Weekly column. By Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield.
Forgive me for saying so, but smart cars are a little bit like Marmite: you generally either love them to bits, or you can’t stand them. Since we once owned a silver smart fortwo cdi with black body panels, I’ve got to come down on the pro smart car side. At least, when it comes to nipping around town.
Since I’m also an EV advocate, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d view the tiny smart fortwo ED as an instant hit. But after a week behind the wheel, I’ve now got very mixed views about the first-ever production plug-in smart. Yes, it’s good- and the best smart car I’ve ever driven- but there’s just something there which doesn’t add up, at least for me.
At first sight
Appearances first. The smart fortwo Electric Drive looks like any other smart fortwo from a distance, but is actually a tad taller, wider, and longer than its petrol and diesel counterparts. Hardened smart car aficionados say they can tell the difference, but after parking the fortwo ED next to a petrol smart and giving both a long, hard stare, I’m happy to call them pretty much identical.
Step up in to the trademark smart interior, and there’s plenty of legroom for both driver and passenger. The seats are slightly offset, reducing the chances of banging elbows with your passenger. Unless you’ve the physique of a Russian ballerina however, the occasional arm knock- especially if taking a corner a little too fast- is par for the course.
And yes, I did say “up.” Despite being tiny in proportions, the smart fortwo ED stores its 17.6 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack under the floor, making the ride height and driving position nearer to that of some people-carriers than a small city runabout.
Behind the wheel
That higher seating position though- combined with excellent visibility all round, makes the smart fortwo ED a joy around town. With 130 newton-meters of torque sent to the rear wheels from the smart fortwo ED’s 35 kilowatt (55 kilowatt peak) motor, the tiny car weaves in and out of traffic with the confidence of a motorcycle courier. Unlike petrol and diesel smarts- which can sometimes feel a little top-heavy around roundabout-the smart fortwo ED’s large battery pack gives it a lower centre of gravity, enabling you to zip around corners far faster than you would with smart’s trademark three-cylinder engine behind your seat.
Out of town though, things go a little downhill. While accelerating from 0-62mph takes place in 11.5 seconds and the smart fortwo ED goes on to an electronically-limited top speed of 78 mph, it isn’t all that refined at motorway speeds.
To start with, there’s a fair bit of wind and road noise, due to the smart fortwo ED’s large front end and boxy shape. But that same shape also causes handling problems, making the smart fortwo ED feel twitchy and prone to buffeting at high speed. While this is the same kind of problem faced by diesel and petrol smart fortwo models and doesn’t prohibit you from taking it on the motorway, it does make the smart fortwo ED better suited to life in a big city.
During my week with the smart fortwo ED, I spent a fair amount of time trying to get to know its onboard telematics system, charge timer, and other functions. While the smart fortwo ED does come with telematics that let you pre-heat and pre-cool the car, set charge timers and check on the car’s state of charge, a lack of username and password on my press loaner car meant I wasn’t able to check this feature out.
What I can tell you however, is that the charge timer- set using the right-hand stalk on the steering wheel, took a little time to get used to. In a similar way, I found the on-board satellite navigation system far from intuitive to use, despite its touch-screen interface.
At £12,275 on the road after government grants and with a £55 per month battery rental, the smart fortwo ED comes as standard with a tiny 3.3 kilowatt on-board charger. Capable of refilling its battery in anywhere from 6 to 8 hours depending on the type of charging station you use, it’s certainly a car you can’t take on long-distance trips.
Shell out an extra £2,650, and the smart fortwo gets a 22 kilowatt on-board charger, capable of recharging the battery pack to full in around an hour from a compatible 22 kW three-phase Type 2 charging station.
Opt to buy car + battery pack outright, and you’re looking at a bill in excess of £18,000 for the 22 kW-capable coupe, or nearly £19,000 for the 22kW-capable cabriolet. And that’s after the plug-in car grant of £3,993.34 has been applied.
Love, or hate?
Overall, the smart fortwo ED is a fun car around town. Nippy, easy to drive, and simple to charge at a public Type 2 charging station, it fits the bill for anyone wanting a simple commuter vehicle. But unless you’re a smart fortwo fan, taking it on longer-distance trips could prove testing, even if you’re willing to shell out an extra £2,650 for that 22 kW charger.
Yes, it’s fun. But I just can’t get my head around why you’d want to pay nearly as much as a Renault Zoe or Nissan LEAF for much less of a car.
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