One Week Drive: 2013 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive

By · September 12, 2013

Smart ForTwo ED

In June, we took our first 30-minute drive of the 2013 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. We quickly saw that the tiny two-seat city car was a vast improvement over Smart’s previous all-electric versions. It appeared to be the first all-electric Smart to truly measure up to life in a busy modern city. Now, at the end of a week-long drive, we’re ready to share what it’s like actually living with the two-seat plug-in on a daily basis.

Measuring just over 106 inches from tip to tail, and a shade under 62 inches tall and wide, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive is small enough to occupy the smallest of spaces—be they gaps in busy rush-hour traffic or overcrowded parking lots. Combine its small size with the 95.8 foot pounds of torque available from its 35 kilowatt (55 kW peak) electric motor, and the Smart ForTwo ED can weave in and out of traffic with confidence, beating other everyday cars in the stoplight derby. At low speeds however, the lack of power steering and low-ratio rack and pinion steering requires a lot of steering input from the driver.

A high seating position, combined with good all-round visibility, gives the driver a commanding position of the road ahead—although taller drivers may find the roof line a little too cramped. At 5’10”, I was less than an inch from the Smart ForTwo Coupe’s roof-mounted roller blind.

Our test car was fitted with paddle shifters, an extra on European cars which allows the driver to set the amount of regenerative braking engaged on accelerator liftoff. We found it intuitive to use, with the harshest setting allowing for almost one-pedal driving in heavy stop-and-go traffic. A tap on the brake pedal was always needed to stop the car at speeds below walking pace.

Less Happy on the Freeway

Although it has an electronically-limited top speed of 80 miles per hour and manages the 0-62 mph sprint in 11.5 seconds, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive is less confident on the open road. As with other Smart ForTwo models, its large front area, combined with tall height and short wheelbase, make it prone to buffeting and a little twitchy at higher speeds.

While its large 17.6 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack—mounted under the floor—does make it more stable than its gasoline counterpart, long-distance trips in the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive at highway speeds are not highly recommended. A 20-30 mile freeway commute is more bearable, although it is worth noting that range dramatically drops at highway speed thanks to the Smart’s shape.

While the Smart ForTwo operates exceedingly well in the role of a second or third errand-running car, or commuter vehicle for a busy family, or a first electric car for an urbanite looking to cover the majority of their driving on surface streets, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive is letdown for the same reasons that its gasoline sibling is disappointing.

First, adjustments for driver and passenger seats are manual, with little or no lumbar support and no lateral support. Combined with the non-adjustable steering wheel, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive isn’t a car best suited to long hours of driving. In fact, despite having the warmest seat heaters of any car we’ve driven, spending more than half an hour behind the wheel resulted in a stiff back.

Second, as with other Smart ForTwo models, radio and navigation controls are not within easy reach for the driver. While it shouldn’t be an issue for larger drivers, smaller drivers may find themselves stretching to operate the large center-mounted infotainment system.

Niche Market

If you're a fan of the Smart Car form factor, we think you'll agree that the Smart ForTwo Electric is the best version of the car to date. If you're new to microcars however, you may fail to see the European charms of this stylish yet utilitarian two-seat urban transport.

In sum, if you’re looking for a small two-seat urban runabout with zero tailpipe emissions, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive should be on your shopping list. With enough battery capacity to manage 70 miles of range with ease, it handles city life with style. But from $25,000 before incentives, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive—which only has a 3.3 kilowatt-onboard charger—is a poor choice against larger and better appointed cars like the Fiat 500e and Honda Fit EV.


· · 4 years ago

"is a poor choice against larger and better appointed cars like the Fiat 500e and Honda Fit EV."

Well . . . not really. The Fiat 500e is supposedly sold-out so that's out. It is also more expensive. The Honda Fit EV is lease-only I believe so if you want to buy, that won't work if you want to buy. The Honda Fit EV is also kinda expensive. But Leaf S at $28.8K and the Spark EV at $27.5K are other alternatives that you may also consider.

· · 4 years ago

Maybe we should just wait until a car company puts together a package we can live with. 125 mile range around $21,000 dollars. Or just buy a ice, this is just not good enough at a
ny level.

· · 4 years ago

Bring back the Roadster as an electric drive! I have a petrol roadster, I love it to bits! it has none of the high speed problems of the ForTwo and for town driving it is excellent for nipping in and out of traffic. It's superb for commuting and has the lumbar and lateral support missing here. It doesn't pretend to be any more than it is... an economical 2 seater commuter and fun sports open top when the sun is shining. If they made an all electric version I'd be all over it like a rash!

· · 4 years ago

My view is that the E-Up is going to own the small electric car class in Europe.
Even the Zoe, using the not so great Nissan batteries, has its limits.

· · 4 years ago

While not a fan of the Smart form factor, I'm glad to see another EV on the roads. This gives more people choice and options not available three years ago. This shows EVs are taking hold and consumers are getting it. We are tired of paying through the nose for fuel and maintenance. We've got better things to do with our money like pay the mortgage and feed the kids. What I don't understand is why people think they need so much range for these cars to be practicle? My i-MiEV has an EPA range of 62, but with careful driving I can easilly get 75-80 miles out of it. I did 90 miles the other day. Now think about driving around town for 90 miles running errands and then a stretch down the highway to the office a 1/2 hour away. Yeah, that's a lot of driving for one day!

· · 4 years ago

@jah: The thing is, (that most people don't realize yet because they're told not to by the oil cartels' propaganda machine) the production electric car we already have, including this one and all the others, is already "good enough" at the level they're at right now. For any two-car household, they are already totally effective and useable for most all everyday driving, and they're already cheaper than any ICE car when you factor in the cost of fuel and maintenance over the life of a vehicle. - So, there's no "waiting" to do. If you want to have a car with those particular specs of 125 miles and $21,000 sticker, then what you should do is stop bashing EV's and buy one. If you and every other intelligent person in this country would just buy one of these first models now, then the expanded R&D and production volume/costs would quickly produce the car you describe (and better), and then we could really help solve many of our country's problems including the economy, pollution, and energy independence.

· · 4 years ago

Some interesting points here, but also some glaring bits of sheer nitwittery, to wit:

>>>>>from $25,000 before incentives, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive - which only has a 3.3 kilowatt-onboard charger - is a poor choice against larger and better appointed cars like the Fiat 500e and Honda Fit EV.<<<<<<<<

Well, no it's not, and that's a pretty lame, unsupported conclusion for you to feed the unsuspecting reader looking to you for insight - but more on that in a bit.

More specifically, the 500e and FitEV provide two terrible comparisons, both being compliance cars unavailable in most of the country, the FitEV not even being for sale anywhere. I saw the SparkEV mentioned elsewhere here - same thing. I can't say it enough - compliance cars suck, and buying them is a bad idea. It doesn't promote EV development, because their makers aren't investing in manufacturing facilities to make them profitable to build. And if that's the case, what's the long term service picture going to be like? (I'm pretty sure that's why Honda's going "lease only" with the FitEV; it's annoying, but at least they're being honest.)

By contrast, the SmartED will be available at Smart dealers across America in 2014, and it's clearly the least expensive EV you can buy. Its only real competitors are the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (now all but vanished from the market with only vague statements about its eventual return) and Nissan's LEAF S, both under $29k. Yes, the SmartED lacks a back seat and trunk, but it is thousands less than those closest competitors, and I think an entirely rational choice for buyers who want to drive electric and need no more than it does. If you're an open air enthusiast, the SmartED cabriolet is a truly unique proposition.

As for this bit of nonsense:

>>>>>>the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive isn’t a car best suited to long hours of driving<<<<<<

. . . what part of 70 miles range got past ya there, bunky? You can't be in this car for long hours of driving. This is like complaining that a Hummer has many drawbacks as an economical urban runabout.


· · 4 years ago

I just purchased the Electric Drive on 9/4/13 and so far am very happy. Range keeps going up the more I drive it. In the morning with a fully charged battery I started out at 60 miles estimated now I'm up to 72 estimated. From my start with a fully charged battery as I drive more miles the estimated range increases. So far I have gotten up to a total of 90 miles range between driven miles and estimated to empty range. This is mostly city. I charge daily but have skipped a day when it was raining hard or we went out on a road trip with my ice car. I'm 5'5", a bit portly and have no problem reaching the radio or other controls. Seats are comfortable, a/c and heat work well, seat heaters are great and really allow you to skip draining the battery using cabin heater. It handles well in the rain (have to wait for snow). I have the standard radio with the standard usb and Ipod inputs. Radio is good and I like how it reads the thumbdrive. I didn't buy the car to cruise on the highway but it can. It does what I expected it to do and does it very well. I couldn't beat the price with any other electric car available.
I charge it overnight on a 110 outlet in my driveway. I have gone 40 miles in one day and down to 60% battery, the longest estimated time to full charge was about 7 hours. I'm looking at a hardwired evse as I don't want to deal in heavy rain or snow with opening and closing the trunk, plugging and unplugging the supplied travel evse cord from the 110 outlet. I have gone about 190 miles so far without having to visit a gas station and my ice car has only used a quarter of a tank in two weeks vs a full 14 gallon refill every 10 to 14 days. This smart decision will pay for itself.

· · 4 years ago

I've had my Smart ED for a couple of months and I have driven it over 2000 miles. I anticipated the Smart problem of 'accelerator effort' since I once owned a gas Smart and I ordered my ED with cruise control. Now I am able to 'cruise' for a significant amount of my 30 mile one way rural commute: no more leg fatigue. I also find the extra battery weight has reduced the gas Smart rough ride. It's still rougher than other cars but I find it acceptable. My commute is not full of potholes. The cabin heater and air conditioner is actually more effective than my wife's Volt. We love the Volt but the Smart fits the bill until the next generation affordable EV comes around.

· · 4 years ago

I have had an electric SmartCar for six months. I traded a gas SmartCar for the electric, so I knew about the cars features and handling, and knew the amount of interstate driving I would be doing.

Until winter, the 75 miles between chargings was quite acceptable. But in the winter, the cold has lowered the battery range to about 50 miles. That is marginally acceptable. It means I cannot commute 26 miles without finding a plug-in. With the number of charging stations, that is not easy!

Chain stores except Walgreen's have not jumped on the bandwagon for charging stations, and who spends an hour in a pharmacy? The grocery chains need to support EV charging. Owners should drop a message in the suggestion box every time they shop. It may have an effect.

· · 4 years ago

I bought a 2014 SmartCar EV the first of the year and I love it. I work for Safeway, and the shopping center we're in recently installed solar panels which offset the 3 EV chargers they also added in the parking lot, which are free to use.

I have a 45 mile round tip commute, which leaves me around 25 miles worth of driving range to run errands every day before I have recharge. I plug in when I arrive at work; usually by lunchtime I'm fully charged. I'm not spending a dime for fuel now, compared to $6-$8 a day in my ICE. I generally drive on the freeway with the faster traffic, as the Smart easily cruises at between 80 and 85 mph when necessary. Acceleration at low and high speeds is adequate, midrange torque is just plain fun in a car that only weighs 1,800 lbs.

The rebate here in California paid all the costs associated with starting up the lease on the Smart, as well as paying for a 240v Bosch charger and I still have some cash left over. The $140 a month lease payment for the new car is less than the cost of the gas I was putting in my 10 year old Honda, AND I pay half price for the bridge toll every day and drive in the carpool lanes any time I want, which is a really nice perk here in the San Francisco bay area.

Oh, and did I mention no tailpipe emissions?

It's a No-Brainer.

· · 4 years ago

I have had "Lulu" my Electric smart car for 7 months now and I cannot tell you how much I love this car. I think the only thing that could maneuver better would be a motor cycle. Easiest steering, acceleration and breaking ever. I had given up driving for a few years due to weakened muscles from MS but I can handle this car no problem. And boy is she peppy. Really peppy. Hard to keep her down and I have to watch my speed. Initially thought I would not be able to drive it in the winter but apparently the weight distribution from the battery makes a huge difference as I can go through ice and snow without any trouble at all. I call it my tank. And what a conversation starter. The words I hear most often...."I love your car".

By the way the person who did a review on the smart and said that the controls for radio and accessories were hard to reach for a short person had rocks for brains. Even the other door is not hard to reach. By the way it is a super comfortable car. High headroom and plenty of width for even hefty people. With the seat slid back as far as it will go you can stretch legs way out. When you are in it It most certainly does not feel like a small car. And as for the lack of trunk space complaint....well it has no trunk...but we bought two large storage baskets that fit perfectly on the back ledge and you would be amazed at how many grocery bags you can fit into them. No I won't be transporting any furniture. But I'll bet most cars can't do that either. And way more space than a lot of sport cars I have been in.

I guess I would say i have zero complaints about this car. Well maybe one....I would wish for a bit more range. But that will the technology grows. This is a wonderful dream of a car....especially for the price.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.