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Driven: 2011 Smart Electric Drive Page 2

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Again, the surprising and delightful part about the ED is how well the whole package is integrated. Electric power steering is optional on gasoline cars, but it comes standard on the electric model; braking actually feels better on the ED than in the gasoline version. We found the brakes in the Fortwo hard to modulate in the base Fortwo, but somehow the tuning for regenerative braking smoothed it all out and made it more predictable in normal driving. The regen has several modes; a light regeneration is engaged when you take your foot off the gas, then two stronger regen modes are smoothly engaged with the brake pedal.

Package is the same--but it rides and drives better

The package is almost exactly the same. Compared to the gasoline version, the electric smart has 308 pounds of extra weight. Somehow, on the bumpy streets around Park Slope, Brooklyn, where we tested these Smarts, we noted that it made the Electric Drive ride more smoothly than the base Fortwo, with less of a tendency to tramline or get pulled aside by potholes. Sometimes, we suppose, a little extra weight is a good thing? And because the ED has rear-wheel drive, you don't get the torque steer at low speeds that front-wheel-drive electric vehicles might be prone to.

About the only thing that we didn't like so much—at least given the constraints of this tight little package—was the noticeably loud whine when maintaining speed. There's a good deal more than we've experienced in the Mini E, which is probably the closest car to which we can compare the ED.

Want one this year? Good luck.

Plans for the Electric Drive are quite limited initially. Beginning this October, Smart will distribute 250 (of 1,500, globally) Electric Drives to U.S. customers, but most of those cars will go to corporate, public, and educational fleets. Mass production will ramp up beginning in 2012.

Overall, the Electric Drive is a strong piece of work for quieter, more economical, healthier, and more efficient urban and suburban mobility. It's hampered a bit by a low top speed, but the 80-mile range should be more than enough for most needs.

It's a Smart that's, um, a lot smarter.

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