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Roadshow Video Reviews
2011 Smart Electric Drive Passion CoupeOddly enough, this is what all Smart cars should be. Sort of.
-I like the Smart ForTwo, except when I hate it like every time it shifts. But there are no shifts when there is no gear box. Aha! Let's drive the 2011 Smart Electric Drive and check the tech. The electric Smart is the same as the gas engine one with 5 changes: electric motor replacing the 3-cylinder gas engine; janky transmission removed entirely; a lithium-ion battery pack from Tesla lives under the seats; a charger and port are added; and electric power steering is installed. Okay, just like in a gas engine ForTwo, all the business is in the rear. Under here is your now electric motor; same apparatus though in terms of the arrangement on the gas engine car. It's all sitting side-saddled driving the rear wheels only. Now, in this case, what we've got here is a 30-kilowatt electric motor to a one-speed reduction gear. So, that god-awful transmission in the gas engine car is gone. That's the best news. Now, the bad news: 30 kilowatts is 41 horsepower. Even for a guy this size, that's not a whole lot. You're gonna get 0 to 60 kilometers per hour in 6-1/2 seconds. That's 0 to 37 miles per hour. Top speed in this guy is limited to 60 all out, and your energy efficiency is 87 MPGe. That's that new number that gives you the equivalency of electricity to the energy found in a gallon of gas. Kind of a funny number, but it's the best thing we've got to go apples to apples these days. Now, one of the issues I have with this car is it makes a lot of strange noises. You'd say electric cars are silent, but maybe 'cause this one's just so short-coupled, or it's the stuff they're using, that it makes all kinds of weird, whining, grinding, howling sounds. I wasn't really crazy about that. Okay. Let's go for a drive in this little guy. Simple situation, turn the key. It's still in the [unk] position down here. And again, you got a PRND shifter, but there are no gears. It's either engaged or it's not. Even reverse has no special gear. It just flips the polarity of the engine and runs it in reverse. Now, the throttle's a little-- a little insensitive. It kinda starts off with kind of nothing for the first bit of travel, and then it kicks in. Unlike a lot of electric cars, you don't have this massive lovely torque that we like so much. It just isn't that powerful. That's kind of a little motor back there. Now, once you get under way, and once you get past that initial sort of numb tip in on the accelerator, I hate to say this 'cause all the Smart haters will cease on it, but it really drives like a golf cart. It has that same sort of [unk] thing 'cause it's got a short wheelbase. You hear that electric motor pronouncedly just like on a golf cart. It's about the size of a golf cart. All it needs is a little surrey top and a little bit of that dingle ball fringe, and it's a golf cart. Now, I'm on a grade now, going up a, I don't know, what is this, 7%, 8%, 9% grade just to guess? The car's having a hard time with this. I'm floored and there's an extra click in the gas pedal, the accelerator I should say, that pours on extra umph. It goes from a standard drive of 20 kilowatts to a little extra click right there when you tap in to all 30 kilowatts--all 41 massive horsepower. It's just enough to get up hills, or to do passing maneuvers, but it's never as much as you'd like. Now, just like the gas engine Smart ForTwo, I just think it's a fun car to drive. It's sensible packing, not as your only car for most people, but as that second sorta get around commuter ride. I still like this vehicle but it's under-whelming on the electric side. Now, these 2 pods on top of the dash are gonna be of key interest every time you drive this car. The one on the right is how much power you're using (when that needle swings to left, that's power delivery) and how much regen you're capturing when you're on the brakes or coasting (that's when it swings down all the way down to 10). So, this car can regen to a maximum strength of 10 kilowatts, but can power itself to 30. Obviously, regen is not equal to its ability to power itself. That would be almost a perpetual motion machine. The one on the left is your battery capacity. It's the nearest thing you have to a range gauge. This car doesn't tell you how much range you have left. On a long grade on a freeway, which this car just barely handles, you can watch that needle on the left drop. It's a little unnerving. Electric power steering in the Smart Electric (because obviously there's no where to power a hydraulic unit) it's always on unlike some cars. With the BMW 7 hybrid, the electric power steering dies when the engine shuts off at a stop sign, which was a weird kind of a glitchy thing for them. This car always has electric steering on and it's an exceptionally tight turner, just like all Smart ForTwos. The cabin tech's nothing special. We've talked about that before. If you wanna get a good read on that, go see our video on the standard gas-powered Smart ForTwo. Okay. Charging a Smart Electric's pretty routine. Like most cars, you've got what people call a charger. It's not. It's a charge adapter and cable. The charger is in the car. It's kind of a complicated apparatus. Here's our charge door here. You recognize the traditional SAE charging port. This handle is also common to all the charging cars today from a Tesla, to a Volt, to a LEAF, to this guy. Now, when you get this plugged in, it's gonna take 12 hours to fully charge it, 12 hours or more, on 110. And by the way, I found out the hard way, it will not charge on a non-grounded 110 outlet, so there goes several million pre-1962 homes, unless you've had all your wiring upgraded. What you really wanna do is bring a level II charger, a 240 outlet, out near the car 'cause you can't use extension cords with this, and that's gonna get you a much better charge time. From 20% to 80% in 3-1/2 hours is how they communicate it. Smart has a full tutorial on getting one of those level II chargers installed at your place. Honestly, it makes it look like a real drag. Once you do, you'll find the charge cost varies widely by your utility, rate plan, and time of day you charge. But here in San Francisco for example, at best rate, it would cost about a buck for a full charge that should take you 60 miles--60 slow miles. Running the numbers doesn't really work right now. EPA estimates have you saving $460 in energy per 10,000-mile year compared with a gas ForTwo. But you'll spend an additional $4400 on the lease for a net disadvantage of almost 4-grand. Even if gas prices keep soaring, let's say you're at least a couple of grand in the hole. That's why Smart is quick to mention the full production version of this car that arrives in 2012 will be a lot cheaper. Okay, let's price this guy. Sit down. $45,600, that's right, $45,600 is the base price-- about 3 times the cost of a gas-powered Smart ForTwo. The good news is you won't pay that because you can't buy it. You can only lease it: $600 a month for the hard top; $650 I think it is for the cabriolet. Now, it's a lease as I mentioned, which means you probably won't quality for most, if any, of the various rebates and credits out there that are typically given for purchases as I understand it. It's an odd little bird, but the leasing does take out some of the shock out of the price. And if you really want an electric car, you've only got a few choices. This is one of them.