My First Look at the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive

Smart ForTwo Electric Drive
The Smart ForTwo ED (Electric Drive) is no slouch. It might be small, but that says nothing for the amazing performance.  I would have liked to take some video and really define the full experience, but I was short on time.  I’ve been pinning for this little car for nearly a year and I’m so grateful that I had a chance to drive it.  Hopefully, I will have more time coming up soon that I can get back over there and do a proper video review.
I’d been in contact with Harry O’Leary of Beshoff Mercedes in San Jose the prior week, but I missed our Monday appointment.  Fortunately, Eric Johnson was available to help.  He was very enthusiastic and quite knowledgeable about the Smart, as he owns one of the gas-powered models.  As for car dealerships, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt more at ease with Beshoff.  I was greeted quickly, I did not have to wait long, and I never felt pushed by any associate.
Eric seemed to be very excited about riding in the Smart ForTwo ED.  It wasn’t maybe 5 minutes from our

introduction until we were sitting in the car.  We reviewed the dash display first and he noted that the fuel gauge and charge gauge were top of the dash.  This is somewhat familiar to me as I used to own a first generation Scion xB.  The speedometer is where you might expect it to be in the dash behind the steering wheel.  But at the bottom of the speedometer is a basic and comprehensive digital display.  The display had a good deal more information, on the left there is a full change mileage and the current mileage and on the right is the time and external temperature.  On the bottom there was a meter for driving economy and in the middle the large single-letter to indicate drive position.

My experience with small cars is somewhat limited, but it’s great to see the attention paid to the entertainment system.  I would expect good things from Mercedes in general, but Smart is not screaming refinement.  It does however say it’s name quite prominently with the in-dash radio.  Although very basic too look at and use, the radio offers an intelligent system to access all the media from your phone, be it iPhone or Android (and likely Windows or Blackberry).  Basically, if give it a disk drive it will read it, categorize it, and then make it ready to play.  Navigation of the radio is done through the simple dial control, which is no more difficult that any other stock system.

We spent a good 20 minutes just talking about the ins and outs of the dash and base features of the interior.  I was having such a good time that when I finally decided to roll out on the road, I’d completely forgotten to check the positions of the mirrors.  Although the mirrors may be small, but you’ll never have trouble with visibility in a Smart ED; there’s not too much to get in the way.  But the mirrors were of little consequence when it came to the drive.

Whoa Mama!  This lil’ box has some guts.  You’d never expect the sort of acceleration from such a tiny machine (short of a sport bike).  Eric told me to push the pedal to the floor, but I did not get his meaning until seconds after the first turn.   When you push the pedal all the way down, there’s a little give and you pass into afterburner mode.  It’s almost unfair how much acceleration there is, even with the second person in the car, it still takes off like a rocket.  I can only compare it to the one ride I’ve had a ride in a pre-production Tesla Roadster, but this time I was driving.  Eric said that this acceleration is good up to 80 MPH and that in his test runs he could keep pace with a motorbike.

When we returned to the lot I wanted  to test something out in the parking lot and I wish I’d had a video to show (hopefully next time).  The turning radius of the Smart ED is barely more than 14 feet.  That means that I could turn around in the space of two lanes, which is exactly what I did.  To the chagrin of Eric and with most of the garage staff watching I did 4 complete circles in the driveway.   It was just as exhilarating as driving, I’ve never driving a vehicle with a turning radius that is so small.

The list price for the Smart ForTwo ED is currently $25,000, but Mercedes is willing to offer the vehicle for $5000 less than the retail price, if the batteries are leased rather than purchased.  And if purchased in California there’s an additional $2,500 from the California Air Resources Board (CARB).  Plus the Federal Government offer a $7,500 discount on the taxes of the buyer.  Also for those fortunate enough to live in the San Joaquin Valley, there’s yet another $3,000 rebate.  After all these offers can cut the price down to $7,000 which is less than you’ll likely pay for a used, early model Smart ForTwo.

I won’t deny that this car might not be for everyone.   It’s small, it’s tiny, it’s really barely more than the space of two people.  You might be able to fit four bags of groceries in the hatch.  But what it lacks in size it makes up for in fun. With twice as much torque as horsepower, it will knock you back in your seat every time.  It’s under 9 feet long, so you’ll never have trouble finding a place to park. And from what I’ve seen numerous videos, it is actually possible to park perpendicular to the curb.  When it accelerates, it’s like nothing I’ve heard in any other non-electric vehicle.  Where I expect a monstrous roar is more likely the wind than an engine.  I really quite like this vehicle and I feel like there will be one in my future.

Attack of the Electric Kei Cars

Electric Kei Cars

Although the Nissan Leaf doesn’t fit this spec, it’s still in the vicinity of the slew of tiny electric vehicles hitting the market between 2012 and 2016.  Kia is now making plans to release the Kia Soul as an EV in 2014, Smart has just released the Smart ED, as of this month.  Toyota released the Scion iQ EV in very limited quantities (pretty much on-demand only) just a few months ago. The Mitsubishi i-Miev came to market at the end of 2012.  And the Chevy Spark is set to debut any time now.

While none of these vehicles had great range, the purpose doesn’t seem to fit that ideal.  If it hasn’t been rehashed enough already, the average vehicle owner in the US drives no more than 30 miles per day.  All these tiny vehicles have at least a 60 mile range and can be recharged in more than 10,000 official locations in the US (not to mention that being electric they can be charged from just about any electrical socket in any building anywhere).

Thankfully, the prices are continuing to drop and with the US Federal rebate of $7,500 the effective price is much lower. Yet not available, the Kia Soul EV is also said to be priced a bit higher than other vehicles of similar size at $35k.  The Nissan Leaf, clobbered its starting price last year from $33,600 to $28,800 and will lease for $199. The Chevy Spark is set just under the recently reduced price of the Nissan Leaf, at $27,495 or  lease for $199 per month.  The Smart ED is sitting at the bottom of the barrel with a measly $25,000 starting price and potentially even lower if you lease the battery pack (knocking the price down to $20k).  For now it is not known what the Scion iQ EV will be priced at, but this is not so strange as Toyota received so much negative feedback from dealerships over the vehicle, that it will only be available for lease.

Realistically, it hasn’t been all that long since electric cars have become widely available.  In the last four years at least 10 manufacturers have, if not promised to, release EVs to the market. The prices just keep getting more reasonable.  And if you can deal with the differences, you could have quite a good vehicle.

Electric Fiat 500e

Electric Fiat 500e

I’m so grateful that EVs are continuing the “fun” theme, at least this time for the rest of us on “price”.  Unlike its gasoline counterpart the 500e is more of a city car.  As with most EVs, battery range is still limited.  But unless you’re driving over 75 miles per day, the range won’t be a concern.

The 500e is as fun to drive as the gasoline version, if not more so.   When you hit the accelerator you will get a jolt of torque that is nearly incomparable to anything except maybe a sport bike.  Instant torque and no gears to shift into to acquire said torque, the 500e is 1-speed.  Low weight, 111-horsepower, 147 ft-lbs of torque, and a low center of gravity is on the level of what tuners want.

I definitely look forward to the day when Gas-heads and Elec-heads square off on a regular basis. Right now there are only a handful of crazy EV-modders shredding duping novices at various tracks around the world.  (Video: White Zombie dusts Maserati)

You can register to pre-order the 500e now, and expect to pay $32,100 MSRP (shave $7,500 in US taxes and another $2,500 if you live in CA, $3,000 in OR)

Would you buy one of these fun, little cars?

This post is inspired by Fiat USA

The 261-MPG Car is Real

261-MPG Car

It is now a real possibility to be able to drive a 2-seat, futuristic commuter vehicle that gets an amazing 261 MPG.  Volkswagen is actually producing this wonder-car for use in Germany and Austria.  Only the select few will be allowed to lease this beauty for a trial period.

Sadly, it is unlikely that it will ever be sold in the US.  Ironically, in the face of the very components of this car is the exact reason for the lack of it’s appearance in the US.  The VW XL1 is a diesel plugin-electric hybrid, combining the best of both motor-types into a fuel-sipping unicorn of the ages.   But American’s are not known to be enthusiastic either for diesel engines, or the stereo-typically diminutive sizing of European vehicles.

Although the batteries will only power the vehicle a mere 30 miles, the efficiency of the car will propel it further than the width of its country of origin on less than 1 gallon of fuel.  It is reasonable to think that since Fiat and Mini have managed to make entry into the American market, that there may be a portal for the XL1.

But I won’t hold my breath…

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A Smart ForTwo at the Dakar Rally?

Dakar Rally

Nothing says off-road like for a Smart ForTwo, let alone the 2013 Dakar Rally

This little buggy reminds me of the Isuzu Amigo; a cheap, compact, gutless wonder. But it still has my attention (like a train wreck).  I do like to see the underdog come to the game and win, but at 1600 lbs (750kg) I’m not sure there is an official weight-class for the Smart (Nano-fly weight?)

Team lead, Jose Luis “JL” Alvarez, seemed confident enough initially, but could not summon the funds to bring even one vehicle to the Dakar Rally . Nevertheless you can still get a glimpse of the would-be off-road micro-car below.

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