Smart Fortwo Review 2021
The best place for electric power is a city. The best city car is a tiny one. That s the prima facie case for the electric Smart Fortwo.
It s not like Smart didn t see this coming. When Mercedes and Swatch buddied up and produced a two-seat city concept car a quarter-century ago, electric power was very much envisioned. But batteries weren t up to it. Even so, there have been electric versions of all three Fortwo generations, making it the first electric car to go on sale in Europe. Stick that up your Tesla Roadster and Leaf.
Smart has doubled down, and made its last combustion-engined cars in 2018. It s become all-electric, using parent Mercedes EQ sub-branding.
Now it s facelifted. A new facelift has lowered the grille, becoming a mouth instead of a nostril. This should take it through to the all-new one due in 2022. That ll again be styled and sold by Mercedes, but for a change engineered and built by Geely in China.
The Fortwo EQ s performance isn t in doubt. Electric drive always gives the nifty and smooth step-off city driving demands. An instant-on 82bhp motor is more than enough for an 1,100kg car.
But range? Where do they fit a big battery? Answer: they don t. It s just 17.2kWh net. Plenty of plug-in hybrid SUVs match that, and they have an engine too.
But being tiny, the Smart can get a decent way on a little energy. The WLTP range is 84 miles (75 with with options and bigger wheels).
That might not sound too much but then again think how it will or should be used. In a big city, average speeds are so slow you could drive a Smart pretty well all day then charge overnight.
The rest of the Fortwo recipe remains from the old petrol versions. Room for two in the cabin, but an external footprint by Lego Technik. The motor is behind your bum. Rear drive allows a sharp steering lock, and combined with the tiny wheelbase it gives a hilariously tight turning circle. Nothing is easier to park. That said, it s 2.7m long so unlike the Mk1 it can t cheekily park head-on to the kerb.
As well as the hatchback version, there s a Cabrio too. For enjoying the overhead city sights, if not the diesel fumes of your fellow road users.
Smart prefers to talk of 0-40mph acceleration. Yes, forty: less than five seconds. Which means that you can surprise the powerful SUV next to you at the lights by departing pretty sorry smartly.
It s a smooth takeup. Equally important the regenerative braking is well integrated too, so you can nip about in a nice liquid fashion. Driven like that, 70 miles is a good range target provided it s not cold outside.
For the record, the 0-62mph time is 11.6 seconds, or 11.9 for the Cabrio we tested. Both acceleration and available range fall away badly towards motorway speed. But as soon as you get above 60, you re being pitched, squirmed and bounced about so much it feels like a bit of an adventure going quickly anyway. Lumpen country roads chuck it around too.
The steering is light but not that direct. So there s a bit more arm-twirling than you might expect, partly to prevent sudden inputs toppling it over. That happened to a few of the Mk1 Smarts before a recall fixed it. For the same reason, the ESP cuts in hard and early to curtail any shenanigans. Still, this electric version doesn t lean much in corners.
Because you can never get away from that body pitching, even urban speed bumps make it feel like an energetic rocking chair. But in town the suspension isn t insufferably crashy over small harsh bumps and holes. Road noise isn t bad for a baby car either.
Even at speed there s no bothersome air turbulence in the roof-back Cabrio, at least if you keep the side rails in place. It s electrically powered and well-insulated when closed.
Gone the wrong way? The wheel spins like a winch before hitting its lockstops and the car feels like it s U-turning in its own length.
Don t hope for driver assist systems. Beyond ESP and collision-mitigation braking (legal requirements these days) they re absent.
Electric drive, soft-top, super-manoeuvrable, sparsely equipped. It s a posh bumper car basically. And like a bumper car, in the right circumstances it can be a lot of fun.
On The Inside
There s pretty good space for two. It feels roomy, too, as the dash is fairly distant and the windscreen big. Behind the seat, a net takes care of general in-cabin detritus.
The boot is 260 litres in the hatch, 190 in the Cabrio. That s probably enough many expensive two-seat sports roadsters have less, and people go on long journeys in them. The passenger seatback drops forward too handy for a cellist travelling alone.
It comes with both a public charger cable plus a granny cable with a built-in control box so you can plug it in to a normal home 13A socket. Together they eat a fair bit of the boot. But you don t need to carry them if you home-charge.
In the early days of Smart the cabin seemed pretty funky alongside the dreary baby cars of its era. The shapes on this Mk3 car are still cheery, but material choices are a bit drab.
Ahead of you is a half-moon speedo, with a tennis-ball power/range meter poking off the top of its binnacle. All clear enough. The centre screen mirrors Android phones but not Apple, and its native navigation is slow-witted in the extreme.
Like any EV you can set charging and keep an eye on its systems remotely on your phone.
It s not cheap, ranging from 16- 23k after the current government grant. That money would instead get you a supermini that d comfortably carry four people across the country.
And you ll want the 349 winter pack, which adds thermal insulation in the doors and floor (really) and heated seats. Because cabin air heating eats range. The Cabrio is a 2,420 step up from the hatch.
But running it is buttons. The energy cost is tiny. At home electricity prices, you re looking at about 4p a mile. You can get into the London Congestion zone for nowt too. Interestingly there s no DC rapid-charge socket. But the battery is so small it hardly matters. A home or street-side 7.4kW AC post will get it to full in around four hours. Smart will sell and install you a Chargemaster home box for 399, a good price.
And unusually for a UK-sold EV it ll also take three-phase AC at 22kW. Most DC rapid-chargers also have an AC outlet that ll suit this. Use on with the Smart and it s 45 minutes for 10-80 per cent.
Plus it s such a small battery that even a normal three-pin home socket can get it pretty full on an overnight charge.
The Fortwo is like a hypercar. And not just cos it s a two-seater. We mean that it s great in its chosen environment, and pretty rubbish elsewhere.
In crowded streets it s agile like a little kitten, as parkable as your shoes, fresh-breeze clean and as cheap as the coffee you drink on the way to work.
But stray far beyond the ring road and it s slow, wobbly and short on range.
The idea of going electric suits the Smart brilliantly. Use it as intended an admittedly limited circumstance and you won t find much wrong with the execution.