BERLIN, Germany – One of the problems with electric cars is range, or lack thereof and the need to recharge the batteries frequently. This leads to the issue of where you can recharge them.
This bustling city has taken a global leadership position on that front with more than 250 public charging stations.
Which made it a perfect spot for Mercedes to introduce the third generation electric Smart.
You only have to spend a few minutes in almost any city or town in Europe or Asia to see how they have evolved to deal with crowded spaces and large populations.
Unlike North America, and especially Canada, where land is plentiful and people relatively scarce, large cities elsewhere around the world are filled with people using public transit to get to and from work. In Tokyo, for example, 3.5-million people use the subway/train system every day!
Housing prices and other conditions have forced many people to commute to work. Others, having found a place live in the city still face a commute to their workplace. All this makes large cities like this the perfect environment for a small electric car, especially if there are plenty of places to recharge.
Enter the third generation Smart fortwo electic car.
As an automobile enthusiast, I’m a big fan of power and performance. To my ears there is nothing sweeter than the sound of an American or German V-8 at full throttle.
But those same ears also recognize the sounds of a bustling city and my eyes recognize this is not the place for large automobiles, let alone high-performance ones.
Then there is the issue of the environment and air quality in crowded cities. When you can see the air, you have to consider what it is doing to your lungs. Which brings me once again to the Smart fortwo electric.
As indicated above, I am not a fan of small slow cars. I have driven gasoline and diesel versions of the smart fortwo in New York City, Toronto and in the depth of winter above the Arctic Circle. None of these experiences led me to look favourably on this little conveyance due to lack of performance and a jerky transmission.
But the third-generation Smart fortwo in the environs of Berlin where charging stations abound, has made me a convert.
Increased performance and refinement
Compared to the second-generation model I had driven a year previously, the new version offers significantly increased performance and refinement.
The previous generation Smart fortwo electric car had 41-horsepower, 89 lb-ft of torque and trouble getting out of its own way. You could use a calendar to measure acceleration, if you could call it that.
The darn thing took an agonizing 26 seconds to go from 0-to-100 km/h. In case that number doesn’t impress – a hybrid will do this in less than 10 seconds and a performance car in less than five.
The third generation smart will get to 100 in 11.5 seconds. That, folks is what you call progress.
You may argue that you don’t, or at least shouldn't, go 100 km/h in the city. Then how about accelerating from stopped to the other side of the intersection and maybe 60 km/h. That figure drops from 6.5 seconds for the old smart electric car to just 4.8 seconds for the new. Impressive.
More power, more range
That improvement is made possible by a new electric motor co-developed by Daimler-Benz and Bosch. It puts out 74-horsepower and 96 lb-ft of torque and is fed by a new 17.6 kWh battery, co-developed by Daimler-Benz and Evonik. (See sidebar.)
Seventy-five percent more power and a battery with a 10-year life cycle compared to four from the previous version. Once again, impressive.
What helps make electric cars so suited to city conditions is that maximum power is generated at take-off. Response to throttle input is both instantaneous and strong.
The new system developed by Mercedes-Benz and its partners for the 2013 Smart Fortwo electric has a dual-mode type of operation. In normal conditions it produces 47 horsepower to prolong battery life. But if you depress the throttle to the floor, past a detent, you get all 74 horses – but will need to recharge sooner.
And while 100 km/h in a city is not necessarily a consideration, should you mistake an on-ramp for a side street and venture unto a main road or freeway it is good to know the new smart fortwo electric is capable of 125 km/h – just not for very long.
Mercedes-Benz gives the useful range as "up to 145 km under normal use." Charging time will be seven hours from a 220-volt charging station and 14-17 hours on a normal 110-volt household circuit.
You can’t see the additional power and the Smart's design hasn't changed but the new electric model has received numerous other upgrades, many of which can be identified.
They include: LED daytime running lights and power- and state-of-charge instruments in place of the tachometer used in internal combustion versions.
The new version can be programmed with your iPhone to pre-heat or pre-cool the interior while plugged in to reduce battery drain. To counter those draws when unplugged, the new smart has additional insulation in the doors and firewall.
The 2013 Smart fortwo electric drives like a fairly powerful small car, with more punch off the line than its gasoline-engine sibling. Because there is no transmission, power delivery is uninterrupted.
With the heavy stuff mounted way down below the floor, the center of gravity is low as well, helping to keep this relatively tall car flat in the corners.
As in some early-generation hybrids, braking in the fortwo electric takes some getting used to because of its regeneration function.
The brakes operate in two phases. The first is regenerative braking to charge the battery. The second occurs when the hydraulics come into play.
Look for the smart fortwo electric to arrive in Canada in the spring of 2013 at a price of $26,990 for the coupe and $29,990 for the cabrio.