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2011 smart fortwo Overview

It’s hard to hate the smart fortwo. With good intentions and a solid tech background from parent company Daimler-Benz AG and engine supplier Mitsubishi, it would seem an immediate recipe for success. In a lot of ways, it has been. From the beginning, the smart was willing to sacrifice a lot of the things we’ve come to expect from our vehicles in order to achieve their goal of producing a small, efficient and quirky alternative for urban commuting. Sadly, a lot of those sacrifices were for conveniences like space and technological refinement.

At least one of those issues has been addressed in 2011 with the introduction of the leasable smart fortwo electric drive (smart ed). Petrol versions get some updates this year as well, in the form of a revised front fascia and a redesigned interior, as well as some exterior color adjustments. LED daytime running lights required a slight redesign of the front fascia, and inside you’ll notice a new dash panel with now-standard clock and tach. Cruise control has been added this year as well, and the base stereo has been upgraded with USB and auxiliary inputs. The newly optional multimedia system offers Bluetooth and navigation with a 6.5-inch display, along with iPod connectivity. If that’s not enough, choose the 8-speaker, 320-watt sound system. A new exterior matte green color is now available as well in addition to trim treatments, but the real news is the new electric options.

Smart has built 250 smart eds, made largely available to corporations and municipalities, with 20% offered to the general consumer on a first-come, first-served basis. The limited rollout will see smart eds showing up in Portland, Los Angeles, San Jose, Orlando, Austin, Detroit, Indianapolis and at select dealerships along the I 95 corridor between Washinton, DC and Boston. With a $2,500 down payment coupled with a $599/month lease, the efficiency aspect of the vehicle can be easily disputed, but the improvements are beyond contention.

One of the major weak points of the smart brand has always been in its powertrain. Rough operation and sluggish performance have always plagued the 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder engine in the petrol versions. It has a tendency to sound like someone forgot to tighten just about every nut and bolt holding it together as it wrings every ounce of life out of its 70 horses and 68 lb-ft of torque on the way to a 12.8-second trip to 60 mph. Thanks to an ill-conceived automated manual transmission that seemed actually scared of changing gears, smart managed to make that 12.8 seconds feel even longer. This was alleviated somewhat with a software update to make the transmission less reluctant to jump cogs, but there was still a bit of a learning curve that required owners to get used to operating the paddle shifters to get a truly frustration-free ride.

While the smart ed’s equivalent 27-hp (capable of a temporary 40-hp equivalent) rating would make it seem even slower at first glance, it’s the 89 lb-ft of torque that really make the difference. With a single-speed tranny, the smart ed pulls confidently away from a stop with a near-constant power increase, avoiding all of the annoying aspects of the petrol engine setup. Gone is the unrefined, rattling scream of the 1.0-liter, and shifting is so last century. Just as important, the extra weight of the electric motor and Li-ion battery sourced from partner Tesla Motors means the smart ed is actually more composed than its petrol stablemates. Because of the anemic 1,800-pound curb weight of the petrol fortwo, even minuscule ripples register with authority, but with 300 extra pounds in the smart ed, much of the bouncy character of the vehicle is eliminated.

Smart estimates an equivalent 94/79 mpg from the 16.5 kWh battery pack, which will require a recharge time of 3 hours from a 220-volt outlet as long as battery charge doesn’t deplete beyond 20% capacity. However, a typical 110-volt outlet will take up to 14 hours. While its official range is rated at 63 miles, smart claims up to 100 miles of urban driving in warmer temperatures.

Petrol performance remains the same, offering 33/41 on the recommended premium-grade fuel, but you will have to deal with the unrefined quality of the engine and 5-speed automatic manual.

Smart is close to a real winner here, and very well may have it in a year or two when the smart ed is made available for wide retail sale. Assurances have been made that the price will be much closer to that of the conventional gasoline version, perhaps pushing the smart away from the quirky luxury role it currently occupies. With its current partnership with Tesla, we can only expect battery performance to improve as well, further solidifying its utility in the urban market – maybe even pushing it to use beyond city centers. When that happens, there will be very little left to hate indeed.


A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.

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