Without the special green and white paint, and “electric drive” broadcast in big letters on the side panels, you wouldn’t know these particular Smarts are veering off to an electric future.
They look identical to the second-generation Smart cars, which Mercedes-Benz has been selling in Canada since 2007. In fact, they have identical interior and luggage space.
But there is a Tesla-developed lithium-ion battery tucked under the floor, between the axles, and a 30 kW electric motor residing out back, exactly where the gas engine and transaxle usually reside.
There’s also an electrical receptacle. A full charge takes about eight hours, and gives you a range of 135 kilometres.
On this particular June morning in Brooklyn, we have a full charge. We’re part of a largish group of journalists invited here to sample the cars, before their first major North American testing experience this fall.
But before I turn the key, I’m reminded that the line to sustainability will not be straight and predictable. There will be some zigging, some zagging, and a few paradoxical moments, like this press trip. Ponder, if you will, the total carbon footprint of flying this many international journalists to New York City, so they might drive a zero-emission vehicle for a few hours.
My first impression of the actual vehicle is that “electric drive” has actually made the Smart better. I’ve never been a fan of the smart’s herky-jerky semi-automatic transmission. The electric Smart doesn’t need one — just one single fixed gear running off the motor. It doesn’t shift, which makes it the perfect automatic.
It also scoots across an intersection from a dead stop faster than a petrol Smart, though its 0-60 km/h time of 6.5 seconds is the same as a petrol smart.
The electric motor is quiet. With the top down, the most prevalent noise coming into the cabin was the buzzing of the DC to AC converter. The buzzing is connected to speed, so goes up and down in pitch as you tool around.
Handling didn’t seem at all compromised by the 300-plus additional pounds of the electric drivetrain, probably because most all of that extra weight is the battery, which sits as low as it can in the car.
It’s not quite like driving a big electric golf cart, but not that far off either.
Discussions will be ongoing, whether electric is the solution for mass transportation, or just for cities, or only if the electricity comes from clean sources
We’ll leave them for another day, and simply say that the smart electric drive is a hoot to drive, especially with the top down on a beautiful day in the Bronx.
Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for over 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.