A bit clever

In elec­tric form, the Smart car may fi­nally live up to its name

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

The plug-in Smart is now in its sec­ond gen­er­a­tion— with a third to come later this year— and Daim­ler says pro­duc­tion has topped 2000 cars for desti­na­tions in 18 coun­tries.

The first real-world elec­tric car from the Daim­ler fam­ily is promised for Australia but the final de­tails— on-sale date and the cru­cial price— are still un­known.

‘‘ It’s un­der eval­u­a­tion,’’ says Mercedes-benz spokesman David Mccarthy. ‘‘ We’re look­ing to bring a small num­ber in ini­tially, to trial them in our driv­ing con­di­tions.

‘‘ The big stum­bling point is the price at this point. It’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be pretty close to $30,000. It will be at least a 50 per cent pre­mium on the petrol car.’’

Un­less own­ers have a so­lar ar­ray on the roof, the vast ma­jor­ity of these Smarts will run on coal-fired electricity and that’s not so smart.

Still, Benz is ad­vanc­ing with a plan for po­ten­tially the third all-elec­tric car in Australia, to join the tiny and tinny Mit­subishi I-MIEV and the im­pres­sive Nis­san Leaf.

‘‘ Hope­fully in the next month or so we’ll have a decision. We’ve got a bit of in­ter­est but we de­lib­er­ately haven’t talked about it un­til we’ve driven the car in lo­cal con­di­tions,’’ Mccarthy says.

TECH­NOL­OGY

The Fortwo is an ideal sub­ject for elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. In fact, when the tiny city car was born in the 1980s— as the Swatch­mo­bile, an idea from Swatch boss Ni­co­las Hayek— it was in­tended to be a plug-in bat­tery car.

By the time it hit the road in 1998 it had gone petrol, and to­day’s Fortwo is still pro­pelled by a 1.0-litre three­cylin­der 52kw en­gine in the tail with claimed econ­omy of 4.7L/100km.

The switch to the lat­est Elec­tric Drive pack­age uses a lithium-ion power pack, from Tesla, and an elec­tric mo­tor good for 20kw in con­stant run­ning, 30kw at peak.

Max­i­mum speed is 100km/h, mov­ing from rest to 60km/h takes 6.5 sec­onds and the claimed range is 100km.

But when ED3 ar­rives this year, a new bat­tery and other changes will mean 35kw (and a petrol-ri­valling 50kw at peak), a top speed of 120km/h, 0-60km/h in 5.0 sec­onds and a range of at least 135km.

DE­SIGN

The Smarttwo is much as it’s al­ways been: short, stumpy and very dif­fer­ent. That dif­fer­ence has not worked well in Australia, where park­ing space is not as pre­cious as it is in Paris, London or Rome.

But some peo­ple like the idea of a two-seater city run­about and the Smart de­liv­ers with a look that is unique.

The Smart ED (Elec­tric Drive) has al­loy wheels and is nicely fit­ted out in the cabin, with two dash-top gauges— they stick up like a crab’s eyes — for bat­tery life and cur­rent power use.

The plug-in cable is deftly in­te­grated into the lower half of the rear hatch, which splits with a glass up­per for easy ac­cess, and the plug-in point is tucked into what would nor­mally be the filler for the fuel tank.

SAFETY

The lat­est Smart is a four-star car in Europe but that’s not the ED. So it’s hard to know ex­actly how it will go, de­spite Daim­ler’s prom­ises that it will be as good as the reg­u­lar car.

It comes with ESP and ABS, as you’d ex­pect, and safety has al­ways been a pri­or­ity. There were mas­sive changes to ev­ery­thing from the sus­pen­sion to the weight bal­ance even be­fore the first car was sold.

How­ever, it’s still a tiny car and you wouldn’t want to be on the re­ceiv­ing end if some­one in a Toy­ota Land­cruiser made a mis­take.

DRIV­ING

I have driven a bunch of elec­tric cars and the Smart ED is one of the sweet­est and most rel­e­vant as a green city run­ner. It will never ri­val a Fal­con at the lights, or match the Com­modore for car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity but it meets the needs of many peo­ple who are now even look­ing at scoot­ers for in­ner-city chores and trips.

The Smart feels far more solid than the I-MIEV, while the price will eas­ily un­der­cut the Leaf.

But there are a bunch of ‘‘ buts’’.

Any Smart car makes a lot of sense in Europe, where roads are crowded and park­ing is tight, and the elec­tric car is even smarter be­cause of its zero emis­sions when run­ning. But even the worst of Syd­ney and

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