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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Comments (20)
  1. Great to see an EV at that price point.

  2. And it pretty much counters the point that "EVs cost more than the comparable ICE cars" in this particular case...

  3. @Xiaolong: Well, not entirely. The base price of the electric Smart ($25,750) is slightly more than twice the price of the base gasoline version ($12,490).

    Because both cars are inexpensive, though, the impact of the $7,500 Federal income-tax credit and other state and local incentives is proportionately higher.

  4. Excellent! I always wished the Smart EVs were better.. and this one sounds just right with performance and price. (Especially since it outperforms the ICE version). Really like this!

  5. Why do we keep calling it 110V charge cord when it is actually 120V?

  6. I have never understood this. Sometimes I here 110, sometimes 115, sometimes 120. Maybe some can clarify.

  7. ** "hear" not "here", and "someone" not "some" sigh.

  8. I believe it is supposed to be 120V, but this is not a hard and fast thing. The voltage always varies somewhat and it may dip as low as 110V and still be fine -- a so-called brownout is about 80-90V. Then some devices start to not work, or not work well.

    For that matter, Level 2 charging is officially 240v, but again it varies sometimes and can be 220v without issues, if I understand correctly.


  9. Well, 120V is exactly half of 240V. Most of the US household are on the split phase of the 240V. Each house is usually wired for two 120V line completely out of phase by 180 degree, thus the 240V between them...

  10. It used be 110V. But it is currently rated 120V now.

    Most of the voltage should be 120V +/- 5%.

  11. There are more comments in this thread
  12. about time manufacturers realized that all the bells and whistles are not necessary and that a lower price point is where EVs need to be at... at least a few of them anyway

  13. It is good that they persevered and kept improving the design. It would even better if Toyota had kept up the pressure of competition with their iQ EV. That car has the huge advantage of the 3rd real seat and front wheel drive.


  14. I believe that this Smart is the model that Tesla is providing the power train.

  15. @Dr. Bob: Nope, that was the previous (second) generation of electric Smart, known as the "Electric Drive" to differentiate it from the first-generation "Electric Vehicle".

    The cells for the lithium-ion battery in the ED3 are provided by Li-Tec Battery GmbH, a joint venture between Daimler and Evonik. The 17.6-kWh battery pack itself is built by Deutsche ACCUmotive, a different joint venture between Daimler and Evonik.

  16. I thought that Tesla worked with Daimler for the Mercedes EV?

  17. @Randy: It did, but that's a different car: the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, shown at last spring's NY Auto Show:


  18. They need to do better than a 3.3-kW onboard charger.

  19. I knew it was a 3.3kW. I was at a Smart dealer and they had no EVs in stock and was trying to get info and he didn't have much. I asked if it only had a 3kW on board charger and he tried to tell me about charging stations. After he told me the charging time I told him it is probably a 3kW charger. They should definitely provide a better on board charger option, but it shouldn't be standard. Keeping the price down is important.

  20. John, your energy consumption is less than 50% of what I get driving a Nissan Leaf. If you drive it like you stole it - you will get very limited range.
    BTW, CALSTART is sponsoring leg to extend CA's clean vehicle incentives through end of decade. NY will soon have incentives too.

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