Car suffers less understeer than combustion engined version
Super-smooth electric power combines well with single ratio transmission
Initially, 1000 cars will be offered across eight European countries
Temperature range that battery works in is much improved
At £700 a month to lease, you may need to live in Monaco
Second generation of cars will be built in France
Lithium ion battery pack works at normal ambient temperatures
Current Smart Fortwo owners won't be caught out
Interior changes are subtle, but hint at car's power source
Electric power actually improves the Smart Fortwo
What is it?
In 2007 Smart built 100 electrically driven Fortwo prototypes, which were engineered in the UK by Zytek. Since then, the cars have been under test in central London by real-world drivers.
Building on that experience, the company has now released the second-generation version of the Smart Electric Drive model. A thousand examples of the new model will be built at the Smart factory in France and will be rolled out this month across eight European countries.
What’s it like?
The battery and electric motor have been upgraded on the second-generation cars. Smart has sourced a lithium ion battery from Tesla that can work at normal ambient temperatures. The NaNiCL battery in the first-gen car needed to be heated up to work properly and was wrapped in an insulative casing.
The Smart’s electric motor also gets a power boost, offering a peak output of around 40bhp for two minutes, though in normal conditions it offers the same 27bhp as the previous model. The transmission couldn’t be simpler. It’s a single, fixed ratio, which just offers the driver forward and reverse.
There’s little doubt that the Smart Electric Drive is appreciably better to drive then the internal combustion version. The combination of the super-smooth electric motor and the direct-drive transmission removes at a stroke the standard-issue Smart’s Achilles' heel of momentary torque interruption when changing gear.
It’s not super-quick off the line (it’s a hefty 140kg heavier than the diesel version), but the motor’s seamless torque makes it a cinch to drive in the tangled traffic around Monaco.
This car also seemed to suffer noticeably less understeer than the standard model. The tweaks may be connected to the car’s limited top speed, but in any case it’s an improvement over the standard model.
It can be recharged from a domestic socket in eight hours, which gives it an 85-mile range. The charging costs work out at about £1 for every 60 miles of range.
Should I buy one?
It’s not in full factory production until 2012, but what will really hamper the success of the Smart Electric Drive are the very high leasing costs of this otherwise nifty city car.
Smart bosses are predicting that it will cost around £700 per month to lease, a direct consequence of the cost of the battery. Without significant tax UK breaks, it is likely to remain a green curio.