Images by B. Alter
At Mercedes Benz World last week, while the men were test-driving Mercedes Benz sports cars on the test track, this TreeHugger was merrily chugging along in the new electric smart fortwo Smart Car which will be out at the end of June.
The Benz people didn't encourage a spin around the wet skid circuit, so we were going at a peaceful and comfortable 40 mph. The others were chomping at the bit to pass--but let them wait--this was fun!
The car is a small, compact two-seater. It is easy to get into and feels spacious inside.
The interior is not really basic; it feels slightly luxurious. The upholstery was a nice patterned grey colour and the dashboard and side doors were also shades of grey.
The dashboard is very clean and easy to read. The GPS seems quite sophisticated and is inlaid, like a TV set.
It starts up just like a normal car. There are only three speeds: neutral, drive and reverse--very simple. You don't have to press very hard to accelerate. The car will go from 0 to 30mph in 6.5 seconds, and has an electronically limited top speed of 60 mph. Of course, there is no sound when driving since it is electric.
It drives easily and responsively. We drove on a test track with lots of winding roads and a traffic-free straight away and it was a peppy, but not really speedy, ride.
It has a lithium battery which is included in the cost price and should last 8 to 10 years. It also has ESP, ABS brakes two airbags and seat belt pre-tensioners, and also features a NCAP tested tridion safety cell. It is air-conditioned which is a nice, although not that necessary, plus. The 30kW electric motor is built by Zytek Automotive, a UK technology company.
There is little space behind the front seats, in fact almost nowhere to stick a handbag or briefcase because the back of the seats is flush with the back. However the trunk is roomy enough for groceries, the plug (of course) and other odds and ends that lurk there.
To recharge the lithium battery, just plug it in. It can go about 70 miles between charges. There are chargers all over London now, and it uses a regular 3 pronged plug.
For Londoners, there is an extra incentive to go electric: free parking and no congestion charge. There is also no road tax and of course it fits sideways into most spots.
Right now some chosen businesses, the police and a university are taking part in trial runs for the smart fortwo (that's all it seats). But it should be out by 2012, price not yet decided and, sorry guys, there will be no Mercedes logo on the front.
Image by B. Alter: Kangoo Be Bop Z.E.
Last spring this TreeHugger test-drove the Renault Kangoo Be Bop Z.E., Renault's electric car which will be out next year in Israel. Some comparisons are in order. Both cars responded well and were easy to drive. The Mercedes smart fortwo is...a Mercedes so it is a little more luxurious, sportier looking and more stylish. It is smaller and felt younger and is cheaper.
However the smart fortwo is not meant to be a family car or have the same market as the Kangoo. It is cheaper and goes a bit faster and a bit further between charges. For a young family or older person--it's Kangoo. It's roomier and feels slightly more solid because of the size.
The time is coming for electric cars and smart fortwo might be a great choice for a city-only driver or for a second car.
More on the Smart fortwo
The Green Future of Mercedes-Benz: The New Electric Smart Fortwo