$25,000 Entry Fee, 90-Mile Range, and Zero Emissions. Smart Move?
The 2013 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive works on a conceptual level. The tiniest production car in America, it has a cult-like following in congested cities across the globe and works amazingly well as an all-voltage vehicle. But will it work well enough to help reverse Smart’s sagging fortunes here in the U.S.?
There are two big reasons why it might. First is its powertrain. The Smart Fortwo ED (cue the Cialis jokes) features an all-new, 47-horsepower, 95 lb-ft EM-motive 55-kW motor (it has 74-hp bursts for up to 2 minutes in “kickdown mode”) hooked up to a quiet single-gear automatic. Its 17.6-kW-hr lithium-ion battery sits between the rear wheels. This Fortwo doesn’t leave you begging for more gusto and a better gearbox, as has been the case with the current gas-fed Fortwo. The automated manual transmission used in said “regular” Fortwo has earned a reputation for being one of the most lackadaisical we’ve encountered on a production vehicle, although Smart insists its owners are fine with it.
The ED’s motor is all-new, more powerful, and has more mileage range than the unit motivating the lease-only, limited-edition, second-generation predecessor. Its battery no longer comes from Tesla, either; it’s now built entirely by Daimler subsidiary Deutsche ACCUmotive.
Second, Smart says a big chunk of its present Fortwo owners mainly drive within the 40-mile U.S. average daily commute. Given the Electric Drive’s estimated 90-mile single-charge range (it has yet to be EPA-rated) Smart believes the car makes sense for those owners. When it comes to charging, the ED’s battery pack needs around 6 hours on a 240-volt outlet to go from 0 to 100 percent charged. Heiko Schmidt, Smart’s head product manager, says going from a more real-world-like 20 percent remaining power to 80 percent will take around 3.5 hours on that same 240-volt outlet. Plug it into a regular 110-volt plug, and you’ll be waiting a while longer.
Physically speaking, the ED keeps the current Fortwo’s famous dimensions. Width, height, and length remain at 61.4, 60.7, and 106.1 inches, but with a 93-module battery set below its double-plate floorboard, the ED gains an extra 300 pounds or so on top of the standard model’s 1808-pound curb weight. On the clogged streets of New York’s Brooklyn borough, the extra poundage attached to its trademark Tridion safety cell (think race car roll cage) didn’t affect it that much; the ED felt spritely and right at home zipping past garbage trucks, stopped delivery vans, and the occasional ginormous semi-truck.
As with all EVs, power and torque come on instantly at each throttle jab, another reason why the Smart ED’s package is so compelling. Combine its immediate thrust with a precise mini-car steering and a beefier battery-loaded mass, and the Electric Drive proved to be a fun, quirky conveyance that traverses city blocks like an English bulldog on 5-hour Energy — it stays planted and puts a grin on your face. Of course, it’s no pocket rocket; on city streets it doesn’t really need any more pep in its zero-emission step. Getting up to 40 mph from a stoplight is a relatively hasty affair; getting it to 60 mph from a standstill, Smart says, takes 11.5 seconds – 1.3 seconds faster than its gas-fed sibling. It’ll top out at 78 mph, which is a bit slower than said sibling’s 90 mph v-max.
While having such miniscule measurements is an excellent for navigating traffic and fitting into just about any parking spot, being tiny does have its disadvantages. Such small dimensions make for a bumpy ride, especially on uneven Brooklyn streets littered with tire-ravaging potholes. No highway stints were included in my test drive loop, so experiencing the ED at speeds more than 50 mph wasn’t an option. And as with all Fortwos, there’s not much room for cargo in the 7.8 cu-ft trunk, not to mention other warm bodies in the passenger compartment. Such is the plight of a two-seat, A-segment car.
Yet, the Electric Drive isn’t uncomfortable, and not many decibels of New York’s cacophony permeated the airy cabin. Once buckled inside, there’s no cramped feeling given the respectable shoulder- (48.0 inches), head- (39.7 inches), or legroom (41.2 inches) capacities. Standard amenities include rain-sensing wipers, halogen projector headlights, a stereo with USB and auxiliary inputs, and eight airbags. Its manually adjustable seats are supportive and set in a staggered positioning to maximize the feeling of space; dash and door materials have a high-quality appearance and touch; and there’s ample storage for everyday things like coffee mugs, documents, keys, and phones in the various catchall nettings. When slid back, the ceiling’s mesh cover reveals a polycarbonate panoramic roof. But with such a thick header atop the windshield, forward visibility can be difficult at times. Trying to get a good glimpse at Brooklyn’s traffic lights had me hunching over or slumping in my seat.
A handful of new gauges distinguish the Electric Drive’s interior. Atop the dash, just above the central vents, sit two bug-eyed ED-specific meters in place of the optional tachometer and clock. The state-of-charge gauge on the left shows the percentage of remaining battery power. Once power gets down to 20 percent, a dashboard alert warns the driver to plug in soon. At 10 percent remaining, the warning light flashes again and indicates that the reserve power supply is being depleted. Get below 5 percent and there’s an audible alert. The charge gauge’s fraternal twin, the power meter gauge, shows real-time power usage and brake regeneration. Coasting and braking can recycle up to 30 kW-hr into the battery. There’s also an ED-specific cluster in front of the driver. Instead of a fuel gauge, there’s a tiny digitized battery and power indicator, and warning lights for coolant temperature, drive system diagnosis, charging cord connectivity, and high-voltage system failure.
As is the case with all Fortwos, the Electric Drive isn’t for everyone. Smart USA president Tracey Matura calls the target consumer a member of the “Urban Light” collective, otherwise known as a person that wants to be as eco-friendly as possible, doesn’t carry much, spends the majority of their life in the city, and has $25,750 to spend (before government tax incentives; $750 destination charge included). If they enjoy the sun’s rays, they’ll have to drop $3000 more for the Electric Drive Convertible. Yes, those price points make it the cheapest – and smallest – electric vehicle sold in the States. And those prices also make it the most expensive Smart around, trumping the Smart Fortwo Pure Coupe’s base MSRP by more than $12,000. But against the ED’s named competitor, Mitsubishi‘s $29,975 i-MiEV (not including tax incentives), it’s the obvious bargain.
The target buyers are tech-savvy, so setting up a charging schedule at home or the office via the downloadable smartphone app won’t likely be a problem. And if they’d like a bit of personalization, Smart will offer its full line of Smart Expressions and Smart Brabus Tailor Made customization programs, including wraps, decals, interior accents, and unique paints, when the ED goes on sale next spring.
Smart hopes the Fortwo Electric Drive will represent 30 percent of the brand’s total sales in 2013. Given how well the tiny ED hits the mark as a highly maneuverable, relatively cheap, and, yes, fun EV with a generous single charge range, getting plenty of “Urban Light” buyers to plug in shouldn’t be a problem.
|2013 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Rear-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door, coupe|
|MOTOR||47-74-hp/95-lb-ft AC electric|
|CURB WEIGHT||2108 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||106.1 x 61.4 x 60.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||11.5 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||25 / 33 mpg (est)|
|RANGE||90 miles (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||00-00 / 00-00 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0 lb/mile (at car)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Spring 2013|
|*Before $7500 Federal Tax Credit|