by Sommer Thornton
Efficiency is the new black and almost every manufacturer is cashing in. Even with hybrid options on the horizon, Mercedes-Benz and their owner Daimler made the intelligent decision to acquire the Smart Car company nearly 2 decades ago. Smart car technology was developed by the makers of Swatch brand watches. The name SMART is actually a acronym for Swatch Mercedes Art. After many renderings the Smart car is now releasing its 2nd generation Fortwo models. The Fortwo microcars are available as a highly efficient gas powered vehicle, and as an electric (ED) vehicle. Daimler hopes that zero emissions will lure eco-conscious city dwellers to the new SMART brand.
The Smart car tour hit Chicago over the weekend as the last stop on an 11-city tour, featuring events in Miami, DC, Brooklyn, Dallas, Portland, and San Francisco. Fans, onlookers, and curious tree-huggers were given an opportunity to test drive the fortwo electric drive car, the gas powered Smart car, and the special edition Sharpr edition around an affluent and congested north side neighborhood. The electric and gas fortwo Smart cars come in 3 models, the Pure Coupe, the Passion Coupe, and the Passion Cabriolet.
I first tested the electric passion cabriolet. This convertible has a 55 kW electric motor with 35kW of continuous power, regenerative braking, and 96 lb-ft of torque. The fortwo electric drive has a top speed of 78 mph and goes from 0-60mph in 12 seconds. The electric cabriolet has a lithium-ion battery that provides 17.6 kilowatt-hours of power. While the max range for the fortwo electric drive varies depending on weather, terrain, and what lights or media is used, 100 miles sits at power’s peak. Yet in city driving, the max is closer to 76 miles and on the highway on a sunny morning closer to 90 miles.
Powertrain is obviously not the fortwo’s strong suit. I realized that as soon as I pulled off in the cabriolet. While cars whizzed by me on the narrow street, I felt less confident with minimal torque and a single gear transmission. But the 122 mpg EPA made me feel better. My first impression driving the fortwo passion cabriolet is that it felt heavy and too light at the same time. I’m told the cabriolet weighs a whopping 2,100lbs, nearly 500lbs more than its gas powered peers. A lot of the weight comes from a huge battery pack. That’s why even with my foot firmly floored on the gas, the fortwo electric drive only gave me a millisecond jolt of torque, then huffed through traffic. That’s fine for urban driving, where speeds probably won’t top 40mph. But on the highway, I’m afraid the Fortwo electric drive wouldn’t stand a chance.
The electric drive has gauges in place of the odometer and rpg guage that tells the driver power level and state of charge. The ecometer shows how efficiently the car is being driven. It was bobbling up and down depending on acceleration and road and weather conditions.
The lithium-ion battery featured on the ED can be charged with a conventional 120 volt household socket in 12 hours or charged with a 240 volt outlet or station in 6 hours (from 20% to 80% in 3.5 hours.). Preconditioning can be utilized to heat or cool the car while charging so the battery is kept on a full charge.
The interior of the passion cabriolet ED leaves a lot to be desired. There’s almost no new technology other than options offered for surround sound, leather seats, and the 6.5-inch touch screen. If not for these add-ons, I would’ve felt like I was in a time machine that warped me back to 1932. Driving the gas powered fortwo was much better. We tested one of the Sharpred special edition models that had faux leather seats and a cool red and black interior design. The gas fortwo felt much lighter and more controlled. Even though the gas fortwo only has 68 lb-ft of torque compared to 96 lb-ft of torque from the ED, I could feel the difference in torque because the gas fortwo’s load was lighter. The gas fortwo has s top speed of 90mph compared to 78mph with the ED.
The gas fortwo has a 5-speed automatic manual transmission with paddle shifters at the steering wheel. Good luck driving in 3rd gear with 70 horsepower. While the gas fortwo has an EPA of 38 mpg combined, the electric nearly doubles that with 68 mpg combined. Yet with the fortwo gas version is the most efficient gasoline powered non-hybrid in the US. Tree-huggers will probably stone me, but I prefer the gas fortwo over the ED. True with the ED drivers can take advantage of an amazing EPA. But all the drawbacks will outweigh that one benefit.
Let’s say I live in the same area in Chicago the #smartcartour was held. There are few nearby charging stations and virtually no parking outside of apartment buildings. How would I charge my electric smart car? Parking the 8’ x 5’ car is ideal, but all the stop-and-go and stalling in a congested area as Wicker Park is sure to drain power, even faster in the bitter Chicago winter. The gas fortwo relieves much range anxiety.
Up against other hybrid/ electric whips at this price point, like the Spark, the Focus, and even the Prius, the electric drive doesn’t hold its own. The Smart car drives much better than its main competitor the Mitsubishi I Miev, and is more appealing. The $25,000 fortwo ED is still the most affordable electric vehicle on the market.
The #smartcartour was a great way to get feedback on what folks liked about the whip and what improvements Diamler needs to make. And in the company of Mercedes-Benz, these improvements will be easy to implement.