Will this be the last 453 ICE cabrio review?

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Pedro Arrais review: A smart choice for urban driving

Pedro Arrais / Times Colonist

August 18, 2017 10:04 AM

The Smart Fortwo, a vehicle conceived more than 20 years ago for a shrinking world, will shrink once more with the discontinuation of the internal-combustion engine. This makes my tester, a 2017 cabrio version, the last of the breed in North America.

Let me be clear: This is not the end of Smart, as the brand will continue. But it will only offer electric cars as of the 2018 model year in the United States and Canada.

The Fortwo was launched in Canada (but not the U.S.) in 2005 and totally exceeded any expectations parent Mercedes-Benz had about the diminutive city car. Buoyed by its success, our southern neighbours finally got the cars in 2008, just in time for the second-generation debut.

Those were the days, with Smart cars flying out of the showrooms due to sky-high fuel prices.

But the continent’s appetite for SUVs grew with a corresponding decline in gasoline costs. Smart found itself a shadow of its former self.

In 2008, it was (with a government incentive) the lowest-priced vehicle on the market. Nine years later, it was thousands more.

So the gasoline-powered Smart will be no more after the stock of existing cars are sold.

My yellow cabriolet tester is one of the last remaining cars.

Disclosure: I have owned two generations of Smarts, starting with a 2005, followed by a 2008, so I may have a bit more insight on the 2017 than the average automotive journalist (and more tilted towards the brand).

The news of the discontinuation of the gasoline engine is perhaps for the better. The one-litre three-cylinder engine is surprisingly rough, especially when cold. It vibrates like my old diesel engine. Compared with modern machinery from any number of manufacturers, it doesn’t compare favourably.

The addition of a turbocharger, though, has livened things up a fair bit, bumping horsepower from 70 to 89. Torque is also up substantially, from 68 to 100 foot-pounds. If you ever drove an old Smart and found it lacking, chances are that you will be happier. The zero-to-100 km/h sprint now takes less than 11 seconds, shaving more than four seconds off the previous car.

The last two generations had perhaps the most peculiar transmission to survive the trip across the Atlantic. It was jerky (until you mastered the unique driving habits it demanded) and almost universally panned by critics and consumers alike.

Smart finally installed a regular automatic transmission this time. They also offered the Fortwo with a manual transmission (not tested) for the first time.

The powertrain combo is more than enough to keep you having fun without getting in trouble. Perhaps the only dark cloud to the excellent fuel mileage is the requirement for premium-grade gas.

The big change between the 2017 Fortwo and the previous two generations is in its width — the new car is about 100 millimetres wider. The two occupants — the ForTwo is only for two people (hence its name, in case you didn’t know) — now don’t have to rub shoulders.

Surprisingly, the new car’s turning radius — 6.95 metres (vs. 8.75) — is even tighter than the previous generation. Looking to snag that parking spot across the street? The Fortwo will get you there in a heartbeat.

If there is a downside to the Smart, its impossibly short wheelbase might be it. While it will get you into spots every other car has to pass up, it communicates irregular surfaces (read: potholes) to the driver. The ride is choppy, to say the least.

It’s also tall, which makes it susceptible to side winds or buffeting by a semi-trailer passing on the highway.

The ForTwo is perhaps unique in the city-car segment by offering a cabriolet version. The two-layer fabric roof can be open to the vehicle’s tridion (a body shell providing safety for the occupants), giving it a Targa feel, or all the way down and the side supports removed, for a complete convertible experience.

If a small convertible on a sunny day in August doesn’t put a smile on your face, better check to see if you are still breathing.

But good feelings about the Smart hasn’t been enough to sustain the brand in the face of competition and the lack of a model that carried more than two people. Smart in Europe sells a Forfour, a four-door, five-seater, but it never made the jump over the pond. Plans for a micro-SUV for North America also never made it past the proposal stage.

So the Smart as we know it will live on as a niche product, in the same body but only available as an electric car with a range of approximately 100 kilometres. It will be the smallest EV on the market and the only one with a cabrio.

It was sad to give my tester back after a week. The Smart brand came to Canada with so much promise, and while it will still be around, gone is the ideal that it could change the way North Americans drive. While you will likely see fewer Smarts going forward, it does leave behind a strong community of diehard Smart enthusiasts whom I am sure will keep the spirit alive for many years to come.

Addendum: I so enjoyed my test drive that I went out and bought a used Smart Fortwo Electric Drive — my third car. Wave when you see me.



Type: City car, rear engine, rear-wheel-drive

Engine: Turbocharged 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine, 89 hp at 5,500 r.p.m., 100 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,500 r.p.m.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Dimensions (mm): Length, 2,695; width, 1,663; height, 1,555; wheelbase, 1,873

Curb weight (kg): 915

Price (base/as tested): $21,800/ $23,730 (includes $1,495 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: Metallic body panels $395, sport package $800, retractable cargo cover $140

Tires: 165/65 R15 front, 185/60 R15 rear on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Premium

Fuel economy (L/100km): 6.3 highway 7.0 city

Warranty: Four years/80,000 km new car, four years/80,000 km powertrain four years/ unlimited km roadside assistance

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" Smart finally installed a regular automatic transmission this time."  The six speed DCT is not a regular automatic transmission.... :)

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Agreed. My typical reader (not a smart enthusiast) wouldn't know the difference.

The DCT is a huge improvement over the single-clutch unit previously found in the Fortwo.

Manufacturers these days refer to DCT's as automatics - with no differentiation between an hydraulic (regular) or dual-clutch system.

The earlier transmission was as an automated manual transmission, not a true automatic. In 2005 the Fortwo was available with a choice of a Soft Touch or optional Soft Tip (standard on the Passions) transmission.

But these days, in every used Fortwo advertisement, the car is advertised as being equipped with an automatic transmission - I have yet to see an owner pointing out the difference. In their defense, they probably didn't know there was a difference.



Edited by smrtie
correct typo and clarification
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