First Drive: Smart ForTwo Electric Drive

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.

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.

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