Smart forfour ED review
Smart has taken a, well . . . smart (apologies) approach to its range, and decided to electrify it completely. Yes, there are only three models in the brand's line-up, but you can get each of them in pure-electric form. We test the largest of the lot, the still-micro Smart forfour ED citycar.
Review by Chris Lilly
Smart's forfour ED doesn't have a lot of power. In fact, it only has 60 kW (82 hp) to put to its rear wheels. But then it doesn't really need a powerful motor, since the forfour ED only weighs in at 1,200 kg. This being the case, the forfour ED's modest power output will still allow for a 0-62mph time of 12.7 seconds. It's hardly rapid, but isn't too bad either. It also isn't a true indication as to the forfour ED's performance potential, since very few drivers ever accelerate from 0-62mph as hard as they can - and even fewer EV drivers do. The downside of the compact electric motor is that the forfour ED starts to run out of puff at higher speeds, particularly if quick acceleration is what's required. It manages to sit at motorway speeds fine, but isn't too comfortable doing so, and you will see the range available drop quite quickly too. However, stick to the Smart's natural habitat - urban work and open roads - and the forfour ED performs very nicely. With the instant punch an electric motor allows, and the low kerb weight of the forfour ED, the Smart will pick up quickly. It's acceleration up to 30-40 mph or so is rapid. In a traffic light grand prix (not that such things are condoned) the forfour ED will do very nicely for the first stretch, as it gets its power down well. The rear-wheel drive, rear-motor configuration helps here, but the traction control light will still flicker if the accelerator is stamped on - mainly because of skinny tyres. Drive more normally, and the forfour ED performs better still. The instant throttle response means darting in and out of traffic, out of junctions, and short bursts of acceleration are completed both with alacrity, and a smile on occupants' faces. The brakes are pretty good too, assisted by strong brake energy recuperation, which means that the forfour ED can be largely driven on one pedal. The Smart range as a whole is well suited to urban driving and short trips, and the ED range is even better suited to the same journey types.
If you expect a Smart to be in its element at motorway speeds, you clearly have little idea of the Smart ethos - and have also ignored the opening couple of paragraphs of this review. As in the performance section, the forfour ED will deal with higher speeds fine, but it's not in its comfort zone. Venture onto the motorway for short stretches or occasionally though, and you will find that the handling is well matched to the citycar's performance potential. The ride is fairly stiff which can send a judder or two through the cabin if you hit pot-holes at speed, but the forfour ED is far from uncomfortable. The benefit is that the handling benefits from a stiffer set-up, creating an agile little car perfectly suited to the tight confines of town driving. The steering is light but precise, making urban driving a doddle - an attribute aided in no small part by a phenomenal turning circle. With the motor in the rear, the bonnet (if you can call it one) is free from a large amount of metal that impacts a car's front wheel space. As such, a turn in the road for example moves from the traditional three-point number to a London-Cabbie style spin of the wheel. The manoeuvrability is such that it actually takes a little while to re-calibrate to what the car can do, with attempts at parking almost a clumsy affair as drivers new to the brand have to realise just how nimble the Smart is.
Looking almost identical to the standard forfour, the forfour ED has a few tell-tale signs to let passers-by know it's a zero-tailpipe emission version they are looking at. A body-coloured grille and discreet badging are about it; even the charging inlet is hidden behind a traditional fuel flap. As such, buyers will get a stretch Smart fortwo - in looks at least. Funky small car styling has been well implemented on the Smart range, and the forfour - ED or not - hasn't suffered from transitioning this design to a larger model - albeit slightly larger. The forfour ED is clearly the most practical of the Smart range, achieving this title merely by having a pair of seats in the rear. Sharing many features with the co-developed Renault Twingo, the little forfour ED is a practical enough citycar, and a number of neat features make good use of a tiny footprint. There are cubby holes and storage nets dotted about the place, and the rear seats can be folded to provide a bit of extra load space. Since the electric powertrain is housed in the same area as the engine in a conventional model, there is no lost cabin space for any battery storage. Occupant space in the rear isn't exactly luxurious, and tall adults will feel a bit squashed-in. However, do fit, and well enough to complete short- to mid-length trips well enough. Put a couple of children in the back and the forfour ED is positively spacious for four occupants - well, almost. Those up front get a good amount of space, with a dashboard and centre console that have a minimal impact upon leg space.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Overall, the forfour ED lacks a little refinement considering its price - with a higher entry point because of the electric powertrain having a negative impact on initial impressions. At speed there is quite a lot of wind noise for example. It's far from shabbily put together though, and many a Smart buyer has thought the cabin fine for their considerations. Keep to the forfour ED's strengths and the Smart performs well. The seats lack a little side support, but then this is almost to be expected for a car that isn't likely to be cornering hard. They're fairly comfortable though, and even on longer runs there were no complaints about support or comfort. The cabin is basically the same as a petrol powered model, and very like the Renault Twingo's too. As such, build quality feels respectable, if not of the highest standard. Plastics used have often been picked for their hard-wearing qualities - particularly on lower surfaces. The dashboard is covered in a nice fabric though, which does lend an air of quality to proceedings. It's no premium citycar - the VW up! feels a plusher model - but it will be practical, and there is no sense that you are sitting in a budget model. A touchscreen system is a key feature of the dashboard, which has little else on it apart from the heating controls in a section low down, behind the gear selector. The driver gets a nicely sized steering wheel, to enable them to make good use of the aforementioned agility. Smart ED drivers also get one large dial surrounding a screen that conveys all sorts of information. A small, separate dial on a stalk gives information on battery charge and power being used. The controls feel fairly well put together, though again, there's little in the way of premium feel.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The Smart ED range excels in this regard, even when compared to other EVs, thanks to having relatively small batteries. The forfour ED has an official range of 96 miles, which doesn't sound like much. However, with the forfour ED specialising in urban EV motoring, almost 100 miles will give you a fair few trips before you need to recharge. Real-world range for me came in at a little more than 70 miles in bitterly cold weather and with some motorway runs. Driven more normally, I would confidently say that 75 miles is achievable - even in winter. A warmer climate and urban running could well see that reach 80 miles or so. Tax costs are as small as you can get - zero. There is no first year rate, and the standard rate is nothing too. Since you can't get a Smart forfour ED for more than £40,000, there's no premium rate to consider either.
The Smart forfour ED is one of the greenest cars available in the UK, and it's down to the combination of electric powertrain and low weight really. A 17.6 kWh battery powers the electric motor, which Smart states has an efficiency rating of 13.1 kWh/100km in the forfour ED. Charging is completed via a Type 2 inlet, found in the rear off-side flank, behind what looks like a petrol filler flap. One key element that needs to be considered for prospective buyers is that there is no rapid-charging option for any of the Smart range. The model tested has a 7 kWh on-board charger, which allows for a complete charge in about 2.5 hours. Later on this year, there are plans to introduce a 22 kW on-board charging option, which will give a fast charge in 40 minutes or so. The Smart forfour ED therefore is certainly not an EV to take on a trip from London to Edinburgh for example. Keep it as a local runabout though, and there will be no problems. Other green features include regenerative braking - which is strong - and an Eco button to reduce throttle response and eek out the miles. There is a driving coach section too, giving scores as to how economically you are driving, and there is a mass of information available showing energy usage etc within the various menus. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 20.
The forfour ED is well equipped with a number of 'big car' features added to the citycar. Standard equipment includes 15-inch alloys, leather seats, fabric dashboard, heated front seats, panoramic sunroof, rear parking sensors, 7-inch media system with navigation, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, charging cable (and excellent slim storage bucket/bag - one of the best storage solutions I've come across for cables), smartphone access to pre-conditioning and charging features, and multi-function steering wheel. There are options packs too such as a winter pack with heated steering wheel and rear seats, and added insulation. Premium Plus equipment includes LED rear lights, ambient cabin lighting, automatic wipers, and rear view camera.
Smart's forfour ED is ideally suited to urban driving. Offering a little more practicality than the smaller fortwo ED, the Smart is able to be used as a local runabout perfectly well with its range. A lack of rapid charging capability will mean that few will have the forfour ED making up a one-car garage, but as a second car - or inner city only model - the Smart makes good sense. It's fun to drive, good to look at, easy to use, and one of the quickest ways to get from A-B in traffic or built up areas. Parking is so easy it makes 'normal-sized' cars seem ungainly. I said it in regards to the electric fortwo, but the same rings true with the larger Smart too; the forfour makes better sense as an EV than with a petrol engine. It won't be for everyone, but it will meet the demands of a surprising amout of drivers.
Model tested: Smart forfour ED
Engine / CO2: 60kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Premium, Premium Plus
On-road price: From £16,915 (inc Cat 1 PiCG).
Warranty: Three years / unlimited mileage - Battery: Eight years / 62,500 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 3.5 Stars