A bit clever
In electric form, the Smart car may finally live up to its name
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.
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.
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.
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.
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