2013 Smart Electric Drive: Better Than Earlier Electric Smarts?

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Smart's third-generation Electric Drive model might look similar to the car it replaces, but it's a very different vehicle under the skin.

To discover just how different, our latest drive in the new electric Smart let us compare with our experiences from the previous model--and the differences are stark.

The bright paintwork and relocated nose badge hide drivetrain and battery changes under the skin, making the new electric ForTwo a more viable vehicle than ever before.

Old car good...

We recently tested the new Smart around the congested streets of Brooklyn, but our latest drive allowed us to explore some faster roads, around Smart's U.K. headquarters in the town of Milton Keynes.

In isolation, the old car never felt too bad to drive, whether bombing around the tight streets of London, or on a Mercedes test track.

While never particularly fast, electric propulsion at least endowed the previous car with a bit of zip when stepping off the mark, though acceleration quickly tailed off after around 35-40 mph, a fair way from its 62 mph top speed.

Range of the older model, with its Tesla-designed battery pack, was 84 miles. The drivetrain always felt fairly smooth, as you'd expect from an electric vehicle--and certainly when compared to to the gasoline Smart Fortwo, often derided for its jerky automated-manual transmission.

Beyond the electric drivetrain, it felt much like a regular Smart. Ride had improved with the heavy batteries taking the edge off harsher bumps, and handling even felt a little better, thanks to a low center of gravity and BRABUS-tuned suspension.

...new car better

Even so, the benefits of the new car are clear.

Equally as vivid as the new lick of paint is the Electric Drive's improved acceleration. It isn't just quicker, but smoother too, even at low speeds.

Smart has finally built a creep mode into the transmission, allowing it to edge forward in Drive when the driver takes a foot off the brakes. The old car lacked this feature, making low-speed, precise driving a chore.

At anything above walking pace, the new car is more responsive, and just plain faster.

Where the old model developed a sustained 20 kw (27 horsepower) and a peak of 30 kW (40 hp), the new model trounces it with an extra 15 kW (20 hp) of continuous power, and a peak output of 55 kW (74 hp)--not far off double that of before.

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