The two-seat Smart ForTwo is one of the smallest cars on American roads. Measuring just over 106 inches from tip to tail, and a shade under 62 inches tall and wide, the electric version is small enough to occupy the smallest of spaces, from gaps in busy rush-hour traffic to overcrowded parking lots.
When the diminutive Smart was first introduced in the United States nearly a decade ago, it assumed a somewhat novel cult status—because it was so different than anything else on the street. But with dismal press reviews and anemic sales, the odd looks of the stubby pipsqueak Smart soon started looking goofy. That image persists today. You have to want to make a bold statement to drive a Smart—and frankly, it’s hard to know what that statement is.
Although it looks identical to its gasoline sibling, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive is marginally larger. You’d have to park it next to a gasoline Smart ForTwo to really notice. That extra length, width and height helps contains a 17.6 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor.
The 2014 Smart Electric is offered with the same exterior and interior color options as the gas powered model—except for the Crystal Grey leather interior. But a signature “kinetic green appearance package” is also available as an option with white body panels, white wheels, and green exterior/interior design flourishes.
The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive has a 55 kW electric motor that makes 96 pound-feet of torque delivered through a single-speed automatic transmission. Top speed is not great: 78 miles per hour. Smart doesn’t talk about horsepower, but one indication of performance is a zero-to-60 mph time of 11.5 seconds.
That’s pretty leisurely, yet auto reviewers say that the small EV has enough power for passing other vehicles in the city. However, at low speeds however, the lack of power steering and low-ratio rack and pinion create a lot of work for the driver. As with the gas-powered model, the car can feel unsteady— and too easily swayed by the wind—when traveling at highway speeds.
Compared with the gasoline Smart ForTwo, the electric Smart ForTwo handles better, thanks to the low center of gravity caused by the floor-mounted battery pack. Still, most auto reviewers believe the ForTwo Electric Drive’s overall ride quality is unrefined, its suspension too easily picks up bumps, and its brakes are mushy.
The EPA rates the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive with a range of 68 miles per charge. That breaks down to an estimated range of 76 miles in the city, and 59 on the highway.
Given its small size, the electric Smart is very efficient, with an impressive government MPGe rating of 122 in the city and 93 miles on the highway. The combined miles per gallon equivalent is 107.
You might find that real-world driving range is even better than estimated by the EPA— as we did when our loaner test car indicated 67 miles of range left, after we had only tipped into the battery pack at about 20 percent.
The meek personality of the Smart extends to its anemic charging capability.
The standard for EVs these days is an onboard 6.6-kW charger that adds about 20 to 25 miles of range in an hour’s worth of charging. However, the Smart Electric Drive uses a 3.3-kW charger that logically adds 3.3 kilowatt-hours of energy over the course of an hour. That adds up to only about 10 to 12 miles of driving.
A full charge from empty to full of the Smart’s 17.6 kWh battery pack takes about five to six hours—twice as long as it would if Daimler, the manufacturer of Smart vehicles, had equipped the car with the 6.6-kW industry standard.
On top of that drawback, the Smart Electric Drive does not have a port to access Quick Charging at public charging stations.
There is extra height needed to give the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive room for its battery pack under the floor. That height also gives the driver a commanding view of the road ahead, increasing visibility and managing urban maneuvering with ease. However, tall drivers likely will find the roofline a little too cramped. Our reviewer at 5’10” was less than an inch from the Smart ForTwo Coupe’s roof-mounted roller blind.
By the numbers, there is 39.7 inch of headroom and only 12 cubic feet of storage space.
Seat 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.
Also, 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.
Inside, there is an almost identical interior to the gasoline Smart ForTwo, with these modification: a state-of-charge meter and power gauge replaces the center-mounted clock and tachometer dash pods of the gasoline model.
The ForTwo Electric Drive’s standard equipment includes a stereo with a USB port and auxiliary jack. There are two optional stereos and an optional navigation system. The feel of interior materials is mostly cheap.
Safety ratings for the Smart ED by major testing organizations, if put on an academic report card, would be a B-minus at best.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration granted four out of five stars on most of its tests, although the Smart—with its rugged safety cage—managed 5 stars on the side crash test.
The Smart Electric Drive performed slightly better on tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The two-seat Smart EV got a “Good” on most of the measures—IIHS’s highest level—but slipped on rear crash protection, in which an “Acceptable” rating was given.
We recommend a sniff test. If you are seriously thinking about a Smart Electric Drive, then take it for a brief test run on the highway alongside 18-wheelers to see if you feel safe in the pint-sized car.
Where the second-generation Smart ED was available only under an expensive lease, the third-generation version is now available under much better terms. Its base MSRP of $25,000 makes it one of the most affordable electric car on the US market. (Destination fees add $750 to the sticker.) The cabriolet version, the only EV with a convertible top, has a $28,000 MSRP. If you prefer leasing, that starts at $139 a month—with $2,433 due at signing.
The $139 lease deal is only available on the hardtop Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. Opt for the convertible model—the only real all-electric convertible on sale in the U.S. right now—and you’ll be paying a little more.
Even at the lower price, the Smart ForTwo ED isn’t actually all that competitive when it comes to lease pricing. There are EV owners who have signed lease deals on the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Ford Focus EV for about the same price. The much more capable Nissan LEAF isn’t that much more.
One more thing to consider: A so-called “Battery Assurance Plus” option is available when you buy or lease the Smart Electric Drive. If worries about your car’s battery pack becoming an expensive boat anchor has kept you from taking the plunge into the electric future, this is the option for you.
In this scheme, the battery pack is not included as part of the purchase price, which gets cut by $5,100 to $20,650 before any federal rebate. If you apply the full $7,500 credit, the price drops to a tantalizing $13,150. But realize that you will be renting the Smart’s battery for around $80 per month plus tax. If something goes wrong with it over the course of 10 years, it’s not your problem, because you don’t own it—hence the name “battery assurance.”
Of course, if you lease the car in the conventional way, you are also leasing the battery—so it’s hard to see how the added complexity of this program makes much sense. Also, many electric cars carry longer than normal warranties for batteries. Then again, the Battery Assurance lease drops the down payment of the $139 lease to $99 according to the Smart website.
Comparisons of Similar Cars
It’s hard to find a fair electric car comparison with the Smart Electric Drive, which is the only two-seat battery-powered model on the market.
It could stack up with the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, but while both cars have similarly low range, power and price, the Smart (once again) can only seat two, ever.
At the end of the day, the one distinguishing feature of the Smart ED—which cannot currently be matched by any other EV—is a convertible top. If you are willing to make other compromises for fresh air, then head down to a participating Smart dealership.
The Smart Electric Drive can only be purchased and serviced by EV-certified locations in these states: California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island.
If that’s where you live, search out a list of local dealers and register your interesting in the Smart ED on this webpage: http://www.smartusa.com/models/electric-drive/EV-pre-register.aspx