Those familiar with backpacking understand how critical it is to manage not only weight, but also space. The solution favored by many hikers is the compression sack, a nifty contraption that condenses large and bulky essentials, such as sleeping bags, into small, travel-friendly packages. As a result, packs can be stuffed with everything you’d need for a multi-day adventure in the woods…including the outdoorsman’s version of a kitchen sink.
Efficient use of space is also behind the Smart fortwo, a two-passenger microcar that hit the U.S. market in 2008. Now, just a few years later, comes the fortwo electric drive, a version of the original that continues to offer urban drivers access to tiny parking spaces, yet does so while drawing energy from a household outlet and not the local gas station.
Photos courtesy of smart/Daimler.
#10. Only 50 examples will initially be made available to the public.
If you’re clamoring at the bit to get a Smart fortwo electric drive of your very own, we’re sorry to inform you that you’ll have to wait a bit. Quite a long bit, actually. The company will be putting 250 examples into service in October of 2010, but of those, only 50 will be going to private consumers, many – if not all – of whom will be selected from the folks who have already communicated their interest to smart. The remaining 200 cars are destined for corporations, municipalities, and universities.
Those who do get their hands on an electric drive model will enter into a 48-month lease agreement at a rate of $599 per month. All cars will be returned to smart’s parent company, Daimler, at the end of the lease, and lessees will not have the option to buy at that time.
While smart has already started promoting the fortwo electric drive, regular production won’t ramp up until 2012, when the cars will be more widely available as 2013 models.
#9. Power comes from an electric motor and Tesla-supplied battery.
At the heart of the smart fortwo electric drive is an electric motor that offers up 20 kilowatts of instant power; plant the accelerator pedal against the floor and you get 30 kilowatts of muscle for up to two minutes. Torque measures 88.5 lb.-ft. Supplying the necessary juice is the job of a 16.5-kilowatt lithium-ion battery from Tesla; 2013 models will feature a next-generation battery designed by Daimler and Evonik.
With a curb weight of roughly 2,100 pounds, the electric drive is about 300 pounds heavier than its gasoline-powered counterpart.
#8. Range is limited, but enough for in-town commuters.
Drivers of the smart fortwo electric drive can expect a range of 83 miles, which company executives suggest should equal four to five hours of travel at typical city speeds, or 15-18 mph.
The electric drive’s lithium-ion battery is charged, in part, by capturing energy from the braking process, but the bulk of electricity comes from plugging into a 110- or 220-volt household outlet. According to smart engineers, increasing the battery’s charge from 20 percent to 80 percent of its total capacity requires 3.5 hours at 220 volts; charging from zero to 100 percent will take about eight hours.
#7. Getting a speeding ticket just became very unlikely.
At smart’s invitation, we traveled to Brooklyn to test out the fortwo electric drive. Before hitting the streets, company reps suggested that we’d be thoroughly impressed by the car’s off-the-line response, and would likely surprise other drivers with our ability to speed away when the light turned green.
Yeah, not quite. But, the fortwo electric drive does deliver decent punch when you nail the go pedal to access all 30 kilowatts, though there’s definitely not enough oomph for quick passing. Keep this microcar in the stop-and-go action of a congested city, the jungle for which it was designed, and performance will seldom be an issue.
That being said, the fortwo electric drive driver should steer clear of the highway’s fast-moving traffic, given the car’s electronically limited top speed of 62.5 mph and a 0-37 mph sprint that takes 6.5 seconds.
#6. The electric drive is everything the gas fortwo isn't. That's good.
We have to thank smart for making a gasoline-powered fortwo available during our test of the electric drive, a consideration that helped us put the plug-in version into proper perspective.
Simply put, the electric drive positively addresses many of the points that make the gas model a miserable car. That's a harsh description, but a short drive around the city was enough to demonstrate the latter's inability to execute a smooth shift, to showcase the chassis that delivers a ride which is both stiff and floaty, and the car's craving to creep forward even at a full stop. Lying hard on the brake pedal is a must.
In contrast, the electrified variant doesn't suffer from a horrible manu-matic transmission, is considerably quieter, boasts easily modulated stopping power, and feels more balanced and composed over rough-and-tumble city streets.
#5. Given the electric drive’s overall dimensions, interior comfort is actually decent.
Microcars, especially those sporting electric power, don’t conjure up the image of premium comfort, yet the amped fortwo sports decent accommodations for the driver and one passenger. Our five-foot-eight-inch tall editor enjoyed plenty of overall room, and his six-foot-six-inch tall co-pilot also found a suitable seating position, though he did complain of a lack of foot space due to the angled floorboard. The buckets are decidedly firm but inviting enough for short jaunts around the city. Because of the cargo area’s close proximity, the seats don’t recline all that much.
Also serving to up the comfort ante are features like air conditioning, power windows and door locks, and a rather basic radio.
#4. It’s good for runs to the grocery store, but probably not Ikea.
Its classification as a microcar should give prospective buyers an idea about the smart fortwo electric drive’s storage space. There’s really not much of it, though city dwellers shouldn’t have too much to complain about. Pop the rear window, click a few levers to drop the lower half of the tailgate, and you’ll find a trunk with sufficient space for a couple of backpacks or a week’s worth of groceries for one or two folks.
#3. A new iPhone application incorporates phone, navigation and music into one smart package.
Along with the electric drive, smart is using 2010 as the launching pad for an all-new feature that has been designed for all fortwo models. It’s the smart drive app, available on iTunes for $9.99. With a cradle that connects Apple’s popular portable device to the fortwo’s sound system, users are granted hands-free functionality and access to their own music, thousands of Internet radio stations, and basic navigation features.
For an extra $50 per year, iPhone users can order the upgraded package and its more robust navigation tool (voice directions, local traffic and gas prices), car finder (directs you to your fortwo if you get lost in the city), and more. An Electric Drive function will be available as part of the application later this fall, a feature that will monitor charging status and direct drivers to nearby charging stations.
The smart drive app is currently only available for Apple’s iPhone.
#2. Other electric alternatives could be a better fit for many buyers.
For the most part, electric cars are still foreign to U.S. buyers, though the fortwo electric drive is hardly consumers’ only choice. Before smart’s juiced model hits our streets with any volume in 2012, shoppers will have access to Chevy’s Volt and, quite possibly, Toyota’s Prius plug-in variant.
And then there’s the Nissan LEAF, an electric car available later this year with an incentivized price in the mid $20,000s and leases starting at $349 per month. As smart executives pointed out, the Leaf – which is more affordable, more versatile, and, with a 100-mile range, more capable – has been engineered to meet a broad swath of needs, whereas the fortwo electric drive is geared specifically to commuters.
That makes the smart a reasonable solution for some, but for those of us who demand that our cars be as proficient at multi-tasking as we are, examples like the Nissan Leaf make more sense.
#1. Much will change between now and the electric drive's major rollout in 2012.
To its credit, the electric drive is what the smart fortwo should've been from its inception: a car dedicated to the urban dweller, one that does its work among the hustle and bustle of the city, traveling only short distances at relatively slow speeds, and spends its off hours amping up for another run downtown. For the specific niche served by the smart fortwo, the electric drive model offers drivers a superior experience from nearly every angle.
Unfortunately, getting one prior to late 2012 will be all but impossible. By then, the availability of electric cars will have likely broadened considerably, as it promises to do later this year with more user-friendly, albeit larger, models.