Smart ForTwo Electric Drive 2013 review

It’s fun to drive, but will a much higher price cost the Smart ForTwo ED victory?

Adding electric power to the compact ForTwo makes a lot of sense. It raises the car’s appeal no end, as it eliminates the jerky driving experience of the standard model, while the city centre focus means most owners will travel short distances that won’t trouble the car’s 90-mile range. It’s among the best uses of electric power by a mainstream brand yet.

There aren’t many cars that can claim to have a cult following, but the Smart ForTwo is among them. The compact two-seater has always appealed to buyers who want to stand out from the crowd, while the addition of electric power brings the extra bonus of ultra-low running costs.

From the outside, the ForTwo Electric Drive is identical to the standard model, save for ED and electric drive badging, but you can give it a more distinctive look if you go for the £600 Electric Drive design package fitted to our car. The combination of white body panels and wheels with metallic green Tridion safety cell is eye-catching, but the unconventional Twizy still turns more heads.

Climb inside, and you could be behind the wheel of a standard Smart. While that means the interior is well built, the plastics used throughout aren’t the best quality, and it’s difficult to get comfortable at the wheel.

There’s no height adjustment for the seat, while the steering wheel is fixed in position. It feels like you’re sat on top of the car, rather than in it, plus taller drivers will find their line of sight is near the top of the windscreen. Another niggle is that the lettering at the base of the gearlever hasn’t been moved in the switch from left to right-hand drive, so the lever itself obscures the characters.

The electric motor and battery pack are mounted under the boot floor, while the charging lead is stored in the tailgate, so boot space isn’t compromised by the new drivetrain, and you get far more room than in the Twizy.

Start the ForTwo, and you’re greeted by a chime to tell you that the car is running – simply engage Drive, and you’re off. As the ED sends power directly to the rear wheels, the standard car’s jerky automated manual box has been eliminated, and the ForTwo is all the better for it.

With 130Nm of torque available as soon as you press the accelerator, the car sprints away from a standstill, and the electric motor spins up with a distinctive futuristic whirr as you accelerate. Smart claims a 0-62mph time of 11.5 seconds, but it feels a lot faster, and left the lower-powered Twizy, as well as most other cars, in its wake when pulling away from traffic lights.

Unfortunately, the rest of the driving experience is the same as the standard car’s. The short wheelbase means the ForTwo is easily unsettled over speed bumps, and there’s plenty of understeer in bends. However, compared to the rock-hard Twizy, the suspension does soak up some bumps, and the fact you’re not exposed to the elements means the car is far more comfortable.

Smart claims that the ForTwo ED has a range of 90 miles, and while we didn’t test its limits, it delivered returns in line with these figures. It can travel twice as far as the Twizy on a full charge, so you could realistically contemplate longer journeys.

One neat option added to our test car was the steering wheel-mounted paddles that adjust the amount of regenerative braking produced by the electric drivetrain. There are three settings, from unobstructed coasting to high resistance, with the highest setting putting a decent amount of energy back into the batteries.

As with any electric car, the ED’s major downside is its charging time. Smart estimates it takes seven hours from flat using a standard socket, although this can be cut to an hour if you choose the optional £2,650 high-capacity 22kW on-board charger that will be available in the summer.

You have a number of different purchase options if you want to buy a ForTwo ED, but whichever one you go for, there’s huge scope for personalisation, although this sends the price well beyond the top-spec Twizy.

Of course, standard kit comprises air-con and electric windows, while the inclusion of doors, side windows and a heater means, unlike the Renault, you can use the ForTwo ED all year round. This might just give it the advantage it needs to justify its higher price.

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