Smart Fortwo Electric Drive review

Smart's third generation Electric Drive model shows the progress being made with electric cars and is the first version available to the public. It's the best Fortwo so far, but 15 years after the first Smart the car still feels a flawed project.

Though the Electric Drive weighs more than the petrol model it is as quick to 30mph and faster to 62mph. It also feels more solid and stable, but it's very high price means you would have to be a committed Smart fan to choose one over a Renault Zoe or Volkswagen e-Up. As the battery only has a three-year warranty, the £55 per month battery lease looks like a better option.

Review by Russell Bray


PERFORMANCE

Better than before! Despite weighing 140kg more than the petrol version the electric Smart Fortwo's 74bhp electric motor, which weighs 33 lbs, will boost the car to 30mph as quickly as the petrol engine, while 0-62mph in 11.5 seconds is actually quicker and a huge 12 seconds faster than before. The full 96 lbs ft of torque is immediately available so the Smart is particularly nippy in city traffic and you can scoot through gaps with confidence. Top speed is 78mph; up from 63mph. Taking life more gently, range is around 90 miles. Maximum performance means pushing the accelerator past the 'kick down' point and the gauge on the dashboard shows the scary rate at which energy is being consumed.

HANDLING

It's been a long time since I have driven a Smart Fortwo but my impression was that the low down position of the heavy battery pack has improved cornering stability. I once saw a journalist trying to give a photographer a good picture get one onto two wheels but with improved electronic stability systems that seems now much more unlikely. Fortwos have always ridden stiffly and having to cope with 150kg of battery weight sees springing even stiffer so the car can bounce and pitch. Even with anti-lock brakes the limited size of the front tyres means I would personally always try to avoid having to make an emergency stop. Overall the car feels more substantial and better balanced, but there isn't any real feel in the electrically assisted power steering.

BODY STYLE

The Smart Electric Drive is a great looking little thing, especially the fancied up test car with alloy wheels and electric green highlights. But the emphasis is on little. Practicality is poor if you need to carry much with you and another person means you can't put stuff on the passenger seat. The couple of briefcases sized luggage area is best accessed via the rear window. All-round visibility is excellent and parking barely requires any thought because the Smart ends just behind your shoulders. The interior seems well made but some of the plastic trim is rather hard and looks a bit cheap. Length 2695mm. Width 1559mm.

COMFORT & CONTROLS

Volkswagen e-Up The seats are firm and supportive and interior space more generous than you expect. Limited adjustment of the steering wheel and driver's seat meant I could not achieve an ideal driving position and most of the speedometer was obscured by the steering wheel rim. Outward visibility is excellent and more sound insulation between the passenger compartment and the electric motor, has made it quieter than previous electric Smart models.

Two top of dash mounted instrument pods show how much charge is left in the battery and whether energy is being used or recuperated, such as under deceleration or braking. The Fortwo comes with the usual electric car refinement of air conditioning with pre-drive setting while charging. Other standard equipment includes power steering, electric windows and satellite navigation. There's a leather trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, Bluetooth phone connection. Safety equipment includes driver and passenger torso and knee airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control.

Charging a completely flat battery takes seven hours from a standard 13 amp/3.3kW single phase three-pin socket home power supply. A 16 amp/3.3 kW single phase cable for use at public charging points or with home 'wall boxes' reduces charging time to six hours. An optional 32 amp/22 kW three phase onboard charger for a hefty £2,650 cuts the charging time to approximately one hour from a suitable public charging station or wall box with special fast-charging capability and appropriate power supply.


MPG & RUNNING COSTS

The lithium-ion battery pack, supplied by Tesla, provides 17.6 kWh of power and a range of about 90 miles in non extreme conditions. Electricity tariffs vary but long term early adopters who have tried the Electric Drive estimate costs have been about 13p per kWh with an expected fuel cost of less than 3 pence per mile. However, taking into account the cost of battery leasing, servicing, insurance, depreciation etc, the overall running costs quickly stack up. That said, no CO2 exhaust emissions means no road fund licence, no Congestion Charge in central London and free parking in some towns and cities. The ForTwo Electric Drive has a three-year warranty but with unlimited mileage. If you lease the battery pack instead of buy it, it is covered for eight years.

GREEN CREDENTIALS

The Fortwo ED's environmental impact comes down to how and where the electricity to charge the batteries is generated. As there are no emissions from the car itself (whichhas no exhaust) local emission are eliminated which greatly weights in the car's favour even if the electricity used is generated from fossil-fuels rather than renewables. According to our calculations, the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive has a Next Green Car Rating of 24.

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

An optional drive assistance pack (£380) includes cruise control and steering column paddle changes which make it easier to let the car coast or harvest energy otherwise lost through manual braking. A sound system is also available (£155) which warns pedestrians of the car's presence at low speeds. Another option on the test car was a £600 style pack with electric green chassis frame colour and door mirror caps and body panels in crystal white. The 15in diameter nine-spoke alloy wheels are also crystal white with electric green cabin trim and black upholstery. Panoramic roof and convertible versions are available of the car.

MODEL SUMMARY

Volkswagen e-Up

Model tested: Smart Fortwo Electric Drive
Body-style: Two-door city car
Engine/CO2: 17.6kW/ 74bhp AC electric motor producing 96 lbs ft of torque / 0 gCO2/km
Trim grades: Passion trim with extra enhancements and options

On-road price: £15,395 after £5,000 Government grant
Warranty: Three years/ unlimited miles (Battery warranty negotiable)
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 3.0 STARS
Next Green Car Rating: 24

Click here for more info about this model »

Ben Lane

Author:Ben Lane
Date Updated:7th Mar 2014

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