The Government’s announcement of its timescale for the phasing out of new cars powered solely by normal combustion engines is likely to have changed a few people’s outlook on the electric vehicle.

Until now, you might have considered EVs to be interesting if immature alternatives to ‘normal’ cars, entirely pointless irrelevances doomed to obscurity, or something in between.

But now, with one eye on that 2040 deadline, you are unlikely to consider them unimportant.

It’s a good time, then, to update ourselves on the pace of progress in the EV market – and to see how well a current electric powertrain can be deployed in a car serving a brief different from that of a typical five-door family hatchback, big-selling supermini, fast luxury saloon or SUV.

The Smart Forfour Electric Drive is plainly intended to broaden the reach of the EV rather than necessarily transform its sales success – perhaps finally to be that perfect vehicular urbanite which zero-emissions technology always seemed fated to provide.

Although it’s actually a fourth-generation electric Smart car, this is the first four-seat Smart EV and comes to market as part of a three-pronged assault alongside Electric Drive versions of the Smart Fortwo Coupé and Fortwo Cabriolet.

Smart’s unswerving focus on urban mobility remains a defining strength for the brand, and it has been using electric powertrains to make its cars even better suited to city motoring since 2007. But this is the first time we’ve run the road test ruler over one of them – or, indeed, any version of the current Forfour.

If a modern zero-emissions powertrain can already make for a better modern Smart car, it might not be too far away from the maturity needed for it to make all kinds of small cars better than their piston-engined equivalents.

Time to find out just how big an ‘if’ that is.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Range Rover Sport SVR
    First Drive
    22 March 2018
    More power and an intoxicating soundtrack have breathed new life into our love affair with the biggest, baddest Range Rover Sport variant
  • First Drive
    21 March 2018
    The new Vantage has been developed as a Porsche 911 beater, and our first taste on UK roads suggests it can live up to that bold claim
  • Nissan Leaf Tekna
    The is the new Nissan Leaf
    First Drive
    21 March 2018
    The new version of the world's best-selling electric car gains a bigger battery and more power. How does it compare to rivals such as the Volkswagen e-Golf?
  • Range Rover p400e
    First Drive
    20 March 2018
    The original luxury SUV is now available as a plug-in hybrid, promising lower emissions and the capacity for silent electric motoring
  • BMW i3s
    Car review
    20 March 2018
    Revised hatchback sets out its range-extended electric stall in a new, sportier tune