With its small size and a target market of city-dwellers, the Smart Fortwo is well-suited to be converted to electric power. Smart's been working on its battery-powered version since 2006, and for 2011, early production versions will be available. In total, only 1,500 will be built throughout the 2011 model year, 250 of which are slated to come to the U.S. Offered on 48-month leases at $599 a month, they're not cheap, but Federal Government tax breaks on electric vehicles lower the bottom line fairly significantly.
The electric motor, which is mounted in the same location as the gasoline engine on standard Fortwos, can produce up to 40 hp in "Kickdown Mode," while under normal driving conditions, it provides just 27 hp. Torque is said to be 88.5 lb-ft, which is just slightly more than the gasoline version. The battery pack, which was developed by Tesla, puts out 16.5 kW, which Smart says is good for a range of 83 miles.
The 5-speed automatic transmission found in the regular production Fortwo isn't used here. In fact, the electric version uses a single speed. Smart says the combination gives performance close to that of other Fortwos, with a zero to 37 mph of around 6.5 seconds. Top speed is said to be 62 mph.
Brake regeneration is employed, as well as a 3.3-kW onboard charger that can fully recharge the batteries from a standard 220-volt outlet in less than 8 hours. Electric Fortwos contain the same safety features seen in gasoline versions, including several airbags, electronic stability control and crumple zones meant to absorb the force of an impact. However, with the batteries and electric motor, the Electric is a full 308 pounds heavier. Inside, the only changes over a basic Fortwo are two gauges placed on top of the dash, which track battery charge level and power being generated by the electric motor.
The Smart Fortwo is an odd car. Though larger than ever before for this generation, it's still one of the most compact cars on the market. The economics of importing and relatively low sales volume have stuck this very small car with a disproportionately large price tag. That's likely why, despite enjoying relative success in carsharing services and fleets (where the upfront costs are hidden from the consumers), the Smart has struggled to make an impact in the North American market.
Last year, Smart's parent company, Daimler, announced that the brand was moving to a fully electric lineup, discontinuing the gasoline engine that we tested previously. Now, the only motor available to 2018 Smart drivers is a three-phase electric motor at the rear axle connected to a single-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels.
I hit the road in a two-tone 2018 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Prime Cabriolet to see how this short stack stacks up.
The Good The 2018 Smart Fortwo very maneuverable and easy to park in crowded cities. The optional navigation upgrade brings Android Auto and Apple CarPlay into the dashboard. An all-electric powertrain offers pretty good low-speed and off the line responsiveness and acceleration.
The Bad The standard and upgraded tech suites are extremely feature basic. The stated cruising range is about half that of comparably priced competitors. The folding fabric roof blocks rear visibility when completely open.
The Bottom Line The 2018 Smart Fortwo is an interesting, but ultimately very niche electric car. However, it's the high price and relatively low cruising range that stay our recommendation.
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