Electric cars inevitably generate debate. Some people love them for their clean-running credentials, with zero exhaust emissions from the tailpipe
Others argue, quite reasonably, that they’re not really that green if you include the power station that generates the electricity to run them. Also that they’re a poor alternative for a proper car because their pace and range are so limited.
True that may be, but such technology makes sense for a tiny two-seater city car, destined to spend most of its life in urban traffic, to be low noise and fume-free. So Smart’s decision to introduce a version of the fortwo with an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine was an obvious move.
It’s in good company: others following the same path include the Citroën C1 based ev’ie and MINI with the E. All three are much more appealing than the dire, Bangalore-built G-Wiz that is claimed to be the world’s most popular electric car. The fortwo has always been a brilliant concept, with its ultra compact size and canny body design, featuring a rigid steel frame hung with interchangeable plastic body panels. That makes it strong but light, and ideal as a platform for an electric car.
But how does it drive? For city drivers, it’s ideal. The car’s tiny size, just 8 foot 10inches long, makes it a joy to park, a cinch to manoeuvre into the tiniest gaps, and nimble in city traffic. It rides beautifully, surprisingly so for a model with such a short wheelbase. What’s more, it’s cute to look at and easy to see out of. It’s not without its flaws, though. The range is rather limited – smart reckons you’ll get 70 miles in ideal conditions, so even that figure is optimistic. Does that matter? Arguably not, if the car is only used for city commuting with a plug-in point at each end of any trip. A full charge from empty takes around five hours, which could easily be done overnight or while parked during the working day.
Being an electric car doesn’t mean that the fortwo ED is spartan. It’s just as comfortable and equally as safe as a regular Smart, with two airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners, anti-lock brakes and ESP. The battery pack is located under the boot floor in place of a conventional fuel tank. Smart is part of an industry consortium with £2.5m of funding, supported by a Technology Strategy Board grant, to conduct two electric drive research trials aimed at creating an electric future car for UK motorists. The first 200 electric models are being run on a test basis, leased to blue chip companies, local councils, universities and the police. They have to agree to meet Smart’s insistence that the cars are recharged using only renewable energy sources. Half are already in use, and another 100 are about to hit the road.
Feedback from the project will influence decisions on putting the electric smart into large scale production – and it’s sure to happen. London Mayor Boris Johnson has already promised 25,000 charging points across the city within five years, which puts everyone living or working in the capital no more than a mile away from the nearest one.
RIVALS: MINI E, CITROËN C1 EV’IE
- Price: £ tba
- Motor: Zytek electric motor, driving
- rear wheels
- Battery: Lithium-ion battery pack
- Gearbox: Single speed auto
- Max towing weight: n/a
- Max speed: 70mph
- 0-30mph: 6.5secs
- Economy: 300 mph
- Range between charges: approx 70 miles
- CO2 emissions (Taxband): 0g/km (A)
- Boot space: 220/340litres
- Insurance group: tba