BORN TO BE…AN EV
“Electric mobility is the true nature of Smart,” says brand manager Marc Langenbrinck. We have to agree that the smart fortwo certainly looks like it should be an electric car. The tiny two-seater, with egg-like styling and plastic body panels, is so wildly different, it’s sort of a let-down to find out that it’s powered by a conventional gasoline engine. But the ForTwo, which first came to market (in Europe) in 1998, had been around for nine years before the first Smart EV was unveiled, in 2007. A small test fleet was soon let loose in London. A total of 100 first-generation Smart EVs were produced before the second-generation electric made its debut in 2008. Deliveries of the current, second-generation car began in Germany last November. Now, the smart fortwo electric drive is coming to the USA.
POWERED BY TESLA
The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive-and yes, that is the name-uses a 30-kilowatt (20 kw constant output) electric motor that puts out 88 pound-feet of torque. Like the ForTwo’s three-cylinder gasoline engine, the electric motor is located at the rear and drives the rear wheels. It’s fed by a 16.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack supplied by Tesla. The battery unit is ideally located under the floor and within the wheelbase. Smart engineers claim that the Electric Drive has a range of roughly 80 miles, or four to five hours of low-speed city driving. Recharging is via a 220v connector. Refilling a fully depleted battery pack takes eight hours; a more typical recharge from 20 percent to 80 percent capacity would be 3.5 hours.
A QUICK BUZZ THROUGH BROOKLYN
We had the opportunity to drive the ForTwo Electric Drive on a loop through Brooklyn, a low-speed urban environment that should be the Smart’s ideal milieu. Smart claims that, despite carrying an extra 308 pounds, the EV matches the gasoline-powered car’s 6.5-second time from 0 to 60 km/hr (that’s 37 mph). That still puts it among the slowest cars on the road. And top speed is limited to 100 km/hr, or 62 mph. Clearly, and like its conventionally powered sibling, the ForTwo Electric Drive is not meant to be a highway star.
But the EV does have an advantage in that, like most electrics, it uses a single-speed gearbox, rather than the standard ForTwo’s slow and jerky automated manual. Starting up from rest is odd, however; the Smart Electric Drive doesn’t creep (move forward slightly without your foot on the gas), so you have to press the accelerator to get moving. But tip-in is such that nothing happens at first, so then you have depress it further before it finally reacts, making parking rather annoying affair. Once underway, the motor has a golf-cart-like whine whenever your foot is on the throttle. As in the standard Smart, the tiny wheels and ultra-short wheelbase make for a harsh, bouncy ride on mean city streets.
On the plus side, visibility is outstanding, and the front seats are very roomy. The EV has the same amount of behind-the-seats stowage as the standard car. And the Cabrio’s power-operated convertible top is quick and simple to use.
FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY
Smart is only bringing in 250 ForTwo Electric Drive cars, but of those, some 80 percent will be funneled to corporate buyers. The 50 or so that will go to the general public will be sold in the following markets: Portland, Oregon; San Jose, California; Indianapolis, Indiana; Tampa-Orlando, Florida; and the Boston-New York-Philadelphia-D.C. corridor. Interested buyers can sign up at Smart’s web site, and those from the supported areas will be taken on a first-come, first-serve basis.
All ForTwo Electric Drives will be leased, at $499/month for 48 months. (The government’s $7500 electric-car-buyer tax credit goes to Smart.) Air conditioning is standard, and a car that is plugged in can be pre-cooled or pre-warmed via a button on the remote. All Electric Drives are painted the same green and white, but buyers do have a choice of coupe or Cabrio.
Once those 250 cars are gone, that’s it. True series production doesn’t begin until 2012, for the 2013 model year.