Smart ForTwo Electric Drive (2009-2014)
"The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive takes the eco-friendly urban runabout to the next level with a clever design and low running costs."
- Easy to park
- Great for city driving
- Choice to buy or rent batteries
- Poor infotainment system
- Home fast charger is expensive
- Little adjustment in seat or steering wheel
In a classic case of doing exactly what says it on the tin, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive is designed to carry two people around a city using an electric motor. While ultra-low running costs are the main selling point, the Electric Drive’s appeal is heightened by added power and speed compared to the petrol and diesel-engined Smarts, so it’s truly zippy around town. Plus, the ForTwo's diminutive dimensions make it perfect for squeezing down narrow lanes and into tight parking spaces – or even parking at right angles to the kerb.
It can even cope with the odd motorway journey better than the regular ForTwo, but its 90-mile range means it's better suited to the daily commute in busy cities like London rather than long-distance hauls across the country. Its rivals include the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Renault Twizy and Nissan Leaf.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The Electric Drive can be plugged into any standard household electric socket to charge, without the need for extra equipment. Zero CO2 emissions mean you don't have to pay road tax or the London Congestion Charge. In fact, the ForTwo Electric Drive is one of the cheapest cars to run you can buy. A smartphone app helps you save money by charging the car for the exact range you want, so if you don’t need to drive 90 miles in one go, you can save money by charging at home during cheaper off-peak times and planning your travel accordingly.
Engines, drive & performance
A 60% increase in power means the Electric Drive is actually a much better drive than both of the conventional ForTwo models. You have 74bhp and razor-sharp accelerator response to play with, so you can easily nip around buses, taxis or parked cars.
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However, the single-speed gearbox creates a relentless whirring noise from the electric motor, which sounds like a jet plane winding up for take-off when you accelerate. The ForTwo Electric Drive also has a smoother ride than its predecessors, but a fixed-height driver's seat and only limited adjustment in the steering column can make it difficult to get comfortable.
Interior & comfort
The ForTwo offers a reasonably soft ride in comparison to many other small cars, which can get quite bumpy. Air-conditioning is fitted as standard, and on a hot day you can use the car's smartphone app to cool down the cabin before you get in.
The seats are comfortable and supportive, and there's plenty of head, shoulder and legroom for both the driver and passenger, although a limited amount of adjustment in the steering wheel and seat can leave taller drivers frustrated.
All-round visibility is excellent, however, plus the Electric Drive has good sound insulation in the doors and between the passenger compartment and the electric motor, so it's even quieter than the previous electric Smart car.
Practicality & boot space
Smart has worked long and hard to make sure the ForTwo is a genuinely useable and practical car for commuters. The company reckons the average commute last for between 24 and 37 miles, so the Electric Drive's 90-mile range should be more than enough, even allowing a little wiggle room for any extra errands you might have to run.
Charging time to maximum capacity is seven hours, which is an hour quicker than the Nissan Leaf, but longer than the 3.5 hours that the Renault Twizy needs – although that car only has a 50-mile range. If you shell out and buy a special wall-mounted charger the charge time drops to six hours, or you can push the boat out and buy a rapid charger that will do the job in less than 60 minutes.
The ForTwo Electric Drive also comes with a very handy smartphone app that allows you to remotely check how much charge and range you have left. You can also dial in a charge time to give the car just enough power to cover a specified range.
On top of that, the ForTwo is hugely manoeuvrable around town and very easy to park – its party piece is the ability to park at right angles to the kerb. And while the luggage area is undeniably small, the rear window opens separately for easier access.
Reliability & safety
Smart dropped three places in the Driver Power 2013 customer satisfaction survey to 32nd in the manufacturer rankings – dead last, thanks to pretty much universally poor reports from owners. What's more, no Smart model made it into the top 150 cars at all.
However, it's worth remembering that Smart is a division of Mercedes, which worked with well known automotive supplier Bosch to produce the ForTwo, so it should be a high-quality product. Also, one of the main benefits of an electric motor is that it has fewer moving parts to go wrong than a normal petrol or diesel engine.
Finally, while the ForTwo Electric Drive only has a two-year warranty, you can cover unlimited mileage in that time.
Price, value for money & options
We're still at the point where you have to pay a signficant premium for electric cars, even with the government's £5,000 contribution, but Smart offers two ways to own an Electric Drive.
If you buy the car outright, it costs more than double the price of the least expensive petrol ForTwo. However, if you choose to pay a monthly rental fee for the battery pack, the initial purchase price is reduced by almost a third. Nissan doesn't offer this kind of deal for the Leaf, while you can only rent the battery in a Renault Twizy.
The Electric Drive has one standard trim level, which includes 15-inch alloy wheels and Smart’s traditional contrastingly coloured exterior, roof arches and mirror caps. The interior is reasonably well made and boasts electric windows, a leather steering wheel, a leather gearknob, a trip computer, Bluetooth phone connectivity and air-conditioning as standard.
Safety equipment includes driver, passenger and knee airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control.