2011 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive

Matt Tierney

The electric version of the Smart ForTwo actually drives better than the gasoline-powered version that we tested a couple weeks ago. Besides its superior transmission that Joe already mentioned, improved weight distribution also helps. (The batteries are located beneath the driver's seat, whereas the normal ForTwo has a rear-mounted engine.) The Electric Drive edition also feels less prone to understeer and less quick to activate its stability control system during normal driving.

This is the first electric car I've driven extensively. It's a good thing a home charger was included in the cargo hold of our test car, or I probably wouldn't have made it back to work this morning, since I had to take a detour on my way home yesterday evening. My commute is 45 miles round trip -- well within the published ranges of 93 miles (per the EPA's LA4 city test), 84 miles (per a Smart brochure), and 63 miles (per the EPA's combined test) -- but I ended up driving 60.2 miles, and I would not have made it without the recharge. Granted I was driving nearly flat-out for much of the time (a measly 65 mph is the indicated top speed) and I used the radio, headlights, and windshield wipers. How dare I choose to drive in the rain, listen to a baseball game, and run a short errand? That's the big problem with EVs at this point: limited freedom to deviate from your typical commute. Admittedly, though, most EV buyers surely have commutes shorter than my 45-mile round trip.

Even though I plugged in the car in for more than nine hours, it boosted the charge state only from 30 percent to 80 percent. (Perhaps it requires a 240V plug to get the extra 20 percent?)

Never before have I been passed so quickly by a Toyota Prius, but that's what happened when I had the accelerator pinned on I-94 last night. I suppose a 65-mph top speed isn't terrible if you're OK with getting passed and taking your time, but the big limitation, as Phil already described, is that when traffic is merging you don't have the ability to accelerate smoothly into the left lane. Same with back roads -- if you get stuck behind someone who wants to do 45 mph in a 55-mph zone, you have to plan your passes VERY carefully. To its credit, the Smart is peppy off the line and around town, but after about 30 mph or so you really feel this car's sluggishness. Speaking of highway driving, this 1950-pounder is no fun at all to drive at higher speeds in windy conditions.

I was impressed that the car produced heat so quickly on my drive home last night, but this morning I was less impressed, even though ambient temperatures were only slightly colder (35 degrees versus 40).

Our test car, by the way, looked supercool with its metallic green wheels and green Tridion Safety Cell paired with white body panels. The good looks of this test car certainly do not make up for the Smart Electric Drive's extra cost and diminished range compared with the Nissan Leaf, which also happens to have a back seat. Still, I agree with my colleagues who've noted that the electric edition makes the most sense of any Smart for sale today.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

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