Welcome to Part Three of the all-new Smart launch: First there was the 2016 Smart Coupe, then the drop-top Smart Cabriolet, and now we have the battery-powered Smart ForTwo Electric Drive (abbreviated by the company as “ed”, perhaps by some German marketer who doesn’t realize what those letters stand for in the US). If you’re into the whole Smart thing—and if you are a person of regular routines—the electric Smart may be the best iteration of this two-seater, but if you have your eye on electric wheels, it’d behoove you to shop around.
First, an introduction for the few of you who might be unfamiliar with the Smart ForTwo: This is a two-seat city car designed primarily for Europe. The ForTwo is tiny—four feet shorter than a Honda Fit—which means it’ll fit into half-size parking spaces and pull a U-turn on all but the narrowest of side streets. The old version of the Smart (2011-2015) was rather cramped and unpleasant to drive, but the new Smart (introduced in 2015 as a 2016 model) provides more elbow room in the cabin and a better on-road experience.
Electrifying the Smart
The electric Smart replaces the three-cylinder gas engine with an electric motor, and its 17.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack lives under the seats, occupying the same space as the gasoline-powered Smart’s fuel tank. This is smart engineering, literally—by making the electrical power bits fit into the same space as the gasoline power bits, there are no intrusions on passenger or luggage space, though the small trunk is still best suited to groceries and small suitcases.
If you’ve driven an electric car, you know the benefits: Smooth and silent acceleration with no gear changes (unlike gas engines, electric motors can deliver maximum power at any speed, so they don’t need multi-speed transmissions). The Smart is not particularly fleet of foot by electric-vehicle (EV) standards; 0-60 comes up in just over eleven seconds, about the same as the gas-powered car but slower than most other vehicles. It feels scooty at low speeds, but one must be rather deliberate with the accelerator when merging on to the freeway.
Same Maneuverability and a Better Ride
Compared to other electric cars, the drive experience is just OK. Many EVs have multiple driving modes, differentiated primarily by how much regenerative braking the car develops when the driver lifts off the accelerator. (For those unfamiliar, regenerative braking uses the drive motor as a generator to recharge the battery. This creates resistance which slows the car, the benefit being that it also extends the range.) The Smart EV provides a bit of lift-off regen, which takes some getting used to—constantly taking one’s foot on and off the accelerator pedal makes for a herky-jerky ride.
The electric version of the Smart does have some important advantages over the gasoline version. The electric car weights about 350 lbs. more, and that extra ballast does wonders for the car’s ride: The gas-powered Smart jolts and jars its occupants, but the electric version feels much smoother, and it doesn’t crash over bumps like the gas-powered version. Gas-powered Smarts are decent-handling cars, and with the heavy battery mounted low and between the wheels, the electric car is just as good. The half-dollar-sized turning radius is unchanged, and no other car makes U-turns quite so enjoyable.
Range and Charge Times
Smart did not have an EPA-rated range at the time of our press drive, but they estimated the figure would be between 70 and 80 miles. We tested two Smart ForTwo EDs under the hot Florida sun; one promised us 75 miles of driving range, the other 70, and that was with the A/C running and a bit of freeway time (both are detrimental to range; electric cars do best in stop-and-go traffic, where the constant braking can recharge the battery.)
The Smart’s on-board charger is a 7.2kW unit, more powerful than the 6.6 and 3.3 kW charging gear found in most electric cars. Oddly enough, Smart did not give us a firm full-charge time, instead saying that the car could be charged from empty to 80% in 2.5 hours using a 240-volt dedicated EV charger. Best guess for a full charge? 3 to 3.5 hours, which is shorter than the four-hour interval for most electric cars. Smart sells a 240V home charger for $450 (installation not included), and you can find them cheaper if you shop around. (Level 2 EV plugs are universal, fitting all late-model EVs except Teslas.)
Unfortunately, the Smart does not have the ability to use Level 3 fast chargers, which limits their usefulness for long trips. That’s a shame—with such a small battery, we bet the Smart could be fast-charged in about 15 minutes. An included 120 volt charger allows the ForTwo ed to be plugged into a standard outlet but charging this way takes 13 hours to get to an 80% charge (and probably closer to 20 hours for a full charge).
It All Comes Down to Price
There is one big hole in our story: Smart had not announced a price for the ForTwo ED when we published our story, and price is going to make or break this car. Why? Look at the competition: Chevrolet is now launching its Bolt EV, which offers a 238 mile range—three times that of the Smart ForTwo—and will sell for $37,495, or $29,995 after the $7,500 Federal EV tax credit. If you want a bargain EV, you can’t do better than the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which sells for $23,845, dropping to just $16,395 after the Federal tax credit. The i-MiEV’s range (62 miles) is shorter than the ForTwo’s and its interior is rather Spartan, but it has four seats, four doors, and the DC fast-charge capability that the ForTwo lacks. In the middle is Nissan’s Leaf, which is more practical and more comfortable than the Smart. The S30 model, with a 107-mile battery and quick-charge capability, lists for $33,315, or $25,815 after the Federal tax credit. (Your home state may have incentives that will reduce the price of these cars even further.) And if you live in a state that sells the Fiat 500e, that’s one to check out; it’s quicker than the ForTwo, lots of fun to drive, and Fiat offers bargain-price leases in some areas.
At the end of the day, our judgement on the Smart ForTwo ed will come down to price. If it can be had for less than $22,000 or so after rebate, then we’d deem it worthy of your consideration. But if its post-rebate price is closer to 30 grand, we say the smart thing to do is look elsewhere.
Photo Credit: © 2017 Mercedes-Benz