While its two-seat layout may appeal less to some, the new Smart Fortwo Cabriolet Electric Drive has other benefits, including an improved range and a more efficient battery. Richard Gooding reports
The Smart Fortwo is known to city dwellers and urbanites the world over, a good deal of them spotted parked cheekily nose out of a parallel parking space too short for a four-seat car. Named Fortwo for its ability to carry just two passengers, the first all-electric Smart arrived in 2013.
Available in both fixed‑roof coupé and open-top Cabriolet versions, this latest model celebrated its world debut at the Paris motor show in September 2016, but has only just gone on sale in the UK.
Based on the third-generation Smart Fortwo launched in 2014, here we test the cabriolet version, with an electrically‑powered retractable fabric roof. As well as the cabriolet, the latest Electric Drive powertrain is also available in the fixed-roof ‘coupé’ as well as the larger four-seat Forfour.
Field testing of the zero-emission Smart Fortwo began in London in 2007, with 100 units. A second‑generation model followed in 2009, with 2,300 units leased or pooled in 18 markets worldwide. The first mass‑production version was introduced in 2011.
The latest 2017 model is both, unsurprisingly, more powerful and has more range than those early cars. With a rear-mounted 60kW (81bhp) electric motor and 17.6kWh lithium-ion battery powering the rear wheels, the Smart Fortwo surges along on its 160Nm (118lb ft) of torque from the off, with Smart quoting a 0-62mph time of 11.8 seconds. Top speed is limited to 80mph to maximise the available electric range.
We tested the Smart Fortwo Cabriolet Electric Drive on Guernsey in the Channel Islands, where electric car sales have risen 50 per cent in the past six months: there are now around 120 EVs silently running around the island, which has a total area of around 25 square miles.
The dinky Smart zipped in and out of junctions, and its 1,663mm width means it is perfect for nipping down the narrow roads which criss-cross the island. With light, super-sharp and quick steering and a 6.95m turning circle, it is especially at home in towns such as St Peter Port.
Slightly firmer suspension than its petrol counterparts means it handles well, too, and is fun to drive in the eager way only small cars can be, helped by the low centre of gravity with the battery mounted under the seats.
Interior quality is very good, and the car’s standard specification is based on the well-equipped Prime model, which includes heated front seats, cruise control, and 15-inch alloy wheels. Being a two-seater, the boot is obviously small, with some of the space taken up with a bag which houses the pair of domestic socket and fast-charging cables.
Smart quotes an official NEDC driving cycle range of 96 miles for the Fortwo Cabriolet Electric Drive, while our fully-charged test car displayed a range of around 72 miles, which is more representative of real-world conditions. Interestingly, the fixed‑roof Smart Fortwo coupé has a quoted range of 99 miles.
Charging the Smart Fortwo Cabriolet’s battery from 20 per cent to 100 per cent takes six hours from a domestic socket, while from a 16A wallbox or charger the time drops to around two-and-a‑half hours. All Electric Drive Smarts have a 7kW on-board charger.
There’s also radar-based recuperation, whereby kinetic energy is used to charge the high-voltage 17.6kWh lithium-ion battery via recuperation as soon as your foot is lifted from the accelerator pedal. The radar‑based recuperation goes one step further, too, as a sensor monitors the traffic in front of the vehicle and automatically selects the optimum recuperation level for optimised ride comfort and kinetic energy use.
The Smart Fortwo Cabriolet Electric Drive is priced from £23,060 ‘on the road’, before the full government Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG) of £4,500 has been deducted, which takes the cost down to £18,650.
The ‘signature’ look of our test car was thanks to an optional £595 ‘Electric Drive’ package which details the ‘Tridion’ safety cell and door mirror caps in an electric green colour with ‘Electric Drive’ logo on the rear pillar panels. Additionally, body panels and the matching eight-spoke ‘Y’‑design 16-inch alloy wheels can be specified in either a black or white painted finish.
Being an all-electric car, the Smart Fortwo Cabriolet Electric Drive emits zero tailpipe emissions, and so it qualifies for £0 Vehicle Excise Duty, both in the first year of registration and for subsequent periods. With zero‑emission capability all the time, the electric Smart also qualifies for the lowest rate of company car taxation: Benefit in Kind is just nine per cent.
At this end of the electric car market, the Smart faces little competition. Renault’s two-seat Twizy is the Smart’s most direct rival, but it’s more basic in nature, has less range at 61 miles, and doesn’t feel as much of a ‘proper car’ as the Smart does.
Renault’s all‑electric Zoe meanwhile (GreenFleet issue 104), which, in entry-level Expression Nav trim, costs £14,245. This of course excludes the mandatory battery hire, which begins at £49 per month with an annual mileage cap of 4,500 miles for the cheapest ‘R90’ 22kWh version which gives a claimed range of 149 miles. It’s not a totally clear cut equation then, and if you want to buy a Zoe outright with the battery, the ‘Zoe i’ range starts at £19,845.
Obviously, the small Renault is a full four‑seater so is more of a direct rival to Smart’s own Forfour Electric Drive model: the two-seat Smart has less range, less space and is pricier than its French competition.
However, the Fortwo Electric Drive can nip into gaps in the traffic which the Zoe could only dream of, can be turned on the literal sixpence, and, with the optional ‘Electric Drive’ package as specified here, is a lot more distinctive.
The Fortwo Cabriolet Electric Drive’s fun‑to‑drive nature and cheeky spirit makes it a must for any urban-based electric car shopping list. But, almost as useful out of the urban sprawl as much as it is in it, the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive offers a more enjoyable driving experience than its petrol-powered siblings and at only around £2,000 more, seems relatively good value, too, especially when it comes to company car taxation.
But with two caveats, though: only if you need less practicality than larger cars offer and only if you don’t mind carrying just one friend at any one time.