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.

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.