What is it?
The car driven here is a prototype 450-series Smart ED. Engineered by UK-based Zytek, this 450-series prototype loses the three-cylinder engine and self-shifting 'box. Instead, it gets a 35bhp electric motor driving an adapted Getrag 'box which is locked into second gear, offering just forward, reverse and neutral.
However, it will be replaced next year with the 41bhp 451-series Smart ED. This new model will use a new lithium-ion battery pack and various low-consumption electrical systems, including a new heating and air-con unit.
Around 1000 450s will be built and rolled out for test around in various global cities. In 2012 series production will commence at the Smart factory in Hambach, France. Smart sources estimate that eventually around 10 per cent of production – around 1500 units – will be Smart EDs.
What's it like?
The only way you know the Smart ED is powered up is the very gentle hum from behind the seats. The accelerator requires a hard push to wind the car up, but the acceleration is breezy and adequate for town driving.
Smart’s test route was along the hump-strewn streets of east London, probably the single most hostile environment to a car with such a short wheelbase. Predictably, once up to a reasonable pace, the Smart would pitch and heave markedly over bumps.
On streets that haven’t been re-surfaced by anti-car fanatics, the Smart was smooth, eerily quiet and ridiculously easy to reverse and park. Best of all, the car emits absolutely no pavement-side pollution, unlike a diesel car.
While this prototype has many of the old Smart rough edges (dead feeling brakes, slow steering at slow speeds) it’s clear from driving the latest diesel Smart on the same route that the new model is much more polished.
Perhaps the best news is that the electric Smart isn’t hampered by the mid-shift engine braking that has been such a problem with Smarts since launch and still affects - to a much lesser degree, admittedly - the newest models.
Should I buy one?
You’ll have to wait until 2012 when the 451-series model finally goes into series production. The first 1000 451s will be scattered across the globe for further real world testing with the new lithium-ion batteries and revised electrical systems.
Still, the production ED could turn out to be the definitive Smart - a serious, safe, zero-pollution urban micro car.