Smart goes all-electric
Government rebates for all-electric vehicles have led to Smart ditching its gas-powered version in Canada, leaving the fun-to-drive EV as the only available option for 2018
The Swiss security guard was polite but firm. "You cannot park here," he said. "Go away! Go away, ASAP!"
I could hardly have looked less threatening, with a bright green Smart car, but rules are rules, especially here in Switzerland. The little electric runabout was on the sidewalk, after all, posing for a tourist photo, right in front of the gates to the United Nations main complex. I moved the car, ASAP. It wasn't difficult to find another parking space – legally, this time.
He hadn't heard me coming because, yes, the Smart is all-electric and, for the 2018 model year, that's the only Smart we'll be able to buy in Canada.
"In 2014, every third car sold in Canada was already electric. That's where market demand was headed, so we made the decision to position the car as electric-only," says Rouven Remp, Smart's product manager for its electric-drive cars. "Things are developing, and we believe that as soon as we get to a certain point, it makes sense to make the switch to position the brand for the future in the right way."
That "certain point" is helped considerably by government incentives. The little Smart EV is not cheap – the cabriolet will cost $31,800 when it lands in showrooms in October. That's roughly $10,000 more than its gas-powered sibling, so taxpayer-funded rebates make all the difference. In Canada, only Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia offer rebates – $8,500, $8,000 and $5,000 respectively – and they cut a chunk out of the premium. The coupe will begin at around $28,800 before rebates, though don't expect to see many privately-owned Smarts in the rest of Canada.
It's no different elsewhere. Smart will also only sell EVs in Norway, where there is no sales tax for an electric car, yet there are huge duties on conventionally-powered cars. It helps that there is also plentiful and cheap electricity available. In Spain, sales shot from 40 electric Smarts a year to around 1,000 as soon as the government offered rebates of €5,300, which is about the price difference between the two powertrains. As everywhere, the spirit may be willing, but it's money that talks.
If you still want a gas-powered Smart car in Canada, dealers may still have some in stock, but they won't be getting any more. It hasn't been selling well in North America, although a worldwide sales record was set last year. Germany, Italy and China are the largest markets, with more than 144,000 Smarts sold between them. As Remp says, the electric version has been gaining in popularity since its introduction in 2007 as rebates make it more competitive; it's helped by its visibility as a rental-by-the-minute in the Car2Go car-sharing program.
Each generation sees improvements in the electric motor and the rate at which it charges; this fourth generation is no different. The on-board charging power for Canada and the United States is 7.2 kW, which means it can charge 80 per cent of the battery in two-and-a-half hours when plugged into a 32-amp power source.
Europe has a smaller on-board charger of 4.6 kW, but this will be replaced in the spring with a more powerful 22-kW charger that provides an 80 per cent charge in 45 minutes. It's not compatible with North American energy suppliers, however (we use single-phase power while they use three-phase), so we won't get that kind of speed in this generation.
The cabriolet's range is officially 155 kilometres, five kilometres fewer than the hardtop version because the body strengthening of the stiffer little convertible weighs 30 kilograms more. In reality, the true range is closer to 110 kilometres once the air-conditioning comes on and the top comes down. In Europe, apparently, the average Smart driver covers about 35 kilometres in a day. If you're an urban driver with easy access to a charging socket and you don't have to lay an extension cable across the street or argue with your condo board, then the Smart EV might make sense.
It certainly makes sense in Geneva, where I tooled confidently around town and squeezed through the tightest of streets. The Smart fortwo is fun to drive, though not as peppy as some more expensive electric cars. Zero-to-100 km/h takes just over 11 seconds, and the car's top speed is 130 km/h.
There were some issues, though. The air-conditioning was temperamental, and a couple of times, when parked with the ignition on, a loud buzzing noise came from the back of the car. "It sounds like it's going to blow up!" said a passerby, putting his fingers in his ears for effect. When I returned the Smart, the noise was gone and it couldn't be explained, though you can be sure engineers checked it over afterward.
Setting aside such concerns – easy to do when you don't actually own the car – the new Smart showed itself as a small improvement on the previous generation and a considerable improvement on the original.
- Base price (est.): $29,990
- Engine: Three-phase synchronous 60-kW motor, 17.6-kWh battery
- Transmission/Drive: Electric
- Alternatives: Volkswagen e-Golf, Chevrolet Bolt, BMW i3
Looks just like a Smart car.
Funky finish and fairly spacious for two, all things considered.
Like a quick golf cart, but it's only fun in the city.
Better charging and range displays.
Barely room for a purse inside and not much more space in the trunk.
The Smart has come a long way in 10 years; who knows where it'll be in another decade?
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
Editor's note: The costs of the cabriolet and coupe have been adjusted (to $31,800 from $30,000 and to $28,800 from $27,000, respectively) based on information supplied by the auto maker.