Test Drive: 2011 smart fortwo electric drive passion coupe

“smart fortwo electric drive: Advanced technology for urban mobility”

The smart car arrived on our shores after what seemed like an eternity since its inception in Europe, with more than 770,000 first generation (1998-2006) smart cars having been sold in 36 countries globally. smart is a division of Daimler AG. The U.S. represents the 37th country where smart is sold, and the U.S. version was designed specifically for two occupants, and designated smart fortwo. The diminutive vehicle is made in France and is of Lilliputian proportions. It is only 8.8 feet long, 5.1 feet high, with an equal measurement in width. It tips the scales at 1,958 pounds in the heaviest model – the electric drive.

Gasoline fueled smart fortwo models come in two trim levels: Pure; and Passion. Both trims are available in two configurations: Coupe and Cabriolet. The latter features a two position soft top that recedes and returns electrically at virtually any speed.

Though I normally avoid describing any vehicle as “cute” –it seems too be an appropriate term for the smart fortwo, which some have referred to as a “clown car”, while suggesting wearing large red bulb noses when inside. It displays a futuristic yet playful design, and despite its reduced dimensions, is really big on interior space and comfort and features. It is proof that good things can really come in small packages. The first impression registers as sporty but stylish. The innovative two-material construction concept consists of a tridion safety-cell crafted from high-strength steel and colorful, interchangeable body panels made of premium, dent resistant plastic. Projection headlamps with indicators incorporated into them adds to the little car’s “Jetson-like” look. The front, which appears as if it might house the engine, does not. Nor does it provide trunk space. Storage for one’s personal gear is behind the seats.

All smart cars are rear-wheel drive, and conventionally fueled smart fortwo models are powered by a 1.0-liter, transversely rear mounted motor that connects to a five-speed automated manual transmission ahead of the engine, complete with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The motor generates 70 horsepower and 68 pound feet of torque, and is capable of scooting the car to an electronically limited top speed of 90 mph, or from 0-60 mph in 12.8 seconds. It’s not a dragster folks. smart fortwo rides on 9-spoke 15-inch alloy wheels, staggered in with and tire size.

The second generation 2011 electric drive version of the smart fortwo draws its motive force from a Zytek permanent magnet motor – 20 kW constant/30 kW peak with 12 Amp/ and Tesla Motors Inc., developed16.5 kWh Lithium-Ion water-jacketed battery and 3.3 kW charger onboard. Torque is rated at 89 pound feet, and power is transmitted to the rear wheels via a single speed automatic transmission. The motor is mounted aft in a transverse orientation and delivers an EPA estimated range of 63 miles on a single charge in combined city and highway driving scenarios.

Regenerative braking serves to extend the smart fortwo electric drive coupe’s driving range by pumping between 3kW and 10kW of energy back into the battery in trailing throttle and braking scenarios, with the electric motor operating as a generator. This occurs when lifting off the throttle, applying the brake or traveling downhill, which converts the mechanical energy of motion into electrical energy recharging the battery.

The vehicle comes with a J1772 charging socket as well as a J1772 connector on the standard charging cord. Both level 1 (110 volt)and Level 2 (220 volt) charging are accommodated. The onboard 3.3kW charger has a 12 amp draw and has the capability of being charged directly from an electrical outlet without the need for an external charging unit. A travel Level 1 charging cord comes with the vehicle. Level 2 charging takes roughly 3 ½ hours to charge the battery from 20 to 80 percent of its capacity, and about 8 hours to reach full charge from a depleted battery. Level 1 recharging can take from 10 to 12 hours depending upon ambient and battery temperature.

Roger Penske, who will lead the smart USA distributor LLC, is chairman of smart USA and the Penske Automotive Group, which handles the distribution. smart fortwo will not be advertised on television or in the print media – only on the internet – (www.smartusa.com).

The electric drive smart fortwo passion coupe that I tested came finished in Crystal White with Electric Green (what else) body panels, mirror caps and alloy wheels. The base sticker reads $44,837 with the Destination charge bumping the price another $750 for a final tally of $45,587.

SUMMARY: The electric drive smart fortwo passion coupe has a lot of things going for it, but it is obviously not for everyone. It is visually appealing in a playful sort of way. It’s economical, fun to drive, and it fits easily into minimal parking spaces (two will fit into a conventional parking space). Acceleration is not blistering, with the capability of reaching 40 mph in 6.5 seconds on level ground. Top speed is 62.5 mph (again, on level ground). Uphill with two occupants with the pedal floored yields only about 50 mph.

The single speed gearbox of the electric drive is much more user friendly than  the automated manual transmission in the gas version which is similar to BMW’s SMG gearbox, of which I’m not a fan, due to its lag time between gear changes.

The interior space and amenities are surprisingly plentiful and user friendly, and the ride quality is compliant enough, but potholes should be avoided if possible to ensure maximum comfort. The handling characteristics are responsive and positive, with a minimal turning circle, and parking, though requiring less space as mentioned earlier, requires closer attention, because the exterior planes are difficult to judge, lacking outward reference points.

I received my test vehicle with a 60 percent charge level, drove it around a bit, down to the 40 percent level, charged it overnight back up to the 100 percent level and proceeded to put over 70 miles on it under all conditions and driving scenarios  – city, freeway, uphill and downhill leaving close to a 5 percent charge. Upon reaching the 5 percent level, an audible alarm will sound along with a flashing warning and a reduction in power output.

Bottom line, electric drive smart fortwo delivers on fun, practicality, fun, economy and more fun due to its novelty. Safety is generally concern given the size and construction, but after viewing several crash and roll-over test footage, smart fortwo came through the displayed tests with flying colors, bolstering the confidence level. The competition in the electric vehicle marketplace is exceptionally stiff with Chevrolet’s Volt costing $907 less and seating four, plus featuring an extended range gasoline engine, and Nissan’s Leaf coming in at $12,807 less and also seating four, with a range of roughly 100 miles and a top speed of 90 mph. Both the Leaf and smart fortwo electric drive are purely plug-in electric vehicles and have no gas tank or exhaust pipe. The math is yours to do, along with personal requirements and applications.

 

 

 

 

 

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