First drive: Smart Fortwo Cabriolet Electric Drive

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

What is it?

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 (see panel).

How does it drive?

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.

What range does it have?

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. 

How long does it take to charge?

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.

What does it cost?

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.

How much does it cost to tax?

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.

Why does my fleet need one?

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.

*Thanks to Sean Fuller at Newmotion
(www.newmotion.gg) and Gary de Jersey at Jacksons CI Group (www.jacksonsci.com) for their help with this brief drive test.

Further Information: 

Making sense of the vast amount of data produced from telematics can often be daunting, resulting in opportunities being missed and actions not being taken. Our expert panelists share their advice on how to make sure valuable fleet information is not getting lost

Telematics generates vast amounts of data which needs to be digested and acted on if any benefits are to be realised. But how well are fleets using data? And do companies have a moral and legal obligation to act on reports of bad driving? We ask our telematics experts

Meet our new leasing experts, who in this first discussion, examine how new challenges such as Brexit, air quality and policy changes are affecting fleet managers

In the first of a new panel discussion, we ask our experts their views on how telematics have shaped and driven change within the fleet management profession, and why reluctance to use fleet technology still exists within some organisations

GreenFleet Expert Panel - Leasing

Can it pay to think differently about the way we travel? Our expert panelists examine how the new concept of ‘mobility’ is impacting the fleet sector

Expert Panel

Following the launch of the Department of Transport’s consultation into making charge points more accessible, GreenFleet’s expert panelists give their views on the key factors that will shape the electric vehicle market’s development in the near future.

GreenFleet Expert Panel - Leasing

How can leasing and contract hire firms help with the wider role of fleet management? And what role does the industry play in driving down emissions? We ask our new expert panel for their views.

Expert Panel - Telematics

Our telematics expert panelists share their thoughts on how technology has helped drive down road emissions, how telematics grows the appeal of electric vehicles, and how autonomous vehicles could benefit fleets in the future.

Expert Panel - Electric Fleets

GreenFleet taps into the minds of its expert panel to assess the place of electric vehicles in company car fleets and what the major barriers to adoption will be moving forward.

GreenFleet Expert Panel - Connectivity

Technology is changing the way we travel. GreenFleet quizzes its telematics expert panel on how connectivity is facilitating new mobility trends, aiding fleet management, and reducing CO2 emissions.

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

Peugeot 3008 GT-Line BlueHDi 120

Peugeot has re-invented its people-carrying 3008 model, turning it from MPV to SUV. More stylish than before and with more upmarket aspirations, how does it face up to its new competition?

2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Excel AWD 2.5L CVT TSS

On-paper, Toyota’s high-riding RAV 4 SUV now offers potential fuel and cost-saving benefits of a hybrid powertrain for the first time. How does it measure up in the real-world? Richard Gooding reports

Daimler Fleet Management (DFM) is challenging the conventional approach to fleet management – and it’s doing so with considerable success.