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Driven: 2011 Smart Electric Drive

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2011 Smart electric drive

With a jolt of electricity, the Smart Fortwo can become relevant—and refreshingly different.

Further to the point, our surprising conclusion after a couple of hours behind the wheel of the new Smart Electric Drive is that, the Fortwo feels like a more appealing, fully realized package as an electric vehicle—more so than in its gasoline form.

Putting electric drive in the little two-seat Fortwo seems like a no-brainer as it's well suited for dense urban areas or low-speed commutes. After all, the gasoline Fortwo never has been a lot of fun outside of those low-speed commute conditions. Take it out on the highway and it turns into a noisy, pitchy driving experience and the Fortwo's lane-squeezing maneuverability succumbs to vulnerability in the face of semis and Suburbans.

Electric Drive feels way more refined

Then of course there's the gasoline Fortwo's powertrain; with the Mitsubishi three-banger thrumming just behind and below you and an automated manual transmission that works fine but is a little unpredictable, it's hardly a refined or responsive experience. While the existing ForTwo's under-the-cargo-floor engine emits lots of vibration, its automated manual gearbox is unpredictable unless you call the shifts for yourself (and have the optional paddle shifters), and the ride is a bit harsh, climb into the Electric Drive and it's like night and day. Turn the ignition key on and shift to drive, and there's the eerie silence that we've grown accustomed to with electric cars. Step on the gas, and it surges forward, with only a gentle whine.

From a standing start, the ED feels very sprightly. With up to 89 pound-feet delivered pretty right off the bat, the Smart electric drive is very quick from stoplights, with surrounding drivers (including the ever-pesky cargo-van drivers in urban Brooklyn streets) obviously surprised with the ED's quickness. Floor the throttle above 40 km/h (25 mpg or so) and the response is still good; but by 60 km/h a full throttle brings just a tepid response. Things really peter out above that, and the ED's top speed is about 62 mph.

'Kickdown Mode' gives extra juice

The motor produces up to 20 kW in normal driving, but there's a 30-kW “kickdown mode” wherein the smart gets a very noticeable spurt of oomph.

The battery is just 16.5 kWh and is good for an official range of 83 miles. After one test car has been driven aggressively for about 12 miles, we noticed range had dropped to about 80 percent. A 3.3-kW charger and J1772 charge connector are included with the package and with a dryer-type 220-volt outlet it can be charged from 20 to 80 percent in three to four hours, or from completely dead to 100 percent in about eight hours.

With the help of an iPhone app specially designed by Mercedes-Benz and Daimler, owners will be able to keep tabs on the current state of charge of their vehicles, how much time is remaining until the battery is fully charged, or the location of the nearest charging station.


 
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