2017 Smart electric drive

MIAMI — I’m in Miami’s South Beach for the media launch of Smart’s latest and much improved third generation EV. My driving partner and I are drawing a fair amount of attention as we make our way to the comically tiny red and black car we’ll be evaluating. The stares, jokes and wisecracks are coming from my fellow auto journalists who want to watch my 6’-6” frame — along with my drive partner at 6’-4” — gyrate, pirouette as we attempt to enter the vehicle.

For those wondering how we were able to fit, I’ll tell you we were amazed at the ample amount of room and seating comfort. We never felt claustrophobic.

The 2017 Smart fortwo electric drive goes on sale this spring, to be followed by a convertible model in the summer. Smart cars are made by Mercedes-Benz. With its diminutive size and bright two-tone color combinations, it turns a lot of heads and draws plenty of stares.

It’s powered by a 17.7-kilowatt-hour battery, making 81 horsepower from the rear-mounted electric motor that drives the rear wheels.  It has an estimated driving range of between 75 and 100 miles. To maximize driving range there’s a selectable Eco setting that reduces the top speed and limits climate control.

The battery can be fully recharged in about 2.5 hours via a 240-volt source, twice as fast as the previous generation model. Charging from a standard 120-volt household outlet takes 22 hours. Top speed is electronically limited to 81 mph, and it and reaches 60 mph in 11.4 seconds. MPGe fuel economy has not been announced but we expect it to be close to the outgoing model’s 107 MPGe

Smart Automobile CEO Dr. Annette Winkler says the Smart EV is an excellent vehicle geared toward people who drive less than 50 miles a day, or families who already own another vehicle or two.  Winkler also says that “electric cars are becoming more acceptable, especially in big cities where they are easier to drive, and park, and don’t pollute.”

Despite the size of its two occupants, the Smart never felt cramped or crowded. We liked the spacious feel of its panoramic sunroof. The overall design, inside and out, is well thought out, yet on the funky side, with lots of rounded shapes to the instrument cluster, air vents, and navigation screen. Smart calls it a “loop” design. We also like the instrument panel, which was covered with fabric that’s taken from a premium quality running shoe.

Because the Smart has a very short wheelbase, the ride is noticeably choppy and occasionally jarring. There’s not a lot of space between the wheels, which would normally soak up the bumps and smooth out the ride. There’s also no lumbar support in the seats, whic
h also impact the ride and seating comfort.

One of the best features is the turning radius; at 22.8 feet it’s the shortest of any vehicle on the market. It can easily make a U-turn on a two-lane road, making parking effortless.

Pricing for the Smart fortwo EV has not been announced, but it’s expected to come in around the same price as the outgoing model ($25,000) when it goes on sale. However, fully half of previous owners leased their Smart EV at prices as low as $139 per month for 36 months with $1,400 down.

Vital Stats

Price: N/A
Engine: Electric
Horsepower: 81
Fuel Economy: 107 MPGe (estimated)
Seating: 2

Fab Features

Easy parking, maneuverability, driving
Offered as a coupe or convertible
Roomier than it looks

— Jim Prueter