Forget the 2010 Nissan Leaf or the 2010 Chevy Volt. A small, chic electric vehicle is set to be trialled in the U.S. this fall that has the potential to redefine inner city commuting. But are consumers ready to drive around in an electric car smaller than most people's closets?

Smart U.S.A. has just announced a 250 car pilot scheme across key markets in the U.S. this Fall to test out the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. It will lease the cars to interested companies, organizations, government agencies and individuals interested in driving electric.

The so called second generation test vehicles will form part of the final assessment and evaluation process prior to developing a third generation of the Smart Electric Vehicle drivetrain and battery pack.  This final iteration will form the production model of the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive set to be launched by 2013.

The Electric Drive ForTwo uses a 16.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and has a claimed maximum range of 82 miles per charge. Recharging is expected to take less than eight hours when used with a 220V outlet. 110V charging, while possible, will take much longer.

At just under 9 feet in length and 5 feet high, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive will be the smallest highway-capable EV on the market.

2011 Smart electric drive

2011 Smart electric drive

In the urban jungle, size matters; the ForTwo can park pretty much anywhere and has direct and responsive steering. Fast and nippy acceleration to city speeds combined with great visibility make the ForTwo an instant city hit. It's no wonder the gasoline version of the Smart ForTwo has become popular among inner city residents along the west and east coasts.

The ForTwo is no family car. It only has two seats, but then so does the much larger 2011 BMW Mini E. Unlike the Mini E, whose engineers claimed the battery was just too large to hide elsewhere, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive houses its battery pack under the floor, giving exactly the same cabin space as its gasoline counterpart.

If you need more than urban transport the Smart suffers.  Size isn't the issue, but speed is.

The gasoline versions of the Smart ForTwo can keep up with freeway traffic. Even the underpowered Smart ForTwo 799cc Diesel models sold in Europe and Canada provide enough acceleration and a high enough top speed to get all but the most careless of drivers out of a sticky situation.

The European version of the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive tops out at just 62.5mph. While in-town and sub 50 mph performance exceeds the gasoline version, any acceleration above 50 mph suffers.

2011 Smart electric drive

2011 Smart electric drive

As I found out in 2009 while driving the European version of the Smart Electric Drive, anything other than short, congested freeway trips result in some serious driver trauma in the slow lane at the hands of any truck driver going faster than 60mph.

As our own Bengt Halvorson found out, driving the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive is a fun and exhilarating experience around town. The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive shows how the Smart ForTwo should have been from its inception -- an electric powered urban car.

Disappointingly, Smart U.S.A. have not increased the top speed of the new model Smart ForTwo Electric Drive beyond a paltry 62.5 mph. The cute Smart Car is a complete joy to drive on back streets or city blocks, but unless you have nerves of steel you should keep off the freeway.