Tech Files test drive: Smart’s new electric car

Not too long ago, you couldn’t find an electric car on the market. Now, it seems, every manufacturer either has one — or has one in the works.

One of the latest to hit the market is the Smart Electric Drive vehicle. The car, which is basically an electric version of Smart’s pint-sized two-seat fortwo coupe, hit showrooms three months ago. Its claim to fame is that it is one of the least expensive and smallest electric vehicles on the market.

The electric Smart car has a list price of $25,000. But that’s before government electric-car incentives and it also doesn’t include a unique $5,000 discount that the company is offering to customers who decide to lease the battery pack within the car rather than buying it outright with the vehicle itself.

Add it all up, and you can get out the door with a new Smart EV for less than $20,000 — possibly a lot less with the rebates.

I got a chance to test drive the new Smart in San Francisco this morning. My impressions of it were mixed.

I love the price and, for city driving, the size. It was easy to park and turn and get around on city streets.

I also liked the entertainment console, although I had some reservations about it. Its fairly easy to use, with a touchscreen interface that is built around big icons that connect you to functions including the radio and the navigation system. You can even play videos through the screen via a USB drive or SD memory card.

However, the system was somewhat slow, particularly when trying to load the navigation system. The screen resolution wasn’t great. And I would have liked the system better if it included a volume control and other buttons on the steering wheel.

But the Smart EV has bigger problems. For one, it’s under-powered; it has a peak horsepower of 74, but it’s typical horsepower is more like 47. Going on to the highway and getting up to speed is a slow and potentially frightening prospect.

It also has a very limited range. I didn’t get to test the full extent of it, but Smart says the car has a 76 mile range. The Environmental Protection Agency, however, says its range is 68 miles.

And it could be even less than that if you’re running the heater or air conditioning and taxing the battery in other ways. How much less? The Smart folks wouldn’t say exactly, but the did say that it could be as little at 50 miles.

In my limited tests, the car held up OK. On level city streets, it consumed very little charge. But accelerating to get on to the highway or climbing hills taxed its battery quite a bit. When I drove up Twin peaks, for example, its range estimator dropped by 9 miles even though I had only driven 3.

It also feels stiff when you drive it. The brakes — at least on the model I drove — were tight, stopping or slowing the car sharply.

Like other electric vehicles, the Smart EV includes a regenerative system that helps recharge the battery. But its system works not only when you are braking, but also when you are simply coasting. If you let up on the accelerator, you can feel the car slowing down markedly. That system is very efficient, but it doesn’t make for a smooth ride.

It also has a rather spartan interior. The analog speedometer and battery charge indicator give a nice retro feel, but the yellow LED odometer and range indicator just feel outdated.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive electric car to drive about town, you should take a look at the Smart fortwo electric drive. But if you expect to take it on the highway or are looking for something a bit fancier, you can drive on by.

Below you’ll find some videos of my impressions as I drove the vehicle.


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  • This Smart EV sound like something then rental companies would pick up for short duration inner city work. Sounds like it does not have the power or range to be a credible “permanent” electric car for the family user.

  • I have to disagree. My 24 year old son and I took a 2013 Smart ED for a test drive from Warwick, RI. He was interested since he interns at National Grid and he can charge the car for free at any National Grid charging station. Our demo car had a full charge. We went from Rte. 2… my son punched the accelerator on the rte 95 entrance ramp. We quickly hit 58 mph on the ramp. The weight of the batteries set the center of gravity for the car… and it handled well. No roll! On the highway the accelerator floored we quickly hit 89mph.. It was faster than my wife’s Carola S. We drove 1 exit before the Hope Valley exit at just about full throttle. We coasted off the exit. and made the return trip on 95 N . We did 55mph and on the downhill the car was charging.
    The total miles of the test drive was 36 miles. We had 80% charge left.
    My son is picking up a demo car again on Thursday for an extended testdrive.
    He’s going to drive it to National Grid in Waltham.. this time 55mph all the way.
    He’ll take note of the charge that’s left. If he has 38% or better he plans on getting a 20k mile/year lease. If it works out it’s a win for him. There are free chargers popping up everywhere.

    It’s funny because he drives a 1989 Honda Interceptor and a 1987 Nissan Altima. … he really liked the Smart. (I drive a 2013 Jeep Wrangler. offroading is a hobby). The smart ed performance actually surprised the both of us. The car was not slow. Maybe you didn’t fully press the accelerator.

  • I am currently leasing a 2015 Smart EV and it is a real pleasure to drive. People keep complaining about highway speeds and I just do not understand why. You wouldn’t take a moped on the highway or a scooter and say how crappy it is because it isn’t great at doing it. It’s a city/suburb car only and it works great on any State Route. You should live close to where you work and if you make terrible decisions or are too stubborn to move closer than that’s your problem. Yes, range indicator is an estimate. So of course if you go up a big hill it will go down. Just like if you go down a big hill it goes up. The car is certainly not underpowered…although it would be nice if they had AWD dual motors like the Tesla. I’m hoping by 2018 they will. Gas cars are only running on like 30 -60 hp most of the time anyways. Look at any power curve any you’d know this. A 2007 Honda Civic Si only hits 100 hp when it is at 4500 RPM. This car hits 74 hp out the gate, and they even have a commercial showing it being mustangs and all sorts of cars off the line. My 150cc scooter was quick too off the line, but again I wasn’t going to take it on the highway (top speed 55 mph). You have drive the car more than a couple hours to learn how everything works. It’s like riding a recumbent bicycle. Far superior than an upright, but people don’t like change and complain about everything. There are things not great with the car, but you only pointed out the obvious one which was highway it sucks. It should be obvious when you see a car top speed of 78mph.