Smart Electric Drive Fortwo and Forfour (2017) review: Hands-on with Smart’s all-electric city slickers
You might not know it, but Smart has been producing electric cars since 2007. Back then, electric vehicles were in their infancy; only 100 electric Smart Fortwos were built for a trial on London’s snarled roads. A second-generation Smart came along in 2009, a third in 2012, then it all went quiet … until now, and the fourth-generation Smart Electric Drive Fortwo.
Indeed, it’s not just the diddy Fortwo that gets the all-electric treatment but also the larger, four-seat Smart Forfour and the sporty Smart Fortwo Cabrio; that makes Smart, at least for now, the only manufacturer with its entire range available in both combustion and electric models.
The cars will go on sale later in 2017 at a starting price of €21,940 for the Electric Drive Fortwo, €22,600 for the Electric Drive Forfour and €25,200 for the Electric Drive Fortwo Cabrio.
That’s quite a lot of cash to fork out for a two-seat hyper-mini, but although UK pricing has yet to be confirmed, the price is likely to competitive with the 24kWh Nissan Leaf and cheaper than the Volkswagen e-Up, although it’s unlikely to be a match the Renault Zoe on value for money.
Smart Electric Drive Fortwo and Forfour review: Design and key specs
From the outside, there’s nothing new to see. The Electric Drive versions of the two new Smart cars are identical to their combustion engine counterparts: short and oddly tubby, with the wheels placed in each corner to provide the optimum stability from the cars’ short wheelbase.
Just like the petrol model, it’s hard to see where the engineers have managed to squeeze in the motor and battery. Squeeze it in they have, however, and ingeniously too. The cars’ 96-cell, 14.6kWh lithium-ion battery lurks beneath the floorpan of the car, lowering the centre of gravity, while the all-electric drivetrain sits just above the rear axle.
That battery has the same capacity as the previous electric Smart cars, but Smart’s engineers have improved it in a number of different ways. It’s lighter for starters, shaving 20kg off the old battery for a total weight of 160kg, and Smart has also tweaked the chemical makeup of the powerpack.[gallery:2]
It’s in the Renault-built drivetrain and charger circuitry, however, that the big changes reveal themselves. Peak power is up 5kW to 60kW and that means 81bhp with an instant 118lb ft of torque. The top speed is limited to 80mph – this is no motorway cruiser, after all – but it has plenty of get up and go where you really need it, scampering away from the lights and up to 60km/h (37mph) in a sprightly 4.9 seconds. And because it’s all-electric, there are no gear changes to get in the way of your progression.
Range has been improved – it’s up to 100 miles per charge – and the cars charge quicker than the previous generation, too. The cars’ 7.2kW charging system charges the battery to 80% in six hours from a standard UK power socket; a 16A wall box charger cuts that to 2hrs 30mins.
If you’re thinking seriously about buying one, though, you might want to wait until the 22kW fast-charge compatible model becomes available in the autumn of 2017 (there’s no retrofit option, alas). That model will cut charge times at compatible charging stations significantly – to 80% capacity in 45 minutes.[gallery:33]
Smart Electric Drive Fortwo and Forfour review: What are they like to drive?
Urban driving is what this car does best, and that’s unsurprisingly where it excels. It remains as embarrassingly easy to park as ever, turns on a sixpence (or at least a 6m 95cm diameter sixpence in the case of the Smart Fortwo ED) and takes sharp, awkward backstreet corners in its short stumpy stride.
It drives well, too. In Eco mode the car glides quietly around the city with serene confidence, soaking up all but the biggest of lumps and bumps with surprising composure. Your back and teeth won’t thank you for driving directly at a speed bump at 30mph in either one of these vehicles, but as long as you’re careful, both Smart Fortwo ED and Forfour ED reward with a calm, unfussed commute.
When you do finally manage to free yourself from the shackles of town traffic jams, disengaging Eco unleashes the (small furry) beast within. Although the Forfour is noticeably less eager to leap up the road, both cars are a hoot to drive along twisty country lanes. Just make sure you have enough juice to get you home.[gallery:6]
Smart Electric Drive Fortwo and Forfour review: In-cabin and driving technology
As far as the infotainment system goes, it’s almost identical to the system in current Smart combustion cars. Most functions are controlled via a protruding 7in touchscreen (a larger 8.9in screen is also available as an option) with a small selection of physical shortcut buttons and a volume knob mounted on the left bezel.
The only additions for the Electric Drive are a couple of extra screens – one displaying a histogram showing energy use and recuperation; another showing energy flow – plus a handful of satnav tweaks aimed at helping you find charging stations and avoid running out of battery capacity in the middle of nowhere.
Bluetooth connectivity is simple to set up and works reasonably well, and it’s also possible to connect your phone via the USB or 3.5mm jack. I also found the TomTom-based satnav system, which comes complete with three years of TomTom Live services including traffic avoidance to be effective during my test drive.[gallery:15]
I do wish TomTom would improve the system’s pronunciation of French road names and places, though; it’s so bad that with long road names it can be quite distracting trying to work out exactly what it’s saying.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Accompanying the new electric Smart cars is a new remote-control app – dubbed Smart Control – which allows the driver to keep tabs on the status of the car remotely, manage various charging features and lock/unlock the vehicle remotely. It’s a nicely designed app, available on both iOS and Android, and looks promising. I especially like the ability to set the car to charge only using off-peak electricity, which could make the car even cheaper to run.
Smart is also currently working on a couple of intriguing beta projects: one that could see your Amazon packages delivered to the boot of your car while it’s sitting outside your house, or anywhere in fact; another that will make it possible to set up your own private car-share pool among a group of friends or acquaintances.[gallery:10]
As for safety and driver-assist technology, there’s a surprisingly good selection here. Cruise control comes as standard (but not the adaptive type), and the car has a lane-departure warning system and crosswind assist to keep the car’s lightweight frame from being buffeted around too much on exposed stretches of road.
It’s hardly surprising to see automatic parking missing (as if you need it), but you do get a rear-parking camera for peace of mind.
Smart Electric Drive Fortwo ED and Forfour review: Verdict
Following an explosion in the number of hybrid cars on the road in recent years, it’s now the turn of all-electric vehicles, and Smart’s new fourth-generation Fortwo and Forfour are a worthy addition. They’re fun to drive and practical, while the ultra-low running costs make them the perfect car for city use and urban commuting.
Charging speed and range could prove an Achilles heel, with the fast-charge variant not initially available, and range a comparatively short 100 miles compared with the Renault Zoe’s 250 miles and the Nissan Leaf 24kWh’s 124 miles.
Still, the price looks as if it will be competitive; if you need a car for short runs and city driving, the new Smart cars could be exactly what you’re looking for.