The electrified version of the Smart Fortwo has been in development for what feels like donkey's years. Initially field tested in London in 2009 under the Smart ForTwo EV nameplate, it was incrementally improved and renamed Smart Fortwo ED, for 'electric drive'. Fast forward to 2012 and the car's testing program is complete. The final product, which now goes by the name Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Coupe 55, is almost ready to be sold to the general public, so we took the opportunity to hop in the hotseat and can now bring you our definitive review.
The Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Coupe 55 looks like any other Smart car – small, unassuming, but quite coupe-like with a grounded stance. It may be an object of derision for those in larger cars but it's a well-styled thing whose design serves its intended purpose well. The only clues to the fact this electric drive model is powered by electrons and not ground-up dinosaur bones include a clever ED logo behind the door handle, a green cladding to its Tridion safety cell and a lack of exhaust pipes.
There's plenty of space in the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Coupe 55 for two passengers. The cabin is spacious with lots of leg and headroom, though storage space is at a premium. The glove box is small and, while it is lockable with a key, is flimsy enough to pry open. The door bins are large enough for a few small items – phones, bottles etc. – and a pair of cupholders but boot space is nigh on non-existent. That said, the passenger seat can be folded flat to create an oddly-shaped, if effective, load area.
Performance & Handling
Smart cars usually don't offer inspiring performance, and neither do electric cars so you could be forgiven for assuming the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Coupe 55 is rubbish to drive – but you'd be wrong. It is a bit of a beast actually (think aggressive tomcat rather than killer lion). Its weedy-sounding motor usually offers a mere 35kw of grunt, but nail the throttle and it'll offer a peak output of 55kw (74bhp) for two minutes at a time. That may not sound like much, but believe us when we say it's enough to make the car feel like it's attached to a rocket. On paper, its 0-62mph time is just 11 seconds, though it feels far quicker as the acceleration and torque are effortless.
It'll keep up with all traffic with ease and if you nail it from a standstill it'll even surprise a few people at the lights. It doesn't run out of puff, either. It keeps pulling up until its 78mph top speed, so it'll gobble up motorway miles just like its petrol-powered cousins. Fancy a bit of overtaking? No problem. Just bury the go pedal and the little Smart will launch forward with an urgency that belies its size.
It takes just a few short seconds to get from 30mph to 60mph and you'll be breaking the law if you keep the throttle nailed. Handling is a thrill, too. Its skinny tires hang on gamely through the bends and its low centre of gravity bestows it with surprising agility. The bottom line: This car is tremendous fun to drive – more so than the petrol models.
Equipment & Value
Smart has shoehorned a good amount of equipment into the Fortwo Electric Drive Coupe 55. The car comes with electric windows, air conditioning (with a pre-conditioning function that cools it before you get inside) a panoramic roof, trip computer, ABS with electronic brake-force distribution, central locking, electronic stability programme with hill start assist, a radio, CD/DVD player with SD card reader, power steering and a 6.5-inch touchscreen display with sat-nav, Bluetooth, auxiliary and USB inputs. In short, it has everything you need.
Smart has yet to confirm the price in the UK, but based on US pricing, we expect the Fortwo Electric Drive to cost in the region of £15,300. If you take advantage of the £5,000 government subsidy, that falls to just over £10,000. That's phenomenal value, particularly as most electric cars retail for in excess of £25,000.
Economy & Environment
The Electric Drive takes the standard Smart's efficiency to new heights. On a full charge, it'll travel for a claimed 90 miles. The cost of that charge will vary, but recharging overnight on a low cost energy tariff should only cost a couple of pounds. This being an electric car, there are no carbon dioxide emissions whatsoever -- from its exhaust pipe, at least. However given the fact most electricity in the UK is sourced from power stations that emit CO2, you may want to consider switching to a green energy tariff.
Smart has long claimed its cars are as safe as houses. It cites all manner of safety tech including a Tridion safety cell, front and rear crash elements, driver and passenger airbags, head and thorax side airbags, plus the aforementioned electronic stability control to help you avoid trouble in the first place. It's a tough little thing, but no number of gadgets or inflatable bags would make us feel comfortable about crashing in one.
The Smart Fortwo Electric Drive is arguably the best electric car we've tested to date. It's not as accomplished as the Nissan Leaf, but its size, equipment and price help make it a more convincing overall package. It's tremendous fun to drive, cheap to run, will likely be cheap to buy. All things considered, it's the best Smart car, and the most compelling electric car to date.
Model tested: Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Coupe 55
Engine: 35kw electric motor
Power: 74bhp (peak)
Acceleration: 0-62 in 11.7 seconds
Top speed: 78mph
Emissions: 0g/km CO2
Price: £15,300 approx