By on May 20, 2015

2015 Smart Fortwo ED

I like Smarts.

It’s not a guilty pleasure, for I am not ashamed. It is a bizarre pleasure, however, lacking consistency and believability.

I’m a true blue car enthusiast with a love of V8 rumble, turbocharged torque, supercharged sizzle, manual shifters, and performance wagons. And yet, I can’t help myself: I like the way the Smart Fortwo steers. I’ve adapted to the way it wants to be shifted. I love the feeling of interior airiness. And I periodically enjoy well and truly pushing a car to its limits just to make proper forward progress. Approaching the limits in those performance cars I love? That’s a recipe for jail time.

As much as I like Smart Fortwos, my wife likes them a whole lot more. So in 2009, after our old Topaz, a new Civic, and a Santa Fe company car, she leased a second-generation model during a week of ridiculous Mercedes-Benz discounting that made the Fortwo significantly more affordable than any other new vehicle. The W451 wasn’t as efficient as the diesel model with which she fell in love in 2004, but it was thousands of dollars less expensive, much roomier inside, built better, and – in concert with the severe price cut – free to maintain. (The diesel 450 most certainly was not.)

2015 Smart Fortwo ED rear

She rarely drove the car outside the downtown core where we lived. Chief among the car’s annoyances wasn’t the transmission – the car really does force you into an unconventional acclimatization – but rather the difficulty of holding steady at the posted speed limit of 110 km/h. Fortwos prefer to settle in at an easy 130, a speed at which highway fuel consumption sharply increased. Cargo capacity and flexibility never ceased to amaze. The observed mileage far exceeded the Smart’s official ratings.

RATIONALIZING
Surely, nostalgia alone would be sufficient to melt her heart when an electric version of the Smart Fortwo appeared in our driveway in early May, loaned to us for a week by Mercedes-Benz Canada. It’s been years since we ran a Fortwo; lifestyle changes long since made a Smart an impossibility in our family. But a gas-free Smart, with all the charm of the conventional car plus the ability to plug it into our house, is unquestionably a winning ticket, no?

2015 Smart Fortwo ED interior

No, not in our province, not in our lives, not even as a second car. A $30,000 two-seater with no performance credentials to speak of, no available tax rebates, lengthy charging times, and a dearth of ordinary creature comforts isn’t a recipe for success. This whole “compliance” electric car production works in a buyer’s favor with the right lease deal, in the proper U.S. jurisdiction, if they plan to operate a different primary car, and, of course, if they like Smarts.

DRIVING
Attempting to draw comparisons between an electric Smart and cars we typically drive is virtually impossible. This feels nothing like a conventional automobile, more unlike the Nissan Micra I drove the week before than a Prius is unlike a Camry.

More unusual is the stark difference between the way the Fortwo Electric Drive makes its way down the road in comparison with a normal second-generation Fortwo. The electric version is 16% heavier, and with the added weight settled low in the structure, the Electric Drive rides more sedately. But the steering is very heavy and rather unwilling to move far off centre.

cargo collage

Throttle calibration is nicely weighted, and the initial surge of torque is genuinely pleasing, as in so many electric cars. With no shifts to be completed, the Fortwo ED simply continues to build speed in a strange manner, so very unlike the normal Fortwo which, while in possession of passing power at highway speed, doesn’t exactly race down an on-ramp. The Electric Drive, on the other hand, is out of breath at higher speeds.

Brake feel is dreadful in this electric car, but the regen modes (through which you can cycle using the paddle shifters) can be so effective that one-pedal driving becomes commonplace. One-pedal driving is the best.

From a handling perspective, the weight which improves ride quality greatly reduces the feeling of agility that makes the regular Fortwo such a blast in the city. As a result, much of my reasoning for labelling the Fortwo as “fun” is lost, because this car isn’t nearly as enjoyable to hustle around town as the gas car.

RULING
Approximately 16 hours of charging (in a standard outlet) resulted in a range read-out of 140 km, well in excess of the car’s official 109 km (68 mile) range. The estimator was accurate for the duration of the car’s stay. Driving for 40 km resulted in around 40 km of range reduction. (I opted against testing the full limit of the car’s range for obvious reasons.) For the record, in 30 months, my wife’s 2009 Fortwo averaged 40 (U.S.) mpg in city driving, around 46 on the highway.

interior collage

A Fortwo Electric Drive and a normal Fortwo share another trait. They are most definitely acquired tastes, even for the previously indoctrinated. On day one, the Fortwo Electric Drive comes across as weird and mildly humorous. A day later, it’s simply weird. On day three, you’ve surely encountered an experience that causes it to be unfortunately weird and you’re not especially humored. Day four brings your mind around to weird but decently useful. On days five and six you’ve learned to drive the Fortwo as it wants to be driven, making it both weird and moderately fun.

By week’s end, it’s weird and likeable. But not sufficiently likeable, not with such limited range or at such a lofty price. Similarly equipped gas-fired Fortwos are at least $10,000 less, ride worse but handle better, accelerate slower but cruise more effectively, and are not limited by a charging cycle.

WAITING
Any interest in a new Smart, whether electric or gas, must be tempered by the realization that the third-generation Fortwo is set to arrive shortly. It won’t simply be newer – it will also be much better. Not only is the outgoing Fortwo Electric Drive not the most newfangled electric car, it’s based on a design that originated seven years ago.

2015 Smart Fortwo ED badge

The 2016 Fortwo will be slightly larger but still blissfully small. While the size causes such consternation in legions of buyers worried for their personal well-being, I always believed the Fortwo’s tidy dimensions produced odds which were ever in my favor. After all, there’s a lot less of me to hit.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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31 Comments on “2015 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Review...”


  • avatar
    daver277

    It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. (both speeds are the same)

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    How does the power gauge in the right pod work? Is it basically an accelerometer? Does the “charge” side indicate regen?

    I still miss my old smart car, and this one just might have enough range for me. The MSRP is silly, but there might be some good lease deals floating around.

    • 0 avatar
      gotsmart

      That’s exactly right. The left gauge is the battery State of Charge (SoC) and the right gauge is the consumption. Anything to the left of zero is regen. Some models have the paddles to modulate the regen, but i’ve found that the three modes are easily accessible with a light touch on the brake pedal. My car has the cruise control instead of the paddles (it was an either/or situation, based on the two cars the dealership had left) and i’m really glad i got the cruise.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    They were leasing these for ~$99/mo with a few grand down here in Maine – and we have no state level incentives. The perfect solo commuter pod if you have that “just right” regular commute. Now if it could only drive itself…

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Those wheels are writin’ checks the rest of the car can’t cash.

    -Translated to Canadian-

    Those tyres are filling out cheques the rest of the auto can’t withdraw upon.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      What, because they’re white? Otherwise, they’re the standard alloys that debuted on the 451 back in 2008.

      Nice thing about cars with robust regen is that you almost never use the hydraulic brakes. The pads will probably never be changed.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        They looked very sporty to me in white I guess. I didn’t know they were the original design. I never notice anything Smart, because it’s so far off from any car I’d ever consider, and even if I were – everything says they aren’t great to drive or own.

  • avatar

    Nice review. I’ve driven the slushbox Smart, always thought a smartfor2 (gas) would be fun with a stick.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I’d be happy to have an accurate range gauge in my Leaf. Other EVs seem capable of doing this, why not Nissan?

    I see smart EVs for $26-29k US, so after the rebates it’s not bad for a 2-seat EV, I guess.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      My Leaf range gauge seems to be okay so far. Supposedly they’ve changed them in the newer models like mine. On a long trip, I’ll usually back that up by doing the math based on the battery percentage and my average kWh/miles. It hasn’t let me down yet.

  • avatar
    brianyates

    You should ask the Stig how they corner(or don’t).

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    I work in IT, and one of my clients lives in Rosedale where he and he wife rent a (very grand) house while their palatial west end mansion is being built. They sold their very successful bakery business for 100 million a few years ago and obviously have lots of wealth.

    They have two Smarts, one gas and one electric and it always impressed me they would bother with either when they could drive anything.

    Personally I’ve driven Smarts as well… and I hate them. Particularly that god damn ‘transmission’.

  • avatar

    I have an idea:

    How about Plug Ins the size of POPULAR mid-sized sedans instead of STUPID Golf Carts???

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I am fully in agreement with you here. This and the 500E just seem annoying.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Where do you put the batteries? The advantage of electrifying small, tall hatchbacks is that the pack doesn’t take up much usable space inside the car. On this one, the pack is slung underneath the floorpan since the rear-engine setup means there’s no driveshaft, exhaust, or gas tank to get in the way.

      You could make a fully-electric 300C, but a pack large enough to provide long-distance range in a big brick would take up the entire trunk, back seat, or both; or require a major redesign, in which case you might as well buy a Tesla.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The Leaf is a mid-size car. At 6’6″, I fit in the front just fine, and my normal-sized passengers are comfortable in the back.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I’m fine with the size of my Leaf. I fit comfortably in it and I can fit my road bikes in their cases in the hatch with the rear seat folded. Can’t see them fitting in a Smart ED or a 500e. A Model S, as much as I like it, would be tough fitting in some parking spots in Boston parking garages. I have narrow roads where I live that get even narrower when the snow starts accumulating, so a large vehicle can be an issue. Just this morning, I was in my daughter’s CRV and a Chrysler 200 coming in the opposite direction was nervous about passing me and pulled over to let me pass. They could have made it, but it’s tight for most people.

      The other issue for manufacturers is that to best way amortize the costs of an EV is to sell it in as many countries as possible with the least amount of change. You need to size a car for Japan as well as the US if you’re going to do that.

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      >>> How about Plug Ins the size of POPULAR mid-sized sedans <<<

      I believe these are "compliance" cars. So, the smaller they are the smaller the loss the company will take on each one. Maybe at some point if you buy a Mercedes AMG they give you one for free!

      Around here some work colleagues leased them for the single-person carpool lane use. The state and federal rebates payed for the up front costs and the lease was something $129/month. My company supplies free electricity, too. The only expensive part turned out to be insurance–something about high repair costs due to the fear of electrocution (which might be unfounded worry, but isn't helping the insurance rates).

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Benz does also offer the B-Class Electric (EPA says 90cu ft of space inside, I swear it feels larger than that, but either way, not a tiny car).

  • avatar
    Toy Maker

    I test drove it once. The very short wheelbase meant the car pitches and dives at every road imperfection like a rollercoaster. First time I got dizzy driving any car. Merging on the highway is a big nono.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Merging isn’t that bad. You need to press the GO pedal all the way down, but you get used to it. It’s light and has good traction, so it’s better off the line than quite a few cars. There’s a big difference between a drag strip and a dusty, oily, sandy, etc, onramp.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Just what I want, a car that has a big “ED” sticker on it! Send in the Pfizer reps!

  • avatar
    mattthemountainman

    Interesting this posted today, I am taking delivery of one myself in a few hours. In Mass, the state rebate sits at 2500. I was able to get a 75 dollar a month lease, including the battery lease with 0 down. At that price, the car payment is truly cheaper than gas for my Saabaru.

  • avatar
    shaker

    The Smart ED almost makes the case for the i-MiEV – 2 more seats.

  • avatar
    redav

    I haven’t driven one, so I can’t comment on that, but their commercials are great.

    I think they should put a lot more emphasis into making this EV a star. City cars & EVs fill the same niche. The reasons a person would buy a Smart are the same they’d buy an EV. I don’t know about the price now, but when they first came out, I thought you could pick up a Smart EV in the right state for $15k.

  • avatar
    RRocket

    Timothy,

    You said “no available tax rebates”. The car has Ontario plate..and Ontario has $8,500 tax rebate.

    I guess you’re not in Ontario?

  • avatar
    Tummy

    I got a 2013 Smart ED in January 2014 as an experiment to see if I could live with an EV. At the time they were offering nothing down, $129/month for 36 months. With our state tax incentives in Georgia for ZEV, that makes it almost free. 20% off MSRP up to $5k tax credit. We had 3 other Mercedes and I rationalized it by saying that it is technically designed by Mercedes and matched our other three silver cars.

    In a short amount of time, I went from my regular commuter, a 2008 ML63 AMG to driving the Smart everyday. It makes sense in heavy traffic and tiny parking garages. On days of heavy traffic I use to get an indicated 7 mpg in my ML, where the Smart would get about 3.2 miles/kWh. My daily commute costs went from $7-8/day to $0.75. I liked commuting on backroads anyways so speeds never really got higher than about 55mph. The range proved not a problem in 6 months. It’s great to be able to drive around and not have to worry about how much gas/$$$ you are wasting.

    Then one day in April 2014, I test drove the BMW i3 and a couple months later when they were released, ended up trading my ML63. The i3 is so much better than any other EV, even the Tesla for the price. I gave my father our E500 and we got another i3 for my partner’s commute. Our second i3 is an even better deal than the Smart. I paid net about $1,500 for two years of driving or about $62/month after tax incentives and discount on left over 2014 i3. Not to mention we save over $300/month in gas for my ML and about $250/month for the E500.

  • avatar
    gotsmart

    I had a diesel fortwo for 9 years and loved it, but the maintenance was starting to get expensive, and at 180,000 km, was nearing the stage of everything having to be replaced a second time.

    When i got wind of the crazy lease deals last summer, i jumped on an ED, and i’m glad i did. I loved my diesel, but i’m over the moon in love with the electric drive. It suits 90% of the driving i do, and it’s a BLAST to drive. The whine of the electric motor when you stomp on the “go” pedal is as addictive as the roar of a big internal combustion engine. And the torque!

    In Ontario, it was a sweetheart deal on the lease. Since Mercedes-Benz Financial is technically the “owner”, they applied for the rebate on the lessee’s behalf, and it essentially went toward the down payment, resulting in $100/month payments. Brilliant. What i made on the sale of my original diesel went toward getting a Level 2 charger installed.

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