watches. He believed that the automotive industry had ignored a sector of potential customers who wanted a small and stylish city car. This idea soon became known as the “Swatchmobile”. Hayek’s private company Hayek Engineering AG began designing the new car for SMH, with seating for two and a hybrid drivetrain.

While design of the car was proceeding, Hayek feared existing manufacturers would feel threatened by the Swatchmobile. Thus, rather than directly competing, he preferred to cooperate with another company in the automotive industry. This would also relieve SMH of the cost burden in setting up a distribution network. Hayek approached several automotive manufacturers and on July 3, 1991, he reached an agreement with Volkswagen to share development of the new project.

By 1993, Ferdinand Piëch had become CEO of Volkswagen and he immediately sought to terminate the project with SMH. Volkswagen had already been working on their own “three-litre car”: a car which would consume three litres of fuel per 100 km of driving (the eventual Volkswagen Lupo 3L). Volkswagen’s own concept was believed to be a better business proposition, featuring four seats and more cargo room.

Hayek had suspected that Piëch would seek to end the agreement with SMH upon his ascendancy to the CEO position; therefore, he discreetly began approaching other car companies with the Swatchmobile project. Rebuffed by BMW, Fiat, General Motors and Renault, he finally reached an informal agreement with Daimler-Benz AG, maker of Mercedes-Benz cars.

A deal was announced on March 4, 1994, at a press conference at Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart that the companies would join forces in founding Micro Compact Car AG (MCC). 49% of the initial capital of 50 million Swiss francs were provided by SMH and the remaining 51% by Daimler-Benz. The company consisted of two subsidiaries: MCC GmbH based in Renningen (a suburb of Stuttgart) which would design the car, and the then-unnamed manufacturing plant. SMH Auto SA, owned by Hayek, would design a hybrid electric drive system for the car, while Hayek Engineering would audit the design and manufacturing.

The press conference also featured the debut of two concept cars: the eco-sprinter and eco-speedster, styled by Mercedes-Benz’s design studio in California. The cars were similar to the eventual smart City-Coupé. No mention was made of the fact that SMH had no input in the design of these concepts, and they were badged as Mercedes-Benzes.

By the end of April 1994, MCC had set up a head office in Biel, Switzerland.

Models

Apart from the original Smart Fortwo, a sporty Smart Roadster, a limited production of 2000 erstwhile concept Smart Crossblade and a supermini Smart Forfour were also offered. These have now been discontinued. There were also plans to introduce the French made cross-over based on the body of the ForFour and the AWD hardware of the Mercedes C-class with the name of Formore but industrialization of this was cancelled at the 11th hour (even as tooling was being installed in the assembly plant) due to unfavourable exchange rate swings and spending cutbacks driven by losses elsewhere within Smart.

Safety

The Smart Fortwo uses a very small front crumple zone. The second generation Smart Fortwo has been awarded 4 out of 5 stars in the Euro NCAP Adult Occupant Protection and 2 out of 4 stars in the Pedestrian protection test, but was not tested for Child Occupant Protection as it has no rear seats. The original Smart was awarded 3 out of 5 stars for Adult Occupant Protection. In American tests using a five-star rating, Smart cars received a four-star safety rating for the driver from a front impact, and a five-star safety rating for the driver for a side impact. It also received “Good” ratings for front and side crash protection in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests. However, in an April 2009 40 mph frontal offset crash test between a Fortwo and a Mercedes C-Class, “the Smart went air-borne and turned around 450 degrees” causing “extensive intrusion into the space around the dummy from head to feet”. The IIHS rated the Smart Fortwo “Poor,” noting that “Multiple injuries, including to the head, would be likely for a real-world driver of a smart in a similar collision.”

The main structure of the car is a stiff structure, marketed as the Tridion Safety Cell, designed to activate the crumple zones of a colliding vehicle. This design creates a safety cell around the passengers, according to the manufacturer.

Modification

smart models have been modified by Brabus of Germany, resulting in BRABUS production models, including Smart BRABUS electric drive.

Other companies modify the Smart Fortwo to use motorcycle engines, such as the Suzuki Hayabusa 1340 cc inline four-cylinder. These cars are known as Smartuki. The most powerful models can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (0 to 100 km/h) in less than 3.5 seconds. The original car was fitted with a mildly tuned engine and ran 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, 1/4 mile standing start in 12.4 seconds and a top speed of 132 mph (212 km/h). It is possible to push the GSXR engine further; nitrous oxide will add another 50 bhp (37 kW; 51 PS) – 80 bhp (60 kW; 81 PS) and there is a turbocharged option

Electric vehicle conversions

smart electric drive is a smart Fortwo electric conversion. It has a 40 km range with AGM batteries (100 km with Li-ion batteries)

REINFORCED WITHHIGH-STRENGTH STEEL.

When reviewed by the IIHS, the smart fortwo earned the group’s highest safety rating, thanks to the patented Tridion Safety Cell and high-tech front and side airbags.

The Electric Drive takes it one step further, positioning the battery in the vehicle’s underbody — the best possible place in case of a collision.

SHOCKINGLY SMOOTH. WHISPER QUIET.WITH A CHARGE TIME CUT IN HALF.

The smart Electric Drive puts emphasis on the drive, with an improved turning radius, acceleration, and top speed, plus a Lithium-ion battery with an 8-year warranty for shorter charge times and greater range.

 

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