What is it?
For those with a short commute seeking to get around the congestion charge or urban-based car buyers looking to contribute to a cleaner planet, the new Fortwo Electric Drive could prove an interesting alternative to the more conventional petrol-powered version. Compared with its predecessor, the two-seat electric city car features a roomier cabin, a newly developed motor from Renault and a more efficient battery that brings both reduced charging times and a small increase in range.
Set to reach the UK by mid-2017, the new Fortwo ED follows its predecessor by offering the choice of both coupé and cabriolet bodystyles. A larger and more versatile four-seat ForFour ED will also be part of Smart’s new range of all-electric models.
As with other Smart models, the ED comes in a wide range of customisable colour schemes, including an optional Electric Drive design package, which features a green-painted Tridion safety cell and exterior mirror housings. There’s also a special launch model called the Green Flash, with an exclusive green and black colour combination.
Power comes from a new rear-mounted electric motor produced at Renault’s Cleon plant in France. Producing 80bhp and 118lb ft of torque, the three-phase synchronous unit delivers 5bhp and 22lb ft more than the Bosch-supplied electric motor used by the previous Fortwo ED but 7bhp and 44lb ft less than the version used by the Renault Zoe.
Energy is stored in a lithium ion battery pack mounted underneath the seats. The 17.6kWh capacity is the same as before, a larger battery being ruled out on packaging and cost grounds, but the range is now put at 100 miles – a 10bhp improvement on its predecessor.
The battery pack also recharges much more quickly than before. A 22kw charging system will be standard in the UK. Buyers can also specify a 22kW wallbox that can recharge the battery to 80% capacity just 45 minutes.
What's it like?
The Fortwo ED is absolutely conventional to drive, and therein lies the core of its appeal. There is no need to familiarise yourself with its operating procedure; you just jump in and go. And thanks to its pint-sized dimensions and a superbly tight turning circle, it’s a good deal of fun in an urban environment.
A new electronic management system provides finer throttle adjustment than with the old model, allowing you to meter out the power in more precise doses as you crawl along with the traffic. A good slug of torque is never far away, though. An earnest nudge on the accelerator sees the rear end settle on its rear springs before the electric motor propels the ED down the road with surprising vigour.
The operation of the electric motor is pleasingly smooth and absolutely seamless. The inherent responsiveness and braking effect as electric energy is regenerated on the overrun makes the Fortwo highly convenient and quite entertaining in the cut and thrust of heavy city traffic. The energy recuperation system employs a radar-based sensor to provide anticipatory operation. It continuously monitors the traffic conditions and sets an energy recuperation level that suits the driving conditions.
As a result, the off-throttle braking effect varies. There’s also an Eco mode, activated by a simple press of a button next to the gear selector. It adjusts the mapping of the throttle and limits top speed to provide more efficient operation and a longer range.
Altogether, the electric motor, electronic management system and battery bring an added 140kg to the Fortwo, increasing its kerb weight to 1010kg. Acceleration up to typical city speed limits is quite solid, as borne out by an official 0-31mph time of 4.9sec. Smart also claims a 0-62mph time of 11.5sec in coupé guise, although the instant-on torque effect from a standing start subjectively makes it feel a good deal quicker.
By placing the battery low down in the body structure, Smart has provided the Fortwo ED with a lower centre of gravity than its petrol-engine siblings. It also receives firmer springs and dampers. As a result, its body movements are better controlled. The added weight has also contributed to a more settled ride, particularly at lower speeds, although the steering is exceedingly light and lacking in any real feedback. Overall, it feels more mature than its predecessor, with greater compliance within the chassis and improved levels of rolling refinement.
Smart argues that the claimed 100-mile range is more than most buyers will require on a daily basis, but we struggled to coax more than 75 miles out of the Fortwo ED.
Should I buy one?
Both fun to drive and convenient to park, the Fortwo ED is a city dweller’s delight. For it to make sense as daily transport, though, you would need to guarantee easy access to an electricity supply for recharging.
The overall scope of the new Smart’s appeal is limited to short journeys due to a distinct lack of progress with this new model’s overall range. It’s relatively expensive, too. UK pricing is yet to be revealed, but don’t expect much change from £16,000 after the government’s £4500 electric car subsidy is factored in.
Smart Fortwo Electric Drive
Location Los Angeles, USA; On sale Mid-2017; Price £16,000 (est, after Gov grant); Engine Synchronous electric motor; Power 80bhp; Torque 118lb ft; Gearbox Single speed; Kerb weight 1010kg; Top speed 80mph; 0-62mph 11.5sec; Range 100 miles; CO2/BIK tax band 0g/km, 7% Rivals Mahindra e2o, Volkswagen e-Up