2013 Smart Electric Drive Test: Lowest-Priced Electric Car In U.S. Page 2

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2013 Smart Electric Drive, Brooklyn, NY

2013 Smart Electric Drive, Brooklyn, NY

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The cabin is simple but well executed. The painted metal floor edge that's visible at the bottom of the door openings actually added a touch of color (many Smarts have different body panels of a different color to their safety cage).

In addition to its Tridion safety cell, Smart coupes have eight airbags and the soft-top Cabrio model comes with six.

On the outside, except for "electric drive" chrome letters on the liftback and a vinyl "ED" plug-and-socket logo on each pillar, the electric Smart is identical to its gasoline counterpart.

All options, colors, and customization options on the gas car can be ordered on the electric model. But Smart USA couldn't give details on the available options that the electric version will offer.

Nicer than gas version

The best thing about this latest electric version is that it eliminates the most annoying feature of the gasoline Smart: the pitching and jerkiness produced as its semi-automatic gearbox cycles up and down through the gears.

With a single-speed drive, the Smart ED3 simply gathers speed steadily, accompanied by a slight spaceship whine. Smart has programmed in some light idle-creep, just as an automatic transmission provides.

Compared to the earlier ForTwo Electric Drive model, the ED3 has a more powerful motor and a battery pack--no longer designed by Tesla Motors--that is much more tolerant of cold weather.

The electric motor powering the rear wheels produces 35 kilowatts (47 horsepower) of continuous power, and a peak output of 55 kW (74 hp). Maximum torque is an even 100 lb-ft.

That compares to the previous model's 20 kW (27 hp) sustained and 30 kW (40 hp) peak output, with 89 lb-ft of torque.

Power delivery is smooth, and the blending between regenerative and friction braking is indiscernible--not always the case in some hybrid cars, for instance.

Accelerator "boost" function

Drivers can call on the peak power via a "boost function" that's discernible as a sort of extra detent at the bottom of accelerator travel.

Floor the pedal, then push again, and the motor increases its output to the maximum for up to 2 minutes, before it backs off to prevent overheating.

Lift up, and regenerative braking kicks in--though regen on liftoff can be eliminated by using the "-" mode of the optional paddle shifters, while the "+" mode increases the regeneration to bring the car close to Tesla Roadster-style "one-pedal driving."

2013 Smart Electric Drive, Brooklyn, NY

2013 Smart Electric Drive, Brooklyn, NY

Enlarge Photo

Driving heavy

The controls feel much heavier than its size would indicate; drivers have to push hard on the accelerator and brake pedal, and the electric steering is on the heavy side compared to other small cars.

The liquid-cooled battery pack adds about 330 pounds to the weight of the standard Smart ForTwo, so it's hardly a light car.

But despite the high seating position--you're actually sitting higher than drivers of low compacts like Honda Civics--the weight is as low in the car as it can be.

That means the Smart ED3 handles well, corners decently, and soaks up bumps, manhole covers, cobblestone streets, gaps, crevaces, and misaligned concrete slabs with relative aplomb.

7-hour recharge

Smart recommends that owners purchase a 240-Volt Level 2 charging station, which will recharge an entirely depleted battery in 6 to 7 hours via a 3.3-kW onboard charger.

Charging the pack from 20 to 80 percent capacity, however, takes only 3.5 hours. No fast-charging option is offered on ED3s sold in the U.S.

The electric Smart also comes with a 110-Volt charging cord in the load bay, but the company stresses that it's for emergencies only and that charging time will be twice as long--or higher.

In the end, the new Smart ED3 seems like what the Smart always wanted to be from its 1998 launch in Europe: a smooth, comfortable urban car that can be parked in smaller spaces than any other vehicle.

Unlike the first two generations of electric Smarts, it has enough power to hold its own in urban car jousting.

While the boost function hardly catapults the car toward the landscape, it gives drivers surprisingly quick getaway ability--with a driving experience that's both faster and significantly more pleasant than the gasoline Smart.

If we had a place to charge one overnight, this might be the sleeper urban car we could live with.

But we'll wait to make that judgment until we know more after a real road test, because despite what the hipsters tell you, 11 miles through Brooklyn isn't representative of the way most people will use this car.

The 2013 Smart Electric Drive ED3 will be available six to eight months from now at the nation's 89 Smart dealerships, all now associated with Mercedes-Benz dealers.

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