I'm 4 miles into my drive through Miami's South Beach, and things are already getting hairy. Numerous motorists show little regard for others on the road, slicing and dicing through traffic, while a gentleman in an old Mercedes-Benz E-Class brings things to a complete halt as he noses out, blocking both northbound lanes to head south.
I'm momentarily flustered, but relieved I'm navigating the urban chaos in the 2017 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive. In a bigger car, I'm sure a front fender would be crinkled by now, but the Smart's pint-size dimensions are making a lot of sense here. This 8.8-foot long car is not only less vehicle for nutty drivers to hit, it can also slot into the tightest parking spots this city has to offer.
Also showing its worth is the Fortwo's new electric drivetrain. Its three-phase synchronous motor produces 80 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque, which matches up closely to the gas model's 89 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque. Smart quotes a leisurely 0-60 mph time of 11.4 seconds for the electric, but its near-instant torque makes the car feel zippy to 40 mph, which is just what you want in city traffic. On a short expressway run, the Electric Drive gets up to 75 mph fine and feels solid at those speeds.
Powering the motor is a lighter 17.6-kilowatt lithium-ion battery that's placed in the center floor, giving the Electric Drive a low center of gravity to improve handling without cutting into interior space. On a fully charged battery, preliminary EPA range figures have it between 70 and 80 miles, which Smart says is plenty for its customers. Owners of the previous Fortwo ED drive on average 50 miles per day.
Charging a fully depleted battery with a 240-volt wall charger takes 2.5 hours to get to 80 percent, and 3 hours to 100 percent. With a standard 120-volt outlet, the wait time rises dramatically, needing 13 hours to get the battery to 80 percent, and 16.5 hours for a full charge.
Monitoring the ED's state of charge and range is easily done through a Smart Control app that can be accessed from a phone, tablet or PC. Through the app, you can set intelligent charging to take advantage of off-peak energy rates, and also preset the cabin to either warm or cool to 70 degrees. Two programmable departure times are available meaning constantly setting the system for daily work commutes isn't necessary.
My hustle through South Beach is mildly entertaining in the Fortwo ED. Steering is light and responsive, power delivery is smooth, and the Smart's tight turning circle comes in handy for a couple of turnarounds. From a drive standpoint, the only bothersome things are the rear suspension that's firm over bumps, and the abrupt engagement of the friction brakes when you touch the pedal. Overall, the Fortwo ED is a surprisingly good driver with swift handling reflexes and a confident ride quality. It finally feels like a real car, not just a glorified golf cart.
Inside the cabin, things aren't half bad. There are lots of hard plastic surfaces that look good with nice texturing and fabric covering large portions of the dashboard and door panels to give a more premium look. My range-topping Prime test car features comfortable black leather seats with gray contrast stitching and a panorama sunroof. The surroundings are spacious for two average-size adults with cubbies here and there to stash stuff, and the trunk is big enough to accommodate a couple of weekend bags.
Minor but important hiccup: On my sweltering 90-degree test day, the air conditioning failed to blow very cold air. The car wasn't even in Eco mode, which cuts power to the climate control systems, and the air con simply had a tough time keeping up.
On the infotainment front, the standard audio system comes with Bluetooth and two USB ports. Upgrading to the optional Smart Media System gets you a 7-inch center touchscreen display, navigation that includes charging station search and one USB port. A premium JBL sound system with subwoofer is also available. Missing infotainment features in the Smart ED are satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A Smart spokesman says the latter two are coming in the future.
If you've ever been in a Smart car on the expressway and been passed by an 18-wheeler, you'll know wind turbulence from big trucks is an issue. Thankfully, crosswind assist technology is standard on the ED. It uses the brakes to counteract strong gusts of wind and keep you from being tossed around like a rag doll. Forward collision warning is also an option, but doesn't include automatic emergency braking.
At the beginning of my 21-mile stint, the Smart's stated range was 57 miles on 99 percent battery power. When handing the controls over to my co-driver, its range meter indicated 47 miles on 65 percent battery power. Considering my heavy right foot and our blasting air conditioning to combat the heat, the fact that the ED was still on track to cover nearly 70 miles is pretty impressive.
Some will be quick to rag on the Fortwo ED for its lack of range and space compared to other electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf (107 miles of range) or Ford Focus Electric (100 miles), let alone the Chevrolet Bolt with its incredible 238-mile range, and they have a point. For that reason, Smart is positioning its electric vehicle as a city car that will be a family's second or third set of wheels.
And the Smart costs less. The company says the new Fortwo Electric Drive will be priced closely to today's model when the coupe hits dealers next spring. The current Fortwo ED starts at $25,000 before $7,500 in federal incentives, which would put it at roughly the cost of a well equipped Prime gas model. That sweetly undercuts the $30,680 Leaf, $37,495 Bolt, $28,995 Volkswagen e-Golf and $31,800 Fiat 500e. Only the unimpressive Mitsubishi i-MiEV carries a lower base price of $22,995.
Are you a fan of top-down motoring? If you can wait until next summer, Smart will release its Fortwo Electric Drive Cabrio, which will be the only fully electric convertible on the market. One thing's for certain: An open-air cabin is something that would make slogs through Miami dodging lunatic drivers a bit more bearable -- at least when it's a little cooler out.