First Drive: Smart ForTwo Electric Drive

"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.

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.

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.

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