The trendy little Smart recently celebrated the introduction of the fourth-generation Smart Electric Drive. We had a first opportunity to review the smallest member of the Daimler family and find out what it is all about.
The first Smart Electric Drive was introduced in 2007 and following new iterations in 2009 and 2012 the fourth generation was introduced at this year’s Paris Motor Show. In the fourth generation, all versions of the Smart including the ForFour and the Convertible are available with this full-electric powertrain.
The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive comes with a 60kW electric motor and a 17.6 kWh Lithium-ion battery. With around 80hp and 160Nm of torque the Smart Electric Drive propels the city car from 0-100 km/h in 10.5 seconds – not really a mind-blowing figure but the way the electric motor delivers the power; with instant torque makes it more fun to drive than you would expect from the numbers alone.
In essence the Smart Electric Drive combines the practicality of a compact car with 160 kilometre zero-emission range. The range improved 10% compared to its predecessor while charging times reduced by half increasing the usability. It takes around 2.5 hours to fully charge the Smart ED with the new on-board charging unit. Next year another more powerful charge unit will be available that allows the electrified Smart to charge up to 80% in just 45 minutes.
The Smart fortwo shares the same platform with the Renault Twingo and the electric powertrain and some of the electronics are built by Renault in France. The Smart body is also build in France but in the Smart factory near Strassburg.
The Smart packs some interesting tech including adaptive intelligent recuperation (available in Europe only) which changes through recuperation – regeneration of battery power while braking and rolling – based on traffic conditions and other factors. In the US standard recuperation is applied which you can feel as soon as you lift your right foot off the accelerator – the car slows down automatically regenerating energy in the process. It is not as extreme as in other electric cars or plug-in hybrids but you can still feel it.
A special eco mode makes the most of your battery by limiting energy consumption during the drive. A special Smart Control app allows you to pre-heat your car, analyse statistics of recent drives and enable smart charging profiles and in future, even pay for charges at public charging stations.
Talking about batteries – Smart started an initiative a few years ago to re-use old electric car batteries for energy storage at a facility in Germany. This extends the life cycle of the batteries and at the same time provides a solution to the storage of peak production of green energy.
The exterior design of the Smart is aimed at a young urban crowd with a lot of personalization options ranging from different colors for side panels and mirrors to colored wheels. It looks a bit wider than its predecessor and that gives the car a cool stance.
Inside the Smart fortwo has – you guessed it – space for two, the seats are controlled manually and fit driver and passenger up to two meters quite comfortably. Behind the steering wheel is a digital display along with additional power and battery meters mounted on the top left side of the dashboard. In the center console you will find the climate control and the optional infotainment system control.
The interior combines a mix of materials although it does feel quite plastic, especially the inside of the door on the armrest, that could use a nicer finishing. Tall people will also notice that due to the wide b-pillar there is a wide black spot on the driver side.
Opening the Smart Electric Drive for the first time it strikes me as odd that the car still uses an old school key. In times of keyless entry / keyless go, car sharing and apps this feels old school. But once you slide the key in it is as easy as it gets. Just pull the gear lever down from P to D and you are good to go. There are no gears in the electric car so the issues with the slow original Smart gearbox are certainly a thing of the past. And once you put your foot down instant torque pushes you firmly in your seat as the nose of the car rises. It continues to pull all the way up to a top speed of 130 km/h with an effortless sensation that will change the way we drive the next few decades.
The Renault partnership means Renault also provided the infotainment system which I can’t befriend. The navigation is based on TomTom but it loses track sometimes, the menu structure is not as intuitive as other systems and if I were to buy one of these cars I would just get the cheaper smartphone cradle that allows you to navigate and control the cars infotainment with a smartphone app or just use Google Maps as it is so much more convenient.
Another element of the Smart Electric Drive I kept fighting with is the climate control which either tries to blow your face off or provides too little airflow when you turn it down. A little more refinement here would have done the Smart well.
Driving wise it is a very good little car, it is quite comfortable despite the short wheel base and even on the highway at or close to its 130 km/h vmax it is stable and pretty quiet inside. It truly excels in the urban environment where its tiny turning circle allows you to manoeuvre past every obstacle today’s cities can throw at you. Parking is super easy too and there is hardly a car that makes more sense as a daily run-around in a dense urban environment.
Overall I do like the Smart a lot for the purpose it serves but I think the interior finish could have been more refined and the optional big screen infotainment system is just not working for me. Nonetheless I think it is a car that the world today needs to tackle pollution and congestion issues.
The Smart fortwo Electric Drive will see first customer deliveries from the beginning of 2017 in the United States followed by deliveries of the fortwo ED and Smart ForFour Electric Drive a few months later in Europe. A version of the Smart ED for the Chinese market might be introduced in 2019.