2013 Smart Electric Drive Test: Lowest-Priced Electric Car In U.S.

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2013 Smart Electric Drive, Brooklyn, NY

2013 Smart Electric Drive, Brooklyn, NY

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If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Smart took that advice to heart; its 2013 Smart ED3 is the third generation of its all-electric version of the two-seat ForTwo minicar.

And it's the first one that's really a viable car under normal driving conditions.

It's also the least expensive electric car sold in the U.S., priced at $25,750 for the coupe and $28,750 for the soft-top Cabrio version.

And that's before incentives (Smart asserted it will not use "net pricing" to market the car) that include a $7,500 Federal tax credit, a $2,500 purchase rebate in California, and a slew of other state, regional, and local incentives.

The price is exactly twice that of the gasoline Coupe, which starts at $12,490. Total incentives in a few California regions can bring their effective prices close to parity.

Unlike the previous Smart Electric Drive, which was lease-only, the 2013 model can be leased or sold.

Urban street fighter?

During our drive of the 2013 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive (better known as ED3)  through the congested streets and avenues of Brooklyn, New York, it proved a worthy urban warrior.

The Smart car has never been a particularly good highway car, but we had no chance to take it above 45 mph (which is above New York City's speed limit on surface streets anyway). Maximum speed is limited to 78 mph.

But with notably better 0-to-60-mph acceleration (11.5 seconds) than the gasoline Smart, the electric ED3 can become a little street fighter if you use it hard.

"Drive it like you stole it" turns into "Drive it like a yellow cab." That's just what we did--nipping into small gaps, zipping around slow-moving minivans, and hustling into side lanes other cars weren't sure of.

So if you're looking for the best car in a crowded city--especially if you sometimes park on the street--this may be the one.

No EPA range rating yet

But make sure you have a place to park overnight with an electric-car charging station. Because driving the ED3 aggressively chews through battery capacity, meaning range, at a fast rate.

2013 Smart Electric Drive, Brooklyn, NY

2013 Smart Electric Drive, Brooklyn, NY

Enlarge Photo

It took us more than an hour to cover the 11-mile Brooklyn test route. As noted, we drove aggressively. It's New York.

Over that time, the ED3's dash display informed us, we averaged 2.1 miles per kilowatt-hour of battery (a useful metric of efficiency we wish more electric-car makers offered).

With a 17.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, at that rate, the Smart ED3 would offer about 35 miles of range.

That's considerably lower than the 90 miles of effective range that Smart USA quotes, though the ED3 has not yet been rated for range by the EPA.

We suspect the EPA will rate the latest electric Smart at 60 to 75 miles of range, slightly better than its nearest electric-car competitor, the Mitsubishi i (or i-MiEV) at 62 miles.

To be fair, if any electric car were driven like a NYC taxi, its range would likely only be half of the EPA range, since maximum power and braking beyond the regenerative limit both sap energy.

So we'd have expected the same results from a Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric, or Mitsubishi i-MiEV. And we look forward to testing the Smart ED3 for a longer period over a more varied set of routes.

2013 Smart Electric Drive, Brooklyn, NY

2013 Smart Electric Drive, Brooklyn, NY

Enlarge Photo

Same interior space

The Smart's length of 106 inches makes it the shortest car sold in the U.S., but as noted in most road tests, it's quite spacious for two full-sized adults.

Due to the Smart's "sandwich floor" construction, the battery pack fits under the floor into the space the gas tank used to occupy, and the electric motor driving the rear wheels sits exactly where the engine and transmission did.

That means interior volume for passengers and cargo is unchanged between gasoline and electric versions--making the choice of powertrain a fairer tradeoff than in many hybrids and other plug-ins, which lose luggage space to their larger battery packs.

Inside and outside

As in the gasoline Smart, there's little storage space in the cabin: two door bins, a glovebox so small it wouldn't hold a CD jewel case, and a small tray to the left of the steering column.

The two round gauge pods sitting atop the dash hold the battery state-of-charge and the motor regeneration/power delivery gauges.


 
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