Is it smart enough?
In this “he said – she said” episode, vicariousmag.com writers Miranda Lightstone and Rob Rothwell get all charged-up over the electric smart fortwo cabrio, a battery-powered convertible version of the now ubiquitous smart car.
RR: You are a hip, cool mom Miranda, entrenched in the cutting-edge of glam and fashion. You’re also smart and very car-savvy, so I’m anxious to hear your take on the smart fortwo electric drive cabrio. I’ve got some strong opinions on the battery-powered cart, which based on your social media content of late, may clash with yours!
ML: My goodness, I feel like all this flattery is leading up to softening the blow you’re going to give this awesome little battery-powered cart I, admittedly, fell for when I drove it. I mean, what’s not to love about it? And this, coming from a mother of a nearly-7-year-old who just restarted school, partakes in karate weekly, and whose school is a good 20km+ each way from home. I do not live a rural lifestyle, and yet the smartEQ fortwo cabrio totally sold me on the EV way of life.
RR: What if you had two kids Miranda? Or God forbid, a husband? Two seats limit the usefulness of this EV, which at $35,000 or so (as tested) is a lot of money for a car that has such narrow application. Yes, it’s damn cute, I guess, especially when its two-stage cloth roof is open allowing the sun and wind to boost spirits. And, I can’t deny that it’s the easiest thing in the world to drive next to a shopping cart. Those are attributes that serve well in the city, but one pays dearly in other respects for such few plusses, both in monetary currency and the currencies of comfort and convenience. Those prices are, in my penny-pinching opinion, too great for the commodities received. The rips in my jeans are from age, how about yours Miranda?
ML: Ah yes, singing the siren songs of societal norms from your much older generation, I see Rob. It’s OK, I know it’s hard to accept these changing times. The smartEQ is a specific car for specific needs and therefore specific people. And my kind of specific people don’t include the need for a second child or a husband for that matter. And for those reasons, this adorable yet stylish member of the itty-bitty car committee fits me like a glove. And no, Rob, size doesn’t always matter, so the lack of a massive trunk or more than two seats isn’t a deterrent for everyone.
I won’t deny the price is a tad high if you look at what you’re getting material-wise in return, but then I could say the same about my super-comfy, yet practical and very ripped jeans from 7 for all Mankind. The smartEQ is as much about practicality (in the sense of never having to pay for gas again and being able to park literally anywhere), and style in the same way that miniature Pinscher looks as intimidating as its full-grown heritage line, but can fit in your purse and is allowed into Starbucks with you without scaring young children away.
RR: May I remind you Miranda that with age comes wisdom, along with grey hair and a few extra aches. That said, I’m not opposed to fashion, and do my best to stay relevant with the guidance of the those around me with fashion-sense superior to mine. But back to the smartEQ as you correctly reference it. I find its engineering to be on the less-advanced side, with inadequate range, and, with what appears to be a dated infotainment screen. Overall, things just felt awkward and poorly laid-out within the diminutive cabin despite the generous leg and headroom it provides. The vehicle’s battery-fueled performance is meagre at best when compared to say, the new Nissan Leaf, or pretty much any modern EV.
Here’s the crux of the matter Miranda. I had the good fortune to drive an early smart EV in Germany a number of years ago, and frankly I don’t think its technology has advanced much since then; certainly not in the way that other EVs have. But back then, it was the least expensive EV on the market, priced at somewhere around $24K CA. And that’s what gave it relevance to me; inexpensive, green, and fun. A good overall balance. Today, it’s still fun, and even more-so in Cabrio form, but it’s price-tag now eliminates many potential young buyers with slim wallets, which is too bad. How the hell will they also afford jeans from 7 for all Mankind and Min Pins?
ML: You forget how much my younger generation is willing to sacrifice and go into debt for in order to be considered IG royalty and top of the social echelon. We can’t always afford the Min Pins and Mercedes-sourced electric vehicles, but we’ll make it look like we can instead of adopting a no-papers mutt and driving a Hyundai IONIQ that we could easily afford.
That’s where I think the smartEQ appeals. You’re right (and it pains me to admit it), the 2018 smartEQ is not far removed from its previous generation brethren, save for in looks. The exterior design of the new smart is all kinds of awesome (and you’ll have to admit that I’M right on that one, Rob), especially when lined up next to the outgoing model. The onboard electrics leave something to be desired, but then again, if they beefed them up, that would jack up the price again, wouldn’t it? Perhaps it’s a matter of less is more, and the simplicity of the interior isn’t impossible or horrible to live with.
And truthfully, the smartEQ isn’t that much more expensive than other EVs out there. Sure, it has 2 (or more) less seats than all the others, but if you think about provincial rebates – I’m not sure if Ontario has any left, but there was a chance you could get $14k off your smartEQ purchase! – and the fact that even a Chevrolet Bolt starts at $46k, the itty-bitty smartEQ suddenly seems like a pretty good deal. Sure, the Bolt has a few hundred more kilometres in range, but it’s also $10k more expensive. And isn’t rocking a hipster-friendly logo on the front grille…
And let’s talk about range for a moment: The smartEQ has a manufacturer rating of 93km. But I was averaging more around 110-113km, and those extra 20kms of range were from intelligent “green” driving and planning my routes accordingly – something that’s a huge necessity when you own an EV of any kind. Oh, and that doesn’t mean boring driving either. I think the smartEQ has plenty of pickup and go. I mean, it’s instant acceleration thanks to battery power… perhaps you should consider a few more trips to the gym and a few less to the fridge if you felt the smart was slow from the get-go?
RR: Damn! The one thing I can’t argue about with you is my need to hit the gym. Nail through the heart girl.
Miranda, averaging 110-113 km on a full charge these days isn’t a smartEQ attribute; it’s frankly quite the opposite. The latest EVs are now in the 500km ballpark for range. Let me frame this in a way more relevant to the generation willing to go into debt in order to be considered IG royalty. (Whatever that is?) Are you ok with paying for a full meal at the latest overpriced hipster chophouse but only being served a micro-sized appetizer? Or paying for a full glass of prosecco and receiving just a drop?
I think we can both agree that ‘range anxiety’ is the largest single inhibitor to EV ownership, so let’s not take one step forward and two steps back. The industry – smart included – needs to continue advancing the capabilities of electric propulsion if we are to make a “go” of it. Celebrating the quirkiness and fun-factor of the smartEQ is worthy and justified, but you can’t include its pitiful range in that merriment.
So, let me conclude my tirade by committing to open the gym door near as often as I open the fridge door, but only if you’ll agree that the smartEQ doesn’t push the boundaries of EV technology, and actually sets them back despite its outlier lovability. And with that, harmony will be restored between the youngest and oldest writers in the Exhausted house! Deal dear?
ML: You drive a hard bargain, Rothwell; and the smartEQ drives with a few wheels still in the electric-vehicle past, I will agree with that.
However, as charging infrastructures increase across our great nation, and really the world over, owning a fully electric vehicle with a smaller range isn’t as anxiety-ridden as it used to be. So the argument still stands that the smartEQ could be the perfect edition to the latest influencer’s IG feed as they head to the latest gluten-free fully vegan cafe to take Boomerang shots of champers with floral-design backdrops and motivational quotes in the background…
Let the generational gap close as we agree to disagree (slightly) on this one. And next time you’re handed the keys to a smartEQ, just send ‘em my way and we’ll hit all the soon-to-be cafes and boutiques, while I rock my hipster glasses and adopt a Chihuahua to ride shotgun for the week.
RR: Miranda, I’ll take your oblique admission that the smartEQ is yesterday’s technology warmed-over as a win. However, you may want to exchange the Chihuahua for a Mastiff to help pull when you run short on juice after your nourishing meal of bark and nuts. And should you need rescuing, call me. My electric bicycle has better range and is just as much fun with two onboard!
2018 SmartEQ fortwo cabrio
Base Price for Cabrio: $32,050.00
Configuration: RWD 2-door 2-seat
Power: 17.2 kWh Li-Ion battery, 80 horsepower & 118 lb-ft torque
Power Consumption: 2.3L/100km equivalent
Top Speed: 130 km/h
Range (according to Miranda): 110-113 km
Battery Warranty (basic): 8 years / 100,000 km
- High fun factor
- Easy to park
- Wind in your hair
- Less EV range than expected
- Only two can ride
- Bumpy ride quality