Test Drive: Smart Finally Gets It Right with Latest Electric Car

By · July 18, 2012

The electric Smart car, open top version

The electric Smart car, open top version

The latest news from German automakers regarding EVs have not been very exciting. Some people even question their commitment to electric mobility. But after driving the latest electric Smart and meeting the people behind it, there's no doubt. It's real, and that the manufacturer is very serious about it.

Some people may remember the first electric Smart as being British-engineered, by specialist firm Zytek. That's over. Then, there was the second generation. They made more than 2,000 of them with batteries coming from Tesla Motors. Done. The 2013 electric Smart is something totally new, and maybe more important, it's something totally German.

Part of the fleet which was awaiting us, they don't need a large parking

Part of the fleet which was awaiting us, they don't need a large parking

The battery cells come from Li-Tec. They are assembled into packs by Deutsche ACCUmotive, a joint-venture between Evonik Industries and the Daimler group (which owns both the Mercedes and Smart brands) in a brand new factory. The electric motor is built by EM-motive, another joint-venture, this time between the Daimler Group and Bosch, its long time partner. (There were Bosch parts in every Mercedes I've seen.) Like the batteries, those motors are built in a brand new factory. It would have been easier, cheaper and faster to source parts in Asia, but they chose to build an entire supply chain. Their supply chain. Everything is controlled or owned by the Daimler group, in Germany. All the parts are built by German workers, and conceived by German engineers. This is commitment! I asked if they could sell batteries to other car manufacturers, and they said that could happen. It's clearly not a priority, though, but those cells are said to be excellent. They are the only cells in the world with the famed ceramic SEPARION® high performance separator, which is said to make them very long-lasting. I was told they could last a decade with no additional wear from fast-charging. Of course, that is the theory. We'll see in 10 years, but Daimler's engineers are not known for overpromising.


Getting into the car, my first thought was about the not very positive experience I had with the old electric Smart. I had driven it in moderate traffic conditions, and I had the surprise to find my right foot on the floor, only trying to keep up with traffic. This new model is way better, and it took me only a few seconds to find out. Manufacturer's numbers are 0 to 60 kph (37 mph) in 4.8 seconds and 0 to 100 kph (62 mph) in 11.5 seconds. Let's say it has all the power needed for city driving and more. The electric motor gives 55 kW and 96 lb-ft of torque. Unimpressive values, but more than adequate with that torque available right from zero RPM, and less than 2,000 pounds on the scale. The electric Smart is faster than a Mitsubishi electric, and probably as fast as a Nissan LEAF, at least in the city. Top speed is limited at 75 mph, making it unfit for the autobahn, but the Smart car has never been a cruiser.

Interior of the electric Smart

Interior of the electric Smart

The battery stores 17.6 kWh of energy and the manufacturer says it should be good for 90 miles. They've seen more than 120 miles in internal testing, and even with my spirited driving it's more than 60 miles. Charging takes seven hours on a standard European wall socket, but that can be down to one hour with the optional 22 kW charger. Driving the car is a much nicer experience than the standard gas model which suffers from an agricultural gearbox, and a very noisy engine. All the people who bought a gas Smart would dream of such a smooth driving experience. The only thing wrong is the ride quality, which can be choppy at times—but the gas model is like that too. We imagine it's difficult to engineer a comfortable suspension with a wheelbase so short, but the small size is really an asset in the city. I was in Berlin to test drive this car. I've parked and made U-turns which would have been impossible in a normal car.

Electric Smart running on renewables

Electric Smart running on renewables

There's a lot of enthusiasm in Europe right now towards very small vehicles, like the Renault Twizy. But those vehicles ask for many compromises, with limited performances and lack creature comforts. The electric Smart is not like that. It has a nice interior, and it's surprisingly roomy inside. It has two bucket seats, but like an old car it doesn't have a center console, so it has more knee room than say a Ford Focus. The air conditioning works fine. It also has heated seats and a good radio. There's everything the average commuter would want, and I'll go as far as to say that this electric Smart may be the most convincing electric car I've ever tested.

Let's think about the electric Ford Focus. In Europe, it's possible to buy a diesel Focus which has 700 miles of range for half the money, so it will be hard to sell. People are used to long range for a standard car, but not so with the Smart. This electric model is a gem because it so perfectly matches your expectations for it. It delivers. I drove a Nissan LEAF and got out wishing for more range and a bigger trunk. I had no complaints when I got out of the Smart. A better ride would be nice, but that's no deal-breaker. Range is quite limited at 90 miles, but nobody would take a Smart to drive cross-country (well, actually, some crazy people do).

In Europe, Smart also sells electric bikes

In Europe, Smart also sells electric bikes

The final question is price. Electric Smart is 19,900 euros in Germany ($24,330) for the standard model, and 22,496 euros ($27,504) for the open top version (VAT not included). It's possible to pay even less by leasing the battery. Prices are down 15,890 and 18,486 euros ($19,427 and $22,601) but the customer must pay 65 euros each month for the battery ($79). It sounds better to buy the car complete with the battery, but many businesses are expected to lease the battery.

All the electric Smart cars have been white and green so far, but other colors are available, and the car will be sold worldwide (left- or right-hand drive), in 30 countries. First deliveries will begin this autumn in Germany, U.S. will follow a bit later. Will it be successful? The Smart car started 14 years ago, and it got mixed results so far. A few countries, like Italy, are highly supportive of the concept, but it deserves to win the world. There is no more satisfying city car.

Comments

· Spec (not verified) · 2 years ago

"It would have been easier, cheaper and faster to source parts in Asia, but they chose to build an entire supply chain. Their supply chain. Everything is controlled or owned by the Daimler group, in Germany. All the parts are built by German workers, and conceived by German engineers."

So much Nationalism in Germany is a bit disconcerting given history but I guess it is fine as long as it is just for manufacturing electric cars.

· MM (not verified) · 2 years ago

Actually, the smart fortwo electric drive is built in Alsace-Lorraine in France. Despite the car is mainly engineered in Germany, it is also a french car.
I had two of the second generation smart fortwo and I can tell you:
Once you accustomed to the unique driving experience you never wan't to drive another car in the city anymore.
The smart isn't a very cheap car, but in my opinion, quality has it's price.
Remember that the smart fortwo got four out of five stars in the euro ncap crashtest. I think that's a quite good result for a car that is less than half of the length of a Lincoln TownCar.

· Nasdram (not verified) · 2 years ago

@spec: Sorry for off topic but what the ... Racist much?
Yes, what happened during WW II was a crime against humanity. But did you recently look at your calendar and see what year we have? Engineers and decision makers at companies where not even born during the war let alone had a chance to be indoctrinated.

And to jump to the conclusion that its nationalism to source stuff and design it in house is I feel a jump. There can be many reasons for that, they might think that this will help them stay a major player in the future, might make production cycles shorter ect.

Is google a nationalistic company for building the Nexus in silicon valley.

Sorry for the off topic but blatant racism like that gets my blood boiling.

· Spec (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Nasdram

No race was mentioned nor implied, just a nationality. Learn the meaning of words. Nationalism can be a dangerous thing so I worry about it. I worry when I read about someone avoiding a solution that would be "easier, cheaper and faster" just to keep it in all in one nation. But MM is correct that it is assembled in France and that is good to know.

· · 2 years ago

Please, don't misunderstand me, it has nothing to do with nationalism. It's about commitment and thinking long term. If they had outsource everything in Asia, everybody would have thought they had no commitment towards EVs, that they just wanted to follow the global trend, while minimizing their investments. Whereas by building a complete supply chain at home, that's the best proof that they believe in electric mobility.

I know very well the Smart factory is in France, and that's another proof that nationalism isn't an issue here.

· Nasdram (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Spec: The way you wrote your first comment made it sound as if nationalism is a worry if its happening in Germany.
"So much Nationalism in Germany ..." you specifically said nationalism in Germany is a problem, not nationalism in general.
Which is something that is happening a lot. "Germany wants to achieve with the Euro and austerity what it hasn't achieved in WW2" sound familiar?
Or people telling me that they don't want to rent to me because what the Germans did in the 3rd Reich.

No matter what ism you want to attach to such a behaviour, I would say its at least similar to racism.
Though if you have the same problem with Americans buying Ford or GM because they are a US manufacturer or any other country their countries products for that matter I have misread you, but then I would welcome you writing "So much nationalism is problematic".

· · 2 years ago

Do you have any info on the 22kW charger? DC Quick Charging or is it on-board AC single phase, or three phase? Is that what is shown in the video? Cost as an option?

· · 2 years ago

Thanks for this upbeat review of the new Smart ED, Laurent. It sounds as if they've done their homework and it's good to hear that this should become another EV option for US buyers before too long.

There's a few comparisons with the Nissan Leaf here and at least one or two places where you consider the ED better. But there is one important think the Leaf has that the ED doesn't - and probably never will - have . . . 3 rear seats in addition to the 2 front ones and the cargo area.

I'll ask along with Kei: is the 22kWh charger a reductive unit, like found on the Renault Zoe?

· · 2 years ago

IIRC the second generation specs were 40 bhp, 88 lb-ft torque, 16.5 kWh battery, 82 miles range, 0-60 kph in 6.5 seconds and 62 mph top speed. How much did it cost?

· Hubert Savelberg (not verified) · 2 years ago

Perhaps off topic because it does not concern the Smart, but I can add something to the subject of leasing batteries for EV's

Here in Belgium we do indeed lease the battery with our electric van, a Renault Kangoo Z.E. which cost about 75€ per month and gives about 100-130 km of range (80-90 miles)

In Europe, 75€ per month would be just enough for one gas fillup.

The electricity cost for our car is between 2.50€ and 3.60 per 100 km dependable of peak or night electricity cost.

And because the battery is leased, in the lease contract is stated that after losing 25% of the reload capacity of the battery, it will be replaced.

So we always will drive with a good battery. And with the fast development in batteries, I want to have the possibility to use a newer battery with greater range when it comes available.

Old batteries will be used by Renault for their peak storage project, they have made a contract with GDF Suez, a large electricy producer in France where all the old batteries will be integrated in a storage system to be used during peak times.

And: If I want to sell our car afterwards, I have to sell it with the battery lease so it will be a car with not a dead battery. Try to sell an electric car that has a dead battery...

· Pat (not verified) · 2 years ago

They should build in US and cut the production cost in half. It will allow lower price and will be ideal in big cities or for AM commute.

· James Anderson Merritt (not verified) · 2 years ago

I laughed when you said the top speed of 75mph was "unfit for the autobahn." Maybe so, but a zippy little car like this, which can do between 60-90 miles on one charge at maximum 75mph, would be great for use here in the USA. I would like to see double the range to cover the maximum round trip that I tend to make under normal circumstances. But otherwise, this looks like a very interesting vehicle. Here in Santa Cruz, CA, we are seeing more and more of the gas-powered Smart vehicles running around town. Now, I will look out for the electric version, and may perhaps rent one for an extended test drive. Thanks for the informative review!

· · 2 years ago

I can't see this being popular around me. Then again, I can't see the gas version being popular, but I do see them regularly. The Leaf is much more of a car than the Smart, but if it serves people well, I welcome it to the fold. I do worry a little about it doing more harm than good in terms of public perception of EVs. This seems like a small step backwards towards NEVs (despite the higher speeds, the passenger/cargo volume is similar to the GEM or ZENN NEVs).

· Warren (not verified) · 2 years ago

Clown car...glorified golf cart...ugly...no room for plywood...only 75 mph...what happens when I T-bone it with my three ton SUV...blah, blah, blah. Did I miss any?

I believe it is actually over 2000 pounds in the electric version. I wish they offered it without AC, power brakes/steering/windows/locks. As a bicyclist, I still find this obscenely excessive. But I may have to buy one, as a vote for sanity.

· · 2 years ago

What really impresses me about the Smart is how well it does in a crash that could kill the occupants of many other cars . . .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJHpUO-S0i8

I do wish, though, it had enough room for more than two people.

· Steven (not verified) · 2 years ago

Thanks Brian, Warren and Benjamin! (That's all I need to say.)

But since there is room for some off-topic... Go easy on the Germans. We Americans haven't been real great to all those people around the world sitting on 'our oil' (after we burned all our not inconsiderable national endowment up in an orgy of gas-guzzling and wars). It is pretty easy to demonize and do despicable things to people who have what you want.

Maybe when we are all driving EVs we can again practice what we have been preaching.

· · 2 years ago

The only thing wrong with the Smart ED is that some will think "erectile dysfunction".

This raises the bar for Toyota on their iQ EV.

Where is the battery pack? What is the regenerative braking set up -- is there a mode that has free-wheel coasting? It looks virtually identical to the Smart ICE -- did they do anything to improve the aero drag?

Neil

· · 2 years ago

Thanks Benjamin, for the crash video. We've seen some cheap low-speed vehicles that were truly unsafe, but not the Smart. The cell is very strong, and it meets all safety regulations everywhere.

The second generation electric Smart was never offered to the public. Only businesses could get one, and only with a lease. I think it was 690 euros per month. Makes me think I'll have to ask what they will do with all those cars, when Smart will get them back.

I don't know the price of the 22 kW optional charger. It needs 400V and it doesn't use the car's motor to charge like the Renault Zoe. Maybe the price has been set yet, as most customers should be happy with the standard 7-hour charge. Smart signed an agreement with SPX, and I believe it is worldwide. If a customer wants a wallbox or the fast charger, the Smart dealer will call SPX, and SPX will then call the customer.

Battery and motor are all under the floor.

@Neil
Real men with hair on their chest shouldn't mind driving a Smart!

· Henry Unger (not verified) · 2 years ago

"The second generation electric Smart was never offered to the public."

I beg to differ. I have one. I love it. Go Team 250.

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