May 26, 2014
2014 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Steven Bochenek
Two years ago I drove the Smart ForTwo electric drive on the final leg of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s (AJAC) first-ever Eco-Run. I followed a clutch of other auto writers down a wrong turn – a big mistake. Soon it ran out of juice, stranding me alongside a lonely windswept farmer’s field recently sown with rich silage. A hard-to-forget experience.
I wasn’t convinced that the electric Smart belonged on country roads.
Today, after a week of driving the 2014 version strictly in the city, I still feel the same way — yet also feel like the Prodigal Son returning home. I loved it! So slaughter the tofu calf and take my trousers cuffs in. I recommend this ride for urban soloists and duos.
Of course, that’s a highly specific chunk of the gen-pop. Have a child or extra friend over for the night? Forget it. Thinking of leaving town for the weekend? You’re full of silage. It takes hours to charge — and that’s only if you find a charging station.
However, for one or two (hence the name ‘ForTwo’) in the city only, it’s terrific. Come September my wife and I will be empty-nesters. We are considering replacing our current second car with the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. It would take five years of bypassing gas stations* to recoup the nearly $9,000 difference between electric and gas Smart models — but our provincial government is offering rebates.
Remember: you’re never going to a gas station again.
You quickly learn to appreciate the electric Smart’s odometer and Eco indicator. The former indicates your remaining cruise range, aka ‘fuel’. Just as with an internal combustion engine, how you drive affects its readings. (For instance, one 300-metre flattening of the accelerator followed by sudden hard braking swallowed 2 km from the range.) So you closely study the average energy consumption as indicated in the start menu and the Eco indicator.
The Eco indicator gives real-time feedback on your driving style. It’s based on how smoothly you accelerate, how gently you brake (plus how often, instead of coasting down to a stop) and how consistent you are with these techniques. When you reset, it begins at 50 percent then may go south, like each Maple Leafs’ season. The goal is to get yourself close to 100 percent — obviously — and it becomes a game.
There’s also an indicator showing your average kilowatt-hour burn per 100 km. A switch on the wiper lever allows you to toggle between indicators. The nerdy game can become quite addictive.
2014 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive dashboard, gauges, centre stack. Click image to enlarge
Keep your eyes on the road!
You can get more out of your range with the optional paddle shifters, not unlike the new Cadillac ELR. Tap the right paddle to increase recuperation and left to lessen. There are three recuperation levels: zero is for flat road with few sharp turns and little braking; level one is for regular driving; two is for ‘sporty’ driving, a direct quote. That may be hard to imagine in a Smart car, but everything is relative. (More about the drive towards the end of the review.)
The charger is neatly sequestered behind a panel on the rear hatch. According to Smart’s studies, most of their customers don’t drive more than 40 km per day. So, if you’re charging it consistently at night, you needn’t worry about draining the battery.
Warning: it takes up to 16 hours to charge from zip to full. Furthermore, under ideal circumstances, the charge lasts only 138 km. Factor in hills, traffic, cold weather and the fact that it’s the Canadian government reporting the numbers and you can shorten that distance significantly. My full charge was under 120 km.
Bottom line? Do not think of the electric Smart ForTwo as anything but a city tootler. Plugging it in during an hour-long lunch would render an extra 15 km at most. So you’re not getting out of town without a big risk of your own silage soaking.
2014 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive engine bay, charging cable, main screen. Click image to enlarge
Start the electric Smart and you’re greeted with silence.
Turn the ‘ignition’ and you may not think it’s even on despite the ‘Ready’ message on the dial. Consequently, you don’t drive at first. Instead you just tweak that ignition a bit, end up turning it off a couple of times, until the penny finally drops.
So you put it in drive and go. Now, it’s no longer silent. Instead there’s mild whirring noise, almost like an elevator. Which is appropriate because the Smart car is kind of shaped like an elevator — if an elevator had a kid with an upright piano crate.
Speaking of silence, for such a flimsy looking thing, the Smart is well soundproofed. The fibrous plastic material covering the dashboard and door walls looks like recording studio sound baffling. This less reflective surface softens the noise inside. It also feels better than hard plastic. The carpeted floor and cloth seat coverings all eat sound too (but will soon become a pain to clean).