2013 Smart fortwo electric drive first drive
Fourteen years on, smart finally achieves its destiny
Berlin, Germany — Standard disclaimer: Electric cars are not ready for the mainstream. They cost too much. Their range is too little. They take too long to recharge. And anyway, if the electricity used to recharge them isn't renewable, they're not really green, are they?
OK, now can we talk about the Smart electric drive?
It's taken a while, but the reality of Smart is finally starting to catch up with the perception.
The first time we drove a fortwo on Canadian soil, a decade or so ago, it was the first one in the country — a toe-in-water demo car sent over to raise awareness and gauge public opinion.
The reaction was, well, electrifying. Megan Fox riding around Toronto naked on a unicycle could not have provoked more neck-snapping, smile-stretching, thumbs-upping attention.
But here's the thing: although precious few of those awe-struck Torontonians knew what they were staring at, a good many of them were sure it was some kind of new electric car. And why not? The fortwo looks like it should be electric.
Infernal combustion only for the first decade
But they were wrong. Even though the fortwo was originally designed to be electric, it first came to market in 1998 with a choice of gasoline or diesel engines. When the Smart made its Canadian debut in 2004, we got only the diesel. With the arrival in Canada of the second-generation fortwo in 2008, a gasoline engine became the only choice.
About the same time, though, back in Europe Smart was finally dipping its first tentative toe into EV waters. A test fleet of 100 electric prototypes was released onto the streets of London, England, in 2007. When an updated electric followed in 2009, production was initially pegged at 1,000 cars, but ended up at more than 2,000, sold in 18 countries. Canada got 16 of them, which went to carefully selected private users in a field trial overseen by Toronto Hydro.
Building on what was learned from those cars, the third-generation electric Smart will be a full production model. Smart Canada is taking orders now for first deliveries next spring.
At $26,990 (or $29,990 for the cabriolet) the Smart electric drive will displace the Mitsubishi i-MiEV as the lowest-priced electric car in Canada; like its competitors, the Smart qualifies for provincial rebates — up to $5,000 In B.C., $8,000 in Quebec and $8,500 in Ontario.
Standard household socket won't cut it
You'll likely need to budget for a 240-volt wallbox charger, though; on Canada's 110-volt household grid, a full recharge would take about twice as long as the seven hours (or six hours with a dedicated wall box) claimed in Europe, where 220 (not 240) volts is standard. Then you should sign up with a renewable-electricity provider such as Bullfrog Power if you want to ensure you're driving emissions-free.
Perhaps surprisingly, feedback from past electric-drive users did not include any great desire for more driving range. Almost half of respondents typically drove fewer than 10 km per day, and 90 per cent fewer than 60 km. By its very nature, any Smart is so obviously a city car that most users considered the previous 135-km claimed range more than ample.
What gen-two users did want was more speed — a higher top end than the previous 100 km/h, as well as quicker acceleration in the higher speed ranges, and faster recharging.
Hence the new model gets only a small increase in battery capacity (now 17.6 kWh) and driving range (now 145 km) but a significantly more powerful electric motor, up from 30 kW to 55 kW peak. The effect is to trim the 0-60-km/h time from 6.5 to 4.8 seconds and slash the 0-100-km/h time from 26.7 (!) to 11.5 seconds. Top speed is now 125 km/h. Presumably, though, drivers who regularly indulge in the full glory of the performance above 60 km/h won't achieve anything close to the claimed 145-km range.