In June 2013, 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 in September, 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.
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.
All signs indicate that the market is limited in the U.S., and Daimler is doing very little to change that. As of October 2013, the company said its production volume totals to about 5,000 Smart Electric Drive units, including the second-generation car. The sales numbers in 2012 were miniscule at 136 units, which is on track to expand to a still modest 700 sales in 2013.
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.
Where the second-generation Smart ED (Electric Drive) was available only under an expensive lease, the third-generation version is now available under much better terms. It’s base MSRP of $25,000 makes it one of the most affordable electric car on the US market. 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.