First Drive: 2013 Electric Smart ForTwo Vastly Improved from Previous Versions

By · June 07, 2013

2013 SmartTwo ED

Mercedes-Benz is the first to admit that the first and second generation of all-electric Smart ForTwos—built as prototypes rather than mass-produced models—were not up to par. Beyond 30 miles per hour, the small cars had embarrassingly weak acceleration, produced more than their share of motor whine, and offered overall performance only suited to local urban driving.

So Mercedes Benz went back to the drawing board for its third-generation Smart ForTwo ED. With a new motor, battery pack, and power electronics, the 2013 Smart ForTwo ED is the small electric car Mercedes-Benz should have made in the first place.

The Smart ForTwo ED is slightly taller, wider, and longer than its gasoline sibling. That’s partly to help make room for a sizable 17.6 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack, on-board charger and power electronics. Despite its growth spurt, its overall proportions still feel right. You’d have to put the new Smart ForTwo ED side by side with a gasoline Smart to notice the difference.

2013 SmartTwo ED

Inside, there’s the usual accoutrements you’d expect from a Smart ForTwo, including two well-proportioned seats, Smart’s latest 6.5-inch in-car infotainment and GPS system, and cruise control. In place of the tachometer and clock found in the gasoline smart’s center-mounted dash pods, you’ll find a state of charge meter, and an economy gauge, measuring how much instantaneous energy you’re using or regenerating.

Like gasoline models, starting consists of placing a foot on the brake pedal, inserting the large key into the floor-mounted ignition switch next to the gear selector, waiting for the car to complete its short start-up routine, and selecting the desired direction of travel. Like all other electric cars on the market, the 2013 Smart ForTwo ED has no conventional gearbox, making it super-simple to drive.

Paddle-Controlled Regen

What makes the Smart ForTwo stand out however, is the use of paddle-shifters mounted on the steering wheel to control the amount of regeneration. By clicking the left paddle-shifter and engaging D- mode, it’s possible to completely turn off regenerative braking on accelerator liftoff, giving it the same coasting functionality as GM’s famous EV1. A click to the right engages the standard D mode, which gives mild regeneration on launch. Click the right paddle shift one more time, and D+ mode is engaged. In this mode, it’s regenerative braking as severe as that found in cars like the Mini E and Tesla Roadster, making ‘one pedal driving’ possible. It also gives the Smart ForTwo ED a really sporty feel, especially on twisty country roads.

2013 SmartTwo ED

Unlike previous generations of the Smart ForTwo ED, the 2013 Smart ForTwo—the first all-electric smart you can buy—is freeway-capable. While it’s 0-62 m.p.h. time is a little on the slow side at 11.5 seconds, there’s enough torque from the car’s 35-kW (55-kW peak) on-board motor to keep the pint-sized EV enthusiastic at highway speeds, accelerating to its top speed of 78 m.p.h. without a problem. The accelerator is light and responsive, with an almost go-cart like feel from the rear-wheel drive setup.

In fact, on our brief 15-mile test drive, we found ourselves having to slow down at the top of the on-ramp to accommodate slower traffic. It’s a big change from our freeway trip in a second-generation prototype Smart ForTwo ED—which resulted in big rigs bearing down on our tiny car with menacing speed.

Compared with the gasoline Smart ForTwo, the 2013 Smart ForTwo ED even handles better, thanks to the low center of gravity caused by that floor-mounted battery pack. The steering was a little on the heavy side at speed, but in town the electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion steering was light and extremely easy to weave in and out of tight spaces.

2013 SmartTwo ED

And without an engine throbbing away behind the driver’s back, the 2013 Smart ForTwo ED is the most refined of all Smart models, providing a smooth, comfortable ride. Cabin noise, while a little louder than cars like the Telsa Model S or Nissan LEAF, was certainly much reduced compared to the gasoline ForTwo, making it a pleasure to drive on any road.

Range and Cost

The E.P.A. rates the 2013 Smart ForTwo with a range of 68 miles per charge, at a combined 107 M.P.G.e. On our test however, even with 20 percent of the pack used, our car still reported 67 miles of range to go, despite spirited high-speed driving.

2013 SmartTwo ED

Charging via a standard Level 2 outlet should happen in around eight to ten hours, while Europeans get the added option of a three-phase rapid charger capable of filling the battery pack to full in under an hour. Unfortunately, that option isn’t available to U.S. customers.

At $25,750 for the Coupe or $28,750 for the cabriolet variant before incentives, the 2013 Smart ForTwo is one of the most fun all-electric city cars you can buy today. Sure, it’s only got two seats, but if you like your cars funky and agile, it’s time to forget the two versions that came before, and put the current generation Smart ForTwo ED through its paces. The 2013 car officially went on sale in May 2013.


· · 5 years ago

Very nice, plus the Cabriolet version is cute. :) I understand the 110 volt charger brick fits neatly in the back also without taking up luggage room.

· · 5 years ago

That is probably the cheapest BEV on the market. But its performance has much left to be desired.

· · 5 years ago

I think a car like this would be ideal for a city like San Francisco. You can park two of them in one parking spot and the range is enough to carry you over to Oakland, etc. for short stints on the freeways. Charging could be a problem if you live in an apartment and I wouldn't want to test the EPA crash rating at freeway speeds.

· · 5 years ago

Great article, and review. Too bad Smart didn't let you give it an extended test. ;) Thanks Nikki.

The 8-10 hours to charge at Level 2 seems a bit long for a 17.6 kW battery (Expecting 5-6 @ 3.3kW/hr rate). Perhaps I missed something regarding on-board charger specs? 3-phase should make charging a snap!

· · 5 years ago

I had the pleasure of test driving one of these last week and really enjoyed it. The first thing I noticed was how large the doors are. You wouldn't think so, but Smart cars are really easy to get in and out of. Visibility is excellent and needless to say, it handles like a go kart! There was plenty of room inside to be comfortable. The car is simple to use and fun to drive.

· · 5 years ago


Unfortunately, no one is really addressing the charging problem for those that live in any kind of multi-unit dwelling (MUD), whether apartments or condos or coops. And 30% of people n the SF Bay Area live in MUDs, with an even higher percentage in the urban cores, where EVs make a lot of sense.

It is a shame that many white-papers and policy roadmaps discuss this problem only in terms of perhaps improving the situation within 5-7 years: removing zoning and permitting problems, improving incentives for building owners, etc.

There are other possible alternatives worth exploring to address the needs of MUD residents who desperately want to own an EV:

1. pre-packaged (and pre-certified to building code standards) multi-car capable charging stations with built-in metering and payment mechanisms (perhaps delivered on site ala shipping-container moving pods), to simplify and reduce the amount of electrical work and wiring that needs to be done per building

2. increased push to establish neighborhood based charging stations combined with overnight parking, by using local-to-residential real-estate underutilized at these hours (e.g. school parking lots and play yards, church parking, etc.)

3. drive home extra-pack recharging: use standard form factors (e.g. roof rack storage boxes) in combination with neighborhood pack pick-up stations (poor man's Better Place), so MUD residents can drive home (non-highway speed) and charge overnight in their existing parking space, or even on-street, without any in-place infrastructure change. This would require a recharge pack cheaper than a duplicate battery, but can be based on a chemistry - or non-battery storage - with slow discharge, since overnight drip.

· · 5 years ago

While you mention that it performed better on the freeway as compared to the previous version, all other comparisons were against the gas version. Given the title of the article, I would have really liked to have seen more information on what is different between this version and the previous version.

· · 5 years ago

If you scroll up to the top of this page, Skotty, and click "Home" on the green banner, (not "Home" on the black one above it,) you'll be taken to a Plug In Cars' Smart car archives. Exploring links on that page and ones taking you back in time even should get you what I think you're after.

If memory serves, Laurent Masson wrote a couple of fairly detailed articles about a year or so ago contrasting the differences between the Smart ED (this newest one) and the (older) Smart EV.

fotajoye might find this video interesting, if he thinks the Smart is inherently unsafe in a freeway speed crash . . .

Well, I'm reasonably impressed.

My criticism of the Smart? It's not exactly the sleekest thing on the road and this is, to be fair, largely dictated by it's 2-seat-only format. I'd like to see a "stretch" Smart . . . not so much for a pair of rear seats but, rather, just a bit more useful cargo space.

Also . . . If the European one gets a the 3-phase quick charge, it would be nice to see a J-177s/DC combo plug as an option in the US (someone will ask about CHAdeMO, but parent company Mercedes - as with almost all European OEMs - is tied in with the SAE protocol.)

· · 5 years ago

The US version doesn't have the paddle shifts for regen control unfortunately.

· · 5 years ago


I forget the company making one, but with a slight modification there'd be something that would be just what SF MUD dwellers would want...

I forget the company but they make a level 1 to level 2 evse that takes no more than 120 volts and 12 amps at its plug.. It charges a 30 kwh battery or thereabouts.

All You SF Mud dwellers would have to do is put some wheels on the thing, then plug it in in your apartment, and roll it out to your car and chain it to something. I think a 3.3 kw leaf requires 7 hours to charge? This level 2 charger would put out the 14 amps at 240 required,

The biggest problem would be if the apartment had any stairs with no elevator since a 30 kwh battery in the unit unfortunately is going to be heavy... But the portable facility would be totally the tenant's property, is completely portable, and you'd take it with you to the next apartment....Your own personal EVSE. Of course you'd have to leave it plugged in all the time in your appartment since it would need 16-17 hours to charge up, assuming it was not fully discharged from the night before..

· · 5 years ago

@Bill Howland

Yes! (Please try to recall the manufacturer name; just tried a quick search with no luck.)

I've also thought that a portable EVSE w/energy storage could work in a MUD, exactly as you describe. Instead of taking my dog down/up in the elevator and out to the park twice/day (as many many SF'ers do), I could roll my EVSE on a "leash." I'll nickname him sparky.

I think option 3 on my list would get fast adoption among MUDers, since there would be no upfront purchase and possibility of lots of pricing options (monthly, one-time purchases, etc). Also, the supplier could take advantage of TOD service and still create reasonable pricing. In PG&E service areas, generic TOD and low-emission vehicle TOD service plans require new meters, and are only offered to single-home owners.

Combine the recharge-pack distribution service with neighborhood based solar-equipped schools/churches/etc that use PV to recharge the packs during the day, and we have full loop urban clean energy solution. (Schools can finance the PV at almost bank-bank rates, and this would give them a great way to package and sell that energy at better markup than putting it back into the grid.)

Now to find a means (non-battery?) to store the required energy that fits inside something like a roof-rack box, and weighs under 250-300 lbs, (max weight you could put on a roof, even for very local driving). As noted before, transfer rate in/out can be very slow. Any suggestions on that?

· · 5 years ago


Unfortunately, this product never came to market.
The thing I was thinking of was a product LEVITON was GOING TO make, but it required you to be plugged into the 110 volt outlet while you were charging the car at 220.. Since the battery weighed 300 lbs, I would guess it was deamed too unweildy to use (it did have wheels on it already, in view of its heftyness I should have realized that).

You need something just 'slightly' different than this proposed product. You need something where you can totally unplug from the 110, and then wheel it out to your car.

The cheaper solution for everyone would be for Landlords and Home owner's Associations (Condos) to provide at least a few very small (even 110 level 1, or a small 16 amp level 2) CARD enabled EVSE's for tenants to use.

Paul Scott, of Lunch with Obama Fame, could speak to this since he was at a symposium encouraging landlords to install, at least something.

A very small 60 amp single phase feed off the 'house' meter could run 8 level 1 evse's simultaneously, or 3 - 16 amp level 2 evse's simultaneously.
All that would be needed besides running the feeder (and for 'difficult' terrains there is no reason why a small OVERHEAD triplex cable could'nt be run to a small flagpole mounted "KIOSK" area where say, 12 parking spaces share the 8 level 1 chargers, there by making the initial installation cost ridiculously cheap for the landlords, and even a profit center. This would avoid digging up the whole parking lot. (Landlords, please resist the temptation to overcharge for the privlege of using your EVSE's).

· · 5 years ago


Here's a 50 page white paper you may be interested in. California as always seems to make the issue more complicated and legalistic than it should be, but its interesting reading anyways, especially i'd imagine for a Californian.

Continuing with the Kiosk idea, Eaton makes a cheap, 4 station pole (really just 4 120 volt outlets individually enabled with 'utility grade metering', that is pretty close to the card enabled thing I mentioned in my last post. It says 80 amps required, but I think its a safe assumption most volts, leaf's, imevs and tesla's wont use more than 12 amps, so my former figures could be used),

2 of these 'poles' would provide a cheap solution for landlords, since they are just 8 measured consumption, outlets. Someone else is making a card enabled outlet which is exactly what u want. You have to bring your own charger brick, but thats what makes these things cheap. There is a lockable storage area to prevent theft of your cord.

· · 5 years ago


Here's Shorepower's $3000 4 port unit.... Two of these poles would provide service for 8 simultaneous EV's as mentioned 2 posts ago. (I'm not recommending any of these products, I'm just listing them to give you ideas as to what you can get your landlord to do on the CHEAP). That is if he wont allow u to drop an extension cord out of your window, which is the way almost all EV apartment dwellers are handling the problem now.

· · 5 years ago


Going forward, it would be nice if when apartments or Condos (there are so many new ones going up by me), that the owners would put a small recepticle on the outside of the building with the feed going to the tenant's meter. A colocated lockable switch could be padlocked by the tenant to avoid unauthorized use.

My dad used to own a 4 unit apartment building, and he was always willing to entertain tenants wishes for clothes dryer installation, window air conditioners, etc.

I think most landlords would be willing to at least come up with SOMETHING.

Another idea in apartments with basements would be to have say 8 lockable outlets individually fed from the single apartment building to the 'ev parking area'. Then have an outlet installed in the basement from each tennant's meter. Put in a patch cord to energize what will be now a dedicated outlet for the tenant until he moves out.

We've all got to come up with cheap, innovative solutions especially for younger people who cannot afford a house yet, but still want to drive a very small ev.

· · 5 years ago

@Bill Howland

A friend pointed out that residential MUD landlords may even be able to switch their common space usage to low-emission vehicle TOD pricing by virtue of adding even one EVSE for tenants. Since a lot of their usage is night-time (lighting), this change in pricing alone could make it more than worth it for landlords - almost unfairly so. Seems like the utilities could easily bundle all this up into a package that looks like:

- installation (of feeds from meter, additional service if req'd, EVSE, etc.) at cost, with financing against future share payments as described below
- reduced rate to landlord - though not matching low-emission vehicle TOD - on all common-space usage
- tenant purchases EVSE electricity directly from utility, with card based payment tied to their existing account, with percentage share credited back to landlord
- low-emission vehicle rate for tenants at EVSE

Together, this removes any risk to, or up-front investment from, the landlords. That could be the difference maker - since many landlords refuse to re-invest in their own properties, much less for a "green" or environmental purpose. Removes the landlord as a reseller of electricity, and all the complexity and regulation thereof. It also simplifies things in locales with rent-control, and complicated pass throughs of capital improvements costs to tenants.

Landlords would receive benefit immediately, as would tenants. The utility gains by encouraging new use of their network (vehicle charging), gaining additional night-time users (demand smoothing), and financial credits (possibly significant, depending on the state) gained by provably supplying clean vehicles. If the governing bodies involved enabled the utilities to finance all this as they do other clean energy infrastructure projects (cheap cheap), even better.

In regard to your post about the Luskin School report, yes, I've read through it before. Things here (CA) are stupidly complicated and legalistic, but the scheme above would address almost all of the barriers the authors of the Luskin report detail in section 4. The worst of these are the political: problems with shared ownership of an EVSE, costs of install; etc. Just have the utility own/operate the whole damn thing.

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.