Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive: The Smallest Entry Into the EV Market

2013 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive in Portland, Oregon
2013 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive in Portland, Oregon
When I ask what someone thinks about Portland and its culture, they typically mention its all-around funkiness, an anything goes type of an attitude, and it’s propensity to embrace all things “green.” Well, I live in Portland and believe the above statement is pretty much true. I also believe the 2013 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive EV I had the pleasure to drive last Thursday would fit wonderfully in this quirky, edgy, and all-around tree-hugging town. Along with its petite five-foot wide, five-foot high, and under-nine-foot long size, this microcar has a lot going for it. It’s a fun, completely customizable, and peppy little electric runner.

The Smart Fun Test Drive Tour came into town last week after debuting its concept pop-up experience in Los Angeles. On its way to complete an 11-city US tour, the Smart and Mercedes-Benz crew stopped in for the weekend to give both the media, as well as the public, an up-close-and-personal look at both the refreshed coupe and cabriolet ForTwo models, with an emphasis on the ForTwo Electric Drive version. Also on display was a life-size model of their Tidion safety cell, interactive displays on how to customize your Smart, and demonstrations and interviews with local Portland artists Derrick Villalpando and Thomas Hooker, both of whom did custom art wraps on a few of the Smarts.
Custom wrapped Smart ForTwo Electric drive done by artist, Thomas Hooker.
Custom wrapped Smart ForTwo Electric drive done by artist, Thomas Hooker.
I hopped into the electric coupe model with a Smart/Mercedes-Benz rep, and off we went. Even though its size looks tiny on the outside, it is surprisingly roomy on the inside, something that hasn’t changed since the ForTwo was introduced onto the US market. The clear polycarbonate panoramic roof made a big difference in lightening up the interior, making me feel more connected with the outdoors. There are some special gauges and interior bits that differentiate the Electric Drive ForTwo from gas-powered versions.

People driving the 2013 Smart Electric Drive

I turned the key in the middle of the center console, the gauges came alive, and we quietly took off. After a 10 minute drive around town, I felt that the car was nimble in downtown traffic, had snappy acceleration, and definitely turned heads in eco-conscious Portland. Powered by an electric motor located between the two wheels (the motor is made by a joint venture between Bosch and Daimler), the Smart Electric Drive had enough torque and continuous power to tackle a steep 7% road grade and keep up with traffic while doing so. In its “kickdown mode” this car can generate two minutes of 55 kilowatt power, going from 0-60 mph in less than 12 seconds. It has a top speed of over 78 mph, too. It’s actually quite fun to drive, and gone is one of the gas-powered Smart’s biggest sticking points: the herky-jerky transmission. Being the car is all electric, power delivery is smooth and linear since there’s only one gear.

2013 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive Cabriolet dashboard

With a range of 79 city, 59 highway, 68 combined and an eMPG rating of 122 city, 93 highway, and 68 combined, this city slicker will get you around to most of theSm places you’d want to go, and do it pretty efficiently. And if you are on a longer drive, you can recharge with one of the many charging stations along I-5 or in the city and its surroundings, so you can further continue your road adventure. Unlike the Nissan Leaf, however, the car’s charging port is at the vehicle’s rear, which might be an issue at some charging stations since some charging station cords aren’t too long. This was an issue with the Mitsubishi i-Miev, for example. But with the Smart car’s demure size—the smallest footprint of any car on the US market— it may not be a problem.

Some other interesting facts include the fact that the Coupe and Cabriolet are designed to be 85% recyclable and over 95% “reclaimable.” They feature regenerative braking, have numerous safety features (including that aforementioned Tridion safety cell), and have intelligent charging management systems. These management systems include plugging the car into a 110 or 220 volt outlet and managing charge times and other options with communication via the Smart homepage or using a Smart phone app. Yup, there is an app for managing your Smart car’s charging habits. The app gives you charging information, charge time remaining, and expected completion time. When driving, the app’s map feature will highlight nearby charging connections and set favorite charging locations as well as estimating driving distance and tracking available battery range. Pretty nifty I have to say.

2013 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive Cabriolet

Prices for these tiny techy, eco-minded electric microcars are as follows: $25,000 for the coupe, and $28,000 for the cabriolet. Not too shabby when you consider that customers may also be eligible for federal tax credits which run up to $7,500 or state/local tax credits, further reducing the cost.

So when do they come out? Dealerships in 10 states will get these cars any day now. The rest of the country will see the roll-out afterward. There are no volume restrictions on production of these itsy-bitsy runabouts, so if you are interested in a Smart Electric Drive, there should be plenty to go around.

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