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2013 smart fourtwo EV Review - e fortwo and two for e

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By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

Authors Note: No attempt at completeness, simply comments on a brief driving experience—balanced against decades of experience and hundreds of comparisons.

Why a smart choice will put money in your pocket

Never having driven a smart we wondered if it was as unique a car as the exterior would suggest. It is. Upon entering, it felt different from any we've driven, even Mini Coopers. We immediately noticed several pods growing from the dash—like beanbags on the desktop—a gauge which delivered information on SOC or state of charge (it’s an Electric Vehicle's gas gauge), another told us whether we were using or recapturing power. They resemble the pods you'd find on a hot rod and don’t obscure forward vision. The instrument panel itself consists of one big sweeping speedometer flanked by danger warnings. Our notes say, “Pull the seat lever and slide the seat up to fit. Hmm, interesting, a ball and socket "shifter" and small coin holder for tolls or quarters, and the key is behind them on it's own console, near the manual handbrake. Think Saabs of yesteryear.”

After figuring out how to “start” the car we realized there would be no engine noise, it was just on. So for the first miles it was continually odd to be driving an all electric car with almost no noise other than the slap of the windshield wipers—yes it was raining. We did note a device to warn blind or inattentive pedestrians, plus a slight moan from the electrics. All the other controls fell easily to hand as we just reached and found them.

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The driving sensation is not terribly different from larger vehicles, though we could tell it was shorter. However it was absolutely not the bucking bronco you might expect from the ultra-short wheelbase of 73.5 inches. That makes it about two feet shorter between the wheels than a Fiat 500’s 90.6 inches or MINI Cooper’s 97.6 inches. So it is surprising that the interior feels as large as many normal cars, far larger than, say, a Mazda5 Miata sports car, and there appears to be plenty of head room. Does it feel tippy, short, and nervous? No. You can feel each corner, a very European feel in a car without large overhangs front or rear. It does have two speeds based on battery output and the kick-down can be clearly felt. However, the change from 35 kilowatts to 55 kW (37 horsepower to 74 hp) isn't likely to burn the tires off and on this wet, slippery ground we are very happy about that fact. We did note that it required a very firm push to get through the detent that delivers extra power as the change really gobbles power and range.

We’d started our short trip with AC off, and it became humid on that cool rainy day, so engaged the all-electric system despite our first-timer range anxiety. We saw no abrupt change in State of Charge, which was reassuring. As rain increased from drizzle to downpour we could really hear rain against the wind screen along with a bit of tire noise. Part of the pitter-plop was due to an expansive glass sunroof, which we covered to retain heat and prevent glare. Oh, it took a few minutes to warm the cabin. Optional seat heaters, by the way, are better at making you feel warm quickly, they use less electricity, and are wonderful on really cold mornings.

As the drive progressed we began to review our earlier meeting’s messages. Specifically, would we buy or lease this car? Reflecting on the substitution of electricity for gasoline in a personal vehicle is car is perplexing, we admit. How would you decide? What criteria would replace MPG, 0-60, 1/4-mile acceleration? We think the compelling argument is that smart EV is very safe car, very well built by a reputable company with a track record, and available at preposterously low lease rate. It will get you to work and back every day for pennies and only $139 per month in lease payments. For many of you that means you'd save $50-$200 per month, or paying for the lease in fuel cost savings. That's if your car is paid off and $50-$60 per week in fuel. It is surely worth discussion. Of course you would have to rely on rental fleets for long vacations or when you need a truck for a weekend boat launch, which is hardly a problem for most.

We switched on headlights and saw no rapid change in battery state, range, or economy. Slowly, like the rain, range anxiety was evaporating, so we focused again on the smart’s driving dynamics. Coming out of a long turn we floored the pedal, full throttle and the result was more than adequate, less than thrilling. In other words just fine for commuting, which drew us back to thinking of the practicality of a smart EV.

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Though it has room for your brief case and gym bags it will be difficult to load bags of top soil, folding card tables, or camping gear into the smart EV. That’s just true, and a valid consideration as is its two passenger maximum. But if you are not car pooling... and if your company has charging stations? What if your state or municipality underwrites home charging stations? (Charging time for a car not at zero is 3-4 hours at 240V, about 10 hours for household 110V.)

At 70 miles per day in the Northeast where power is costly, smart says typical bills run $30 per month, or $7.50 per week! How much would that save you per year? $1000? In three years $3000 and walk away from the lease? That's a downpayment on an A Class! Of course there are methods other than leasing, like outright purchase, or purchasing a rolling chassis and leasing the battery. But that $80 per month battery lease is part of the $139 if-I-lease-a-smart EV price. The car comes with standard 110 Volt charging, 240V is an option and the typical quick charger installation is $1500. The company also says smart EV is available in more states than Fiat 500 EV or Chevrolet Spark EV.

Drive almost completed we continued to remark on how very firmly the smart EV rides, almost roughly but that would not be accurate. Just very very firmly, connecting you with the road and conferring a larger size feeling for the vehicle. With all of 25 miles driven on that rainy, chilly day we ended the journey at 60% of State of Charge confirming its EPA rating of 122 MPGe with heater, wipers, and headlights all-consuming juice.

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Normally we list our Bullet Points here, but with such an extreme change we cannot. Instead, examine how you use transportation devices. That's an ugly name for items of automotive passion, but necessary in this case. As our lives change maybe we don't need two sedans, two coupes, perhaps one multi-purpose and one EV is just right for your family, particularly with rising fuel prices and fiscal uncertainty in the nation.