2017 Smart Fortwo ED First Review

By Steve Siler, Contributing Editor on November 22, 2016 8:00 AM
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When the Smart Fortwo first appeared in the U.S. in 2008, the most common question we heard from people was, “Is that an electric car?” This was understandable, since the eensy-teensy, 9-foot-long Fortwo looked more like a golf cart—most of which are electric—than a real car. It wasn’t, of course, with a wimpy three-cylinder engine tucked under the seats.

But Joe Public wasn’t wrong in his thinking: an electric car is indeed how the Smart Fortwo was envisioned all along, according to Smart CEO Dr. Annette Winkler. Finally, in 2013, the Fortwo Electric Drive—or Fortwo ED, as Smart calls it—appeared, and now fully 30 percent of Fortwo customers choose the electric, 97 percent of which would recommend them to others, says Winkler. We’re not surprised, and after spending some time behind the wheel of the all-new 2017 Smart Fortwo ED, we’d even go so far as to say that the new Smart is better as an electric car than a gas-powered car. And not just because it looks like one. 

Born to Be Electric

The new Fortwo ED is based on the wider, more spacious and vastly improved 2016 Smart, which is still only 106 inches long but thanks to nearly four inches more width, feels far more substantial than its skinny, thin-skinned predecessors. Since the new Fortwo was designed to accommodate an electric powertrain from the beginning, Smart didn’t have to make many structural changes in order to fit the 17.6-kilowatt battery pack under the floor or the 81-hp electric motor that powers the rear wheels under the seats. The surprisingly spacious cabin remains almost completely unchanged—vast outward sightlines, useless storage cubbies, ergonomic eccentricities and all. Other than EV-specific information displays in the gauge cluster and center screen, and in place of the tachometer, a battery state-of-charge gauge that pops up like a periscope on the left side of the dashboard, nothing is different. And that’s a good thing.

What has changed: its dynamics. Not only does it feel faster than the gas version—primarily because electric motors can apply all of their torque (118 lb-ft of it, in this case) from a dead stop—but with its additional 265 pounds of weight (batteries are heavy, y’all) it rides more smoothly and actually feels more glued to the road. At highway speeds, the previous model’s dread factor is gone, thanks to steering that exhibits the calm stability of a Mercedes-Benz C-Class. And whereas the gas car’s three-cylinder engine thrashes about during acceleration and at idle shakes like a hairless Chihuahua in a snowstorm, the electric Fortwo accelerates in utter silence, and when it comes to a stop, the cabin is overcome with Zen-like stillness. Unchanged, thankfully, from the gas version is the turning circle which, at 22 feet, is a not just hilarious party trick—although it really is fun—but it can enable you to sneak into a parking spot on the other side of the road while every other car is still in the middle of their 3-point turns.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

Cute, But Is It Enough?

It is not perfect, though. Range remains modest—expect about 70–75 miles on a full charge, once the EPA gets around to rating it. That’s about par for today’s EVs, but by the time the 2017 Fortwo ED arrives next Spring, the new Chevrolet Bolt will be in dealerships, too, offering 238 miles. During a circuitous, 32-mile zig-zag through Miami and its surrounding communities on the Fortwo ED’s press launch, we managed to go through about 60 percent of our battery’s juice, which would yield a 50-mile range had we gone any further. That’s not good.

Also, most other EVs on the market offer seating for more than two, and gloveboxes that fit more than one glove. At least 80 percent of the battery charge (so, like 50 miles of range) is possible in 2.5 hours from a 240-volt source, say Smart, and owners can control the charging and pre-conditioning of the interior via a smartphone app, like most other EVs.

If Smart has a trump card in the EV segment, it will be played next summer, when it brings the Smart Fortwo cabriolet to us in electric form. As for price, it will be announced closer to launch, but don’t expect too much of a leap from the outgoing coupe’s pre-incentive price of $25,750, including destination, with the convertible likely to be priced within a couple grand of that.


 

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