I’ve always had a soft spot for the Smart ForTwo. It’s a cute and cool two-seater with famously diminutive proportions, unique road manners and plenty of trademark “quirks”.
This, the latest “EQ” model, heralds the the start of Smart’s new future as it won’t be long before the ForTwo and its larger ForFour sibling will only be available with an electric powertrain.
And before you get all misty-eyed about the loss of its characterful three-cylinder engine and the odd clutchless manual transmission, I think it’s a really good thing. I’ve just spent a week in the EQ version of the ForTwo and it feels so well suited to its electric propulsion.
When you think about it, why shouldn’t a small city car be among the first to banish its dirty fossil fuel-powered engine? Small cars have always worked well as electric vehicles and they’re at home in the smog-filled urban metropolis – so the EQ sets a fine example.
Let’s cut to the chase though, and talk about range. Smart’s sales literature will tell you the ForTwo is good for 99 miles. But, as with most manufacturers, the people who lend you the keys for a test drive will always give you the realistic “real-word” figure. I was told to expect around 60 miles and that’s about right.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s not very far. Rivals such as Renault’s Zoe and Volkswagen’s comically-named E-Up! will go further on charge, but the ForTwo isn’t built with long runs in mind. It’s designed for hopping from office to office, or from your apartment to the gym. It’ll also take on 80% of charge in less than 40 minutes if you use the right setup. And even piling in this much power from home takes just six hours.
So think of it as an A-to-B urban runabout and the range becomes less of an issue. In fact, during my week with the EQ, I only charged it once. And I used it quite a lot. Even in rural Derbyshire, it seems, an electric vehicle can make some sense.
There’s little to suggest, when you step inside the EQ, that it’s any different from the petrol-powered version. A small instrument pod tells you how much battery power you have and how much load you’re dialing in through your right foot, but that’s about it.
You switch it on with a conventional key but, rather than wait for an engine to chug into life, you simply wait for two beeps. And then you’re good to go.
It’s actually a lot of fun. Because electric motors have no gears and offer bundles of torque, the EQ sprints off the line far quicker than the petrol smart. This brisk, addictive acceleration quickly fizzles out but it’s a lovely, rewarding surge and it’s useful for silently darting in and out of gaps in traffic.
It’s also got the ForTwo’s legendary turning circle, which is nearly as addictive as its acceleration and, because there’s no hot engine below the boot floor, if you pop to the supermarket for a whole chicken, you won’t find it’s been slow-roasted on the way home.
Not everyone like the ForTwo’s engine and gearbox combination, even after it was dumbed down a shade by the alliance with Renault which paved the way for a far less “quirky” package overall. But with an electric motor the Smart ForTwo seems to have finally found its sweet spot.
It’s still a little skittish if you press on in tight corners and, of course, it’s impractical for anything more than a couple with a light bundle of weekend luggage, but you buy a ForTwo because you want a small, fun car – not because you need to ferry around wardrobes.
Ownership starts at just over £20,000 which is a lot of money. But the Government will chip in £3,500 through its grant scheme and there’s no tax or congestion charging to think about. Or fuel costs, for that matter.
Charging at home does, obviously, cost money, but under certain conditions the EQ could save a pretty penny in overall costs.
Electrifying the Smart ForTwo was a “smart” move by Mercedes and Renault. It suits its urban pretentions very well and, while some might miss the opportunity to pick up a cheaper, faster petrol-powered version which is capable of travelling further between stops, it’s worth trying the EQ first.
Most people can learn to live with its range and, if you’re one of them, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this fun little newcomer.