First Drive: Smart Electric CabrioletA funny thing happened on the way to my preconceptions

2018 smart Electric Cabrio
First and foremost, if you live outside a major metroplex or a resort area this car probably won’t work for you. If you do, then the Smart Electric may be something you need to look at. Hear me out.
Smart brought us to San Diego to have a go with the 2018 Smart Electric Cabrio. To explore the car, we had to explore the city by way of a scavenger hunt. Being San Diego, the weather was board of tourism perfect. That means 80ºF and sunshine all day. No roof required.
We were given three hours to dash in and around the city to find 19 different spots. Then we had to shoot photos in some of these and check in at others. Most people had a second person with them, I did not, so thankfully all the spots were programmed into the nav which made things much easier. As a side note, I finished third, even having missed one spot because I was running short on time.

Dashing around on surface streets, the all-electric Smart Cabrio was just fine. With 80 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque available from the tip in, and a curb weight of 2,383 pounds, acceleration to 40 mph is brisk. It’s not OMG slam you into your seat quick, but you’ll be getting away from just about everything at the stoplight. Acceleration from 40-60 is fair. From 60 mph onward it starts to fall off.
2018 smart Electric Cabrio
While the main focus of the drive was on surface streets and speeds under 50, there were a couple of points where I had to jump onto the freeway. Smart lists the top speed of the Electric Cabrio at 81 mph and I saw at least an indicated 80 on the 805 as I moved to over to get a left-hand exit that came up quickly. It did not feel as if the vehicle was straining to get to that speed. Instead it felt as if this ultra-compact was electronically governed at that speed.
It’s a cozy coupe, but it’s more than that thanks to the action of the roof. There are three configurations for the Cabriolet. Smart call it a “Tri-top”. You start, of course with it fully enclosed.  Then you can move it into a Targa position. You have a Convertible configuration where the top is all the way down. Finally, there’s Roadster, where the bars connecting the A and B pillars are removed. These bars can be stowed in the trunk, which can hold two standard sized backpacks with a little extra room, and will not affect the torsional rigidity according to Smart officials. With the top in it’s Targa configuration and the windows down, the buffeting at highway speeds was not bad at all.


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With an overall length of 106.1 inches and a wheelbase of just 73.7 inches, you’d expect the Smart to be highly maneuverable. It is. The turning circle of the vehicle is just 22.8 feet. Given a few of the spots where I was snapping photos, being able to turn on the figurative dime and leave seven cents change was very handy.
The battery in the Electric Smart is a new 17.6kw, 96-cell pack, which is up from 93 in the prior version. It’s the same physical size yet weighs 44 pounds less. You’ll find an eight-year, 62,000-mile warranty attached to it and it’s designed in-house by a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz. The range when new is rated at 65-70 miles (EPA rated at 58 based on 5 years of use) and EPA rated at 112MPGe on the combined cycle. Recharge time is three hours on 240v.

If you live in a colder climate, Smart will offer a cold weather package which consists of a heated steering wheel and additional insulation in the doors and floors. Coming around Q3 of 2018, there will be an app to go along with the car so you can preheat the cabin while it’s still on the charger.
In its natural environment as an urban car and commuter, the Smart Cabrio is fun. It’s nimble, carves up traffic like an Iron Chef does ham, and can park this motoring box in the tightest of spaces.
Look at your normal daily use, not at outliers or the two or three trips a year you take. If you live and drive in an urban or highly congested area and your round trip is under 60 miles, then this may be worth a look. The Smart Cabrio will have an MSRP of $28,850 with destination and delivery. Nearly 90% of Smart cars, however, are leased. That means it’s possible to drive one for less than $150 a month.
2018 smart Electric Cabrio
Sure there is a level of absurdity to the car, but that is the appeal. The worst that can happen is that you confirm your biases. What may happen though, is that once you get behind the wheel and step on the throttle, especially with the top down zipping through a city, you realize it’s a much more enjoyable experience than you thought.
[Disclaimer: Smart flew us to San Diego and put us up in a hotel. There was food and drinks as well.]

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12 responses to “First Drive: Smart Electric CabrioletA funny thing happened on the way to my preconceptions”

  1. Victor Avatar

    That looks like a fun little city car , the multiple vents on the dash make me wonder if it has AC ?

  2. mdharrell Avatar

    There’s a 1974 Battronic electric van (which the seller calls a “Batronics”) for sale in Idaho which would make an interesting platform for commuting. It even has the most tenuous of British connections, in that Battronic was formed as a joint venture between Boyertown Auto Body Works of Pennsylvania and Smith Electric Vehicles of the UK. My understanding is that by the time this particular van was built, however, Smith had withdrawn from the partnership and later relocated itself from England to Missouri.
    As per Craigslist requirements, the photos are nearly useless:

  3. Maymar Avatar

    I think the smart is far more weird and charming than a lot of car guys are willing to give it credit for (because it’s sort of ill-suited anywhere but really urbanized environments) – it’s small, light, rear-engine, I think it was one of the last cars available with manual steering, and even has floor-hinged petals. It’s a very old-school small car (think early Beetle or Fiat 500), just one that’s slightly hindered by late model-Benz complexity and parts prices. Admittedly, I’m more enamoured with the W451 (second gen), as the current W453 almost feels too normal (although I have much less time with it), which seems bizarre for being roughly a truncated Renault.
    My only concern with smart’s plan to transition these to electric only. The electric integration is great, but with the smart’s main asset being its parkability, its target customer is someone who may not have access to a consistent parking spot with consistent charging.

  4. Sjalabais Avatar

    The soccer ball wheels are nice. ’bout time a new manufacturer picks up the theme.

  5. Alff Avatar


    1. Joey DaVive Avatar
      Joey DaVive

      Can’t tell if serious..
      (BU) Renegade / (MP) Compass for HCOTY

  6. needthatcar Avatar

    You’re a fairly tall guy, right? How is this thing for the talls?

    1. rumblestrip Avatar

      Right on average at 5’10

  7. Vairship Avatar

    Would anyone choose this over a 3-year old Fiat 500e at about $6k?

  8. HuntRhymesWith Avatar

    That these are billed as “city cars” always confused me. It seems a majority of city residents, at least in NYC, street park. (Garage parking is expensive at $500/mo or more) How do you charge an electric car parked at the curb? Cities need to address this somehow.

    1. cap'n fast Avatar
      cap’n fast

      address the curbside charge indeed. one of two options: gas genset as seen in denver last week or just ban the things from the curb.

  9. salguod Avatar

    At a $28K buy this thing makes no sense. That’s new Prius territory with room for 5, road trips possible and Ikea ready hatchback versatility.
    A $150 a month lease, however, is somewhat compelling, depending on how much you have to spend on the charger.