The Electric Smart is the Only Perfect Car

There is no way to defend that headline with numbers and figures. For starters, there’s the price. This car costs $30,000. Imagine being a salesperson at a Mercedes dealership trying to sell a brand new smart car. “No sir, the CLA just doesn’t fit you right, how about one of these smart cars.” And if the salesperson does convince their prospective client to take a glance over at the smart, they will be immediately greeted with the question of how far it goes on a full charge.  … 57 miles.  And this is the reason nobody bought one.

It is truly a shame that there was never the realization from Americans about how useful a car like this could be. For a country known for excess, from boats to cars to homes, you would think that having an “extra” car just for grocery store runs would be appealing. Perhaps it only appealed to me. My journey with the electric smart car started when I found this amazing pizza restaurant across a busy street from my home. I could have walked, and I did try once, but it was a good 5 minutes on foot to get there. Unbearable. So, like a civilized human, I ended up using my 500-hp supercharged Range Rover for the shuttle across the street and back. However, this felt a tad excessive, so I went in search of a better way. Fifteen minutes after hopping on craigslist I came across a 2014 silver electric smart car that had more than enough range to make the pizza runs, and I was sold!

It was in this first smart car that I found the fun and joy that these little cars have. Instant electric torque off the line meant winning every stoplight drag race, its small size meant anywhere was a parking space, and I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream. The dream of having a “DUMB” license plate on a smart car. Bliss.

For the 2017 model year, smart introduced the new Electric Drive, the 453. Disappointingly, it contained the same basic drivetrain from the previous generation, the 451. However, the top speed was increased from 81 mph to 87 mph and the body style looked chunkier and more premium. I picked up this 2018 new with crazy discounts and have never been more pleased with a purchase.

THE ENVIRONMENTS

The electric smart excels in a number of different driving environments, which I will break down for you here.

City:

Leaving home topped up with a full 57 miles of range means daily errands aren’t a problem. I peel out of the garage at wide-open throttle and never lift my foot until I reach my destination. It’s more of a dog than a car. A companion to shuttle with to the Starbucks, eager to race cars off of the light, and to occasionally squeeze onto the curb to get through traffic.

Parking this car is a delight, there is no spot too small. Because the overall length is only about a foot longer than most cars are wide, you can back into parallel spots between cars. Cargo space is more than sufficient. I routinely cruise around with my two large dogs in the back with room left over for some goods. Although there is no DC Fast charging option on these cars, the 7kW on-board charger means full top-ups in just a couple hours on a level 2 charger. Fine for dropping the dog off at the groomer, coming back home to charge up, and heading back out again.

Off-Road:

This is where the smart truly shines. For starters, the approach and departure angles are insane. Because the wheels are pushed right to the outer edges of the car, I can easily climb any mountain or ford every stream without tearing the bumpers off. Once I climb up onto an obstacle, the rear end is close by, meaning the breakover angles the smart can handle are extreme, to say the least.

Encountering mud requires hard acceleration with a full-speed approach. Since there is no combustion engine, the smart doesn’t seem to mind being submerged for short periods of time. Another benefit is that the motor is on the rear axle pressing the drive tires into the surface, a bit like a 911. Traction in all scenarios.

Fun fact, I once got completely stuck down to the chassis in thick North Carolina wet clay driving a Land Rover. I called my friend for backup support and asked them to fetch the smart and a tow strap. What happened next was something Chuck Norris would be jealous of. True story.

Track:

I can’t imagine many people taking their smart cars to track days, but they should! I’m in the lucky position where my office is a race track, therefore I’m tearing it up every day in the smartie. Being rear-wheel drive with a low center of mass means big fun. Rocketing down the front straight I can achieve the maximum speed of 87mph quite easily, but that’s not the fun part.

I have modified my smart with an ESP override switch and a square tire stance. The original staggered setup meant too much understeer for my liking. With this new setup, all I have to do is flick it into a corner, nail the throttle, and I’m full sideways with a grin on my face. It is tough to control on the limit with that short wheelbase and rear motor, so quick precise steering adjustments and accurate pedal control are rewarded. The on-limit handling dynamics are similar to older 911s, with that weight hanging out over the rear axle, just with much less crumple zone if things go wrong.

Usability

The smart is usable for almost all tasks of everyday life. It spoils you with being perfect for every task, never less, but never more. It’s a nice place to be, makes people smile, and lets you drive as fast as you want without ever drawing attention to yourself. It’s a shame they stopped selling them here in the U.S. because I would urge you to go get one, especially when those lease deals were less than a cell phone bill. However, there are great deals to be had in the secondary market.

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24 responses to “The Electric Smart is the Only Perfect Car”

  1. Andrew Fails Avatar
    Andrew Fails

    This is the best thing I’ve seen in ages.

    You’re a hero.

  2. onrails Avatar
    onrails

    Well done! Do more with less is a great way to live. This one isn’t quite up for track duty but some light trail soft-roading is great as long as you mind the approach/departure angles – something the Smart totally wins at. Put a trailer hitch on it and then you’ve got a little pickup truck, too!

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ded8657f88c7b54921829b3ea94169fb3c82f52d5fa9752198f4432ea5f8b005.jpg

  3. 0A5599 Avatar
    0A5599

    Does H Mart not have enough regular parking spaces? The Smart in the cart corral, the Range Rover on the tree roots, and the XJ only took two.
    https://hooniverse.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/IMG_6785-1536×1152.jpg

    1. Vairship Avatar
      Vairship

      Or, he stole the HMart car corral with his Smart, and what we see is a picture taken at his condo building parking lot. He DID admit to owning a Range Rover after all! 😉

  4. Sjalabais Avatar
    Sjalabais

    What a hilarious read! I can’t seem to play the videos yet and feel I am missing out on something. I really get the basic idea though. You hint at it, but what exactly did the cross-the-street-car (America!) cost you? And why does a super marked in North Carolina has Korean lettering on its parking lot advisory? Details, man, details!

    1. 0A5599 Avatar
      0A5599

      The US has a lot of settlers who prefer groceries from their home culture. Stores who sell to them are typically able to accommodate in a language comfortable to the customers they cater to. I can think of a few places where the signs on buildings are not in English, and the street names are on multilingual street signs so that people don’t get lost.

      HMart apparently only has one store in NC, but in places where Korean populations are high enough, sometimes they have multiple locations in the same city.

      https://www.hmart.com/ourstores/

    2. Alff Avatar
      Alff

      America is truly a melting pot, at all times welcoming of and strengthened by those coming from other cultures. Just ask our president.

      1. Vairship Avatar
        Vairship

        Or any of his wives! He does like importing them and their entire families.

        After all, marrying, much like voting, is just so much more convenient when done through the mail.

        1. Victor~~ Avatar

          Pathetic asshole should find a political blog to cry on .

      2. Victor~~ Avatar

        Pathetic haters stinking up the Hooniverse .

        1. Sjalabais Avatar
          Sjalabais

          Oisann, why would you self-identify like that? It’s a choice, you know.

          1. Victor~~ Avatar

            There is a place for politics . This was never that . Goodbye Hooniverse.

          2. Sjalabais Avatar
            Sjalabais

            I know you have said goodbye a lot of times; basically everything you have said lately. This is a shame. We can disagree politely, too.

          3. Victor~~ Avatar

            In retrospect you are correct .

          4. Sjalabais Avatar
            Sjalabais

            Appreciated. Making fun of political leaders was invented seconds after someone called themselves a leader. Taking that away is a strange step back from our freedoms, even if this is not a political forum to start with.

        2. Alff Avatar
          Alff

          Totally. I’m a bit surprised to see you’re still here.

  5. Maymar Avatar
    Maymar

    Even the gas smarts are fun and goofy. They aren’t *good*, they don’t make a ton of sense got very many people, but it’s weird that as something so light and visceral (for an econo car) is even hated by the “Miata is always the answer” types, because “you should just get a Civic.”

  6. Jeff Glucker Avatar
    Jeff Glucker

    Getting that much angle in a car with that short a wheelbase is… impressive.

    1. onrails Avatar
      onrails

      No, that’s super easy. Doing it without getting way too much angle is the impressive part.

      1. Alff Avatar
        Alff

        Although not nearly as short it was very easy to induce oversteer in my Mk 1 Rabbit. It was more difficult to induce just enough oversteer.

  7. Zentropy Avatar
    Zentropy

    Great writeup! I would have never given the Smart car a second glance before reading this.

  8. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    One of the few things I miss about working at an MB dealership is driving Smarts. Especially the ForTwos. Away from other traffic, on quiet roads (so there was nothing to gauge your speed – or lack of it – against), I genuinely did imagine the little beastie to be something far bigger and more exotic. The engine note genuinely did have the same tone as an old air-cooled 911, and the sound came from the same direction, too.

    The electric versions lack the sound, but made up for that with off-the-line shove. Brilliant little toys. Terrible cars, but brilliant toys.

  9. Charles Hall Avatar
    Charles Hall

    Kyle, did you ever measure 0-60 with a Dragy or something? The published times seem way too slow. I’ve seen 11.1 in published specs. and 9.6 on the zeroto60times website. Feels more like 9 or less to me.

  10. Dank Avatar
    Dank

    Totally agree. I’ve had a 2013 electric for years and it’s the perfect dog cart / grocery trip / city visit street parking / can squeeze around gridlock traffic / 0 maintenance etc etc. We own three cars and it’s BY FAR the one we drive the most. I’ve saved $6000 on gas and I bought it for $7500. Zero problems so far in 50k+ miles.

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