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BBC Autos

Joyride

Smart Fortwo ED takes charge

About the author

Editor of BBC Autos, Matthew is a former editor at Automobile Magazine and the creator of the digital-only Roadtrip Magazine. His automotive and travel writing has appeared in such magazines as Wired, Popular Science, The Robb Report and Caribbean Travel + Life. He lives in Los Angeles with his wonderful wife and four-year-old daughter.

 

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It is no secret that since its US launch in 2008, the Smart Fortwo has not quite lived up to the expectations of its parent company, Germany’s Daimler AG. But that may be set to change with the addition of a purely electric version.

The gasoline-powered coupe and convertible Fortwo models, making use of a 1-litre, three-cylinder engine rated at a modest 70 horsepower, managed some remarkably unremarkable EPA numbers: 34mpg in the city and 38mpg on the highway. When mid-size sedans are averaging better fuel economy than a two-seat city car, an intervention seems in order. This year, however, the battery-powered Fortwo Electric Drive changes things for the better.

The car employs an electric motor that is good for 47hp and and 96 pound-feet of torque, with as much as 74hp on tap in pedal-to-the-metal “kickdown” mode. With a single-speed transmission driving its rear wheels, the car scoots to 60mph in a manufacturer-estimated 11.5 seconds – hardly neck-snapping, but a not-insignificant 1.3 seconds quicker than the gasoline car –  and hums its way to a 78mph top speed. These figures will not put the Electric Drive on the Stig’s radar, but they are wholly appropriate for an urban runabout.

During a jaunt around busy, beachy Santa Monica, California, the electric Fortwo proved itself a cheeky companion. The Electric Drive (Smart calls it the “ED”, but most owners will likely dodge that dysfunctional descriptor) feels spry off the line and confident in urban traffic. A subtle low-speed sound generator keeps pedestrians on their toes, but otherwise, the car is whisper-quiet. The ride is unexpectedly supple as well, doubtless thanks to the Electric Drive’s additional 300 pounds, which brings the curb weight to a still-modest 2,100lbs.

The airy cabin has not changed much for EV duty. The instrument binnacle contains a host of EV-specific alerts, and a pair of battery-focused gauges — a state-of-charge display and a power-usage display — sprout from the dash top, supplanting the gasoline car’s optional tachometer and clock. And for drivers who wear their environmental consciousness on their sleeves, the Kinetic Green appearance package, a $850 option on this test model, adds a green and white livery with white wheels.

Smart claims the Fortwo electric is good for 90 miles on a full charge, well within the daily usage of most current Smart owners, and most US commuters for that matter. Plugged into a 240v outlet, the car’s lithium-ion battery pack will charge from zero to 100% in about 6 hours, although a more real-world scenario — a 20% to 80% state of charge — will take about 3.5 hours. The car includes charging cables for a 110v household outlet; charging that way will take a good deal longer.

Pricing for the ForTwo Electric Drive starts in the US at $25,750 for the coupe and $28,750 for the convertible, inclusive of $750 destination charge. That is a healthy bump from the gasoline-powered Fortwo, which can be had for $13,240, but Smart is quick to note that the Electric Drive’s sticker does not reflect tax incentives for purchasing a zero-emissions vehicle, which include a $7,500 federal credit and, in California, a $2,500 rebate. Daimler expects the French-built Smart Electric Drive to quickly account for 30% of its sales in the United States, an ambition that, considering the car’s undeniable charm – and its dynamic superiority over its gasoline-powered siblings – seems downright modest.

Vital stats: 2013 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Convertible

  • Base price: $28,750, inclusive of $750 destination charge
  • As tested: $31,425 (price does not reflect federal and state incentives for EV purchase)
  • Drivetrain:  47-74hp electric motor; one-speed automatic transmission; rear-wheel drive
  • Major options:  Technology package (surround-sound audio system, GPS navigation), $1600; Kinetic Green appearance package, $850; cruise control package, $225

Postscript:

Smart hosted BBC Autos’ test of the ForTwo Electric Drive at a “pop-up” store in an upscale mall in Santa Monica, California. The temporary store, which featured a chic living-room motif, tempted locals with free lattes and quick test drives, for 10 days in April. It was the first outpost on a tour of 11 green-minded US cities. Stops include Portland, Oregon  (2-3 May); San Francisco (11-12 May); San Diego (18-19 May); Dallas, Texas (25-26 May); Atlanta, Georgia (1-2 June); Miami, Florida(8-9 June); Washington DC (15-16 June); Hoboken, New Jersey (22-23 June); Brooklyn, New York (29-30 June); and Chicago, Illinois (6-7 July).

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