Stick to a remit of ‘city car’ and an all-electric smart fortwo makes immense sense
As a long-time proponent of purposeful modes of transport, Iain Robertson believes that addressing environmental issues is essential to all of us but it neither means donning a hair shirt and turning vegan, nor ditching fossil fuels in a blind rush.
Have you ever attempted to park a vehicle in an available city centre slot? In recent years, those expensive parking spaces, while available rarely, have become increasingly confined, which also increases the risk of incidental dents and irksome dings. It is awkward enough for the private vehicle owner but financially worse for the person returning a lease/rental car ‘in an unmarked condition’. Yet, the number of parking spaces has grown to accommodate higher vehicle volumes, which means even more of those very tight end-of-row, or adjacent-to-pillar slots, into which the normal family car may fit but from which its occupants could never alight (they would never get the doors open!).
It is tough enough parking at the kerbside, whether controlled by a meter, or not. When the first smart cars arrived in the UK, they presented a perfect marketing and publicity-generating proposition for the importer (that brief period prior to Mercedes-Benz grasping the nettle of managing the brand properly). What commenced as a photographic jape, parking two smarts in one conventional slot, gathered momentum and created frustration cheekily for meter-maids and traffic wardens. However, the die was cast and smart’s status in the urban sprawl was set in stone.
Whether, or not, you are a regular reader of these motoring stories, you should be aware that, while I can perceive some of the benefits and values of electrified transport, I am not and remain unlikely to become a convert to the EV. In brief, enforced by governmental knee-jerk reactions, the vast majority of carmakers hopping onto the electrification bandwagon are doing so from a confused sense of ‘force majeure’; possibly because they feel that they might escape swingeing ‘clean air’ penalties.
While low mileage ranges, insufficient recharging options and premium pricing (often upwards of 40% greater list prices over conventional models but leaving owners confronted by shockingly poor trade-in values) have played their parts in consumer resistance, the manufacturers have been exceptionally remiss in not shouldering greater responsibility. With some of them leasing the battery packs, while others sold their EVs complete, making wild mileage and costs claims and confusing the poor consumer beyond total befuddlement, unless spending a six-figure sum on a Tesla, very few viable responses have been formulated.
However, for the past few years, there has been an electrified version available of the smart car. Known as the EQ, it remains the ONLY practical urban runabout. It was always the dream of the smart’s inventor, Nicolas Hayek, that his tiny city car would live up to its name and an electric drivetrain was inescapably on the cards. Naturally, the brand has evolved and its fortwo and forfour variants are somewhat different propositions to the originals, although the concept remains unadulterated. The smart line-up is now strictly all-electric and none the worse for it.
Within fortwo’s 2.695m length, 1.663m width and 1.555m height is space for two large adults. The vestigial boot is accommodating enough for most commuting and light shopping requirements. With a turning circle two feet tighter than a Black Cab (22.8ft kerb-to-kerb), almost literally the smart can turn on-a-sixpence, but its greatest value lies in its urban mobility and agility; fortwo can slip through dense traffic with almost as much ease as a Piaggio scooter, while keeping its occupants dry, comfortably cool and entertained.
Ever since Merc decided to lend some of its C-Class suspension technology to smart, the fortwo’s dynamic capabilities have increased immeasurably. Its overall stability is excellent and, while the ride remains ‘choppy’, it is also smile-inducingly fun. Driving the almost silent (apart from its acoustic presence indicator) tiddler around town surprises the first timer with how close it can get to surrounding traffic. Yet, there should be no fears of fragility, or insecurity, as the fortwo is a tough wee cookie. Tipping the scales at a substantial 880kgs (almost 80kgs heavier than a Suzuki Baleno), much of which bulk lies at the doors of its Tridion safety cell…a supportive and immensely robust ‘exoskeleton’ to which plastic body panels are fixed…the car is supported by a raft of active and passive safety addenda that include stability control, crosswind assist, hillstart assist, traction control and five airbags.
Its electric drivetrain consists of an 82bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels through a single-speed transmission. The 96-cell lithium-ion battery pack features an on-board 22kW charger, which can recharge the pack (up to 80% capacity) in less than 40-minutes using a publicly accessible rapid charger (six hours domestically from a wall-box). The fortwo’s top speed is limited to 81mph, although its acceleration is brisk (0-60mph in around 11.0s), and it has a range of 70-miles, which is more than enough for the daily commute. While these figures are restricted, they are not noticeable in an urban environment, within which fortwo revels.
As a consumer pleasing proposition, fortwo is well equipped, with a leather-wrapped multi-functional steering wheel, parking sensors (not that they are needed, as judging the car’s dimensions is a doddle from the driver’s seat), a 7.0-inch touchscreen that contains sat-nav, charger-locater, climate control and a full range of connectivity options. However, it is also, by comparison with some of its ‘potential’ rivals, excellent value for money, with prices for the entry-level passion advanced model weighing in at £16,850 (including the government’s £3,500 grant). There are four trim levels from which to choose (including edition 1), a cabrio version and, of course, the forfour larger model. So, here’s the deal: keep your gas-guzzler for the weekends and acquire a smart EQ for the city. I promise, you will save money.
Conclusion: I hold a long-term fascination for the smart, which has only been enhanced by its total conversion to EV status but it is probably the only car sold in the UK that warrants positive accolades in today’s anti-car environment. If you have to ‘go electric’, then be smart and go smart.