New car test drive

Smart EQ ForTwo test drive

All-electric city car recharges the Smart range

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What is it?

In a motoring world quickly converting to electric power, Smart has been ahead of the game. In fact, it’s the first manufacturer to announce that it would be moving from an all-combustion engine to a vehicle line up consisting of only fully-electric cars.

This, the EQ ForTwo, is the all-electric version of Smart’s familiar two-seater city car. It’s the third generation of the ForTwo, and the second generation of the electric model.

It makes sense – the ForTwo has always been designed as a city car, and electric cars benefit from being used in cities where charging points are more abundant than in less populated areas. But how does the Smart EQ do as a complete package? We’ve lived with it for a week to find out.

What’s new?

If you took the Smart on face value alone, you’d think that very little had changed over the regular, petrol-powered ForTwo. The dinky proportions remain, the minute turning circle is still delightfully present and the bulbous, rounded looks are in keeping with past generations of Smart cars.

But look a little deeper, and you’ll notice the smoothed front grille, and underneath the petrol cap there’s a charging point, rather than space for a fuel nozzle. Though this may appear like a traditionally-powered Smart, the reality is far from that.

How does it look?

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The Smart ForTwo ticks all of the styling boxes for a city car; it’s compact without appearing too dinky. This special edition Nightsky model has some premium styling touches such as 16-inch alloy wheels and features fibre-optic running lights too. It’s a – ahem – smart looking thing indeed, and should appeal to those who want a stylish inner-city mode of transport.

Our test car came in cabriolet form too, which is just what you need as winter approaches…

What’s the spec like?

On-road prices for the Smart ForTwo EQ start at £23,335, or £19,835 when the government’s plug-in car grant is deducted, for the entry-level Prime Premium. However, this is the special edition Nightsky model, which bumps the price up to £27,135 (which becomes £23,635 at the check-out).

The Nightsky mode includes a reversing camera (not exactly essential in a car of this size), heated seats and ambient lighting. You also get Smart’s media system, accessed via a seven-inch touchscreen.

In practice, this system didn’t impress; on numerous times is locked completely and wouldn’t allow us to even play a radio station, and even switching the car off and back on again failed to rectify the issue. When it did eventually work, however, it operated well – but it still lacks the ease-of-use that we’d like.

 

There’s a good variety of kit fitted here as standard, but the niggles surrounding the infotainment are a bit of a letdown.

What’s it like inside?

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Though rather compact, the Smart’s small exterior dimensions aren’t translated into a cramped cabin. In fact, there’s a lot more space here than you’d expect, with a general airiness to the cabin surprising given the car’s tiny footprint. There’s not a huge amount of storage to be found, though there is a useful drawer underneath the gearstick for hiding away items from prying eyes.

Boot space is not what you’d call cavernous – particularly if you store the variety of charging cables needed to replenish the car’s battery back there – but there’s around 300 litres to play with, which is more than enough for a few shopping bags. Accessing it is only done through quite a narrow opening, which can be a bit of an issue when loading bulkier items.

What’s under the bonnet?

The Smart turns its wheels via a three-phase synchronous motor, linked to a lithium-ion battery. The combination produces 82hp, and a decent 160Nm of torque. The sprint to 60mph may not be quick at 11.6 seconds, but it feels pacier. That’s thanks to the immediate delivery of that torque, which makes it very responsive in the cut and thrust of city traffic.

Top speed may only be 80mph, but in this car’s natural habitat of urban streets, this isn’t really an issue.

When it comes to range, Smart claims 99 miles on a full charge, and it’ll take 40 minutes to charge up from flat via a wallbox, or six hours through a conventional three-pin domestic socket.

Is that range achievable in reality? Not exactly – in fact, the range displayed on the dash plummets like a stone when travelling on the motorway, which is certainly a little disconcerting. But again, that’s not this car’s preferred environment.

What’s it like to drive?

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The hallmarks of the Smart driving experiences are still present in the EQ ForTwo, and that’s no bad thing. The nimble handling is ideal for darting in and out of traffic, while the almost incomprehensibly small turning circle is great for general manoeuvrability.

This may be the cabriolet version instead of the coupe (hatchback), but they drive in almost exactly the same way. The coupe’s roof panel isn’t structural anyway, so you’re not losing much by removing it.

Unlike many city cars, The steering actually has some weight to it, and this gives you added confidence at higher speeds.

The instant slug of torque that you get from an electric powertrain is especially useful in a car of this size, and up until the 40mph mark, you’re quicker than the vast majority of cars on the road.

Granted, the Smart EQ begins to become a little breathless beyond that point, while the narrow wheelbase makes larger potholes quite apparent – the whole car has a tendency to be sent off to one side after hitting an imperfection in the road.

Summary

As a prospect for an inner-city driver, the Smart EQ makes plenty of sense. It’s nimble, easy to drive and quick to charge via high-output charging points. However, those looking to travel further afield may find it a little too limited, with a range that can’t quite make longer journeys a real-world possibility.

At speed, the range drops far too quickly to inspire confidence in how far the car can go, and this really does restrict the car’s all-round usability, as well as its appeal to more rural electric car drivers.

Similar cars

Renault Zoe, Toyota Yaris Hybrid, Volkswagen e-Up!

Key specifications

Model as tested: Smart EQ ForTwo Cabriolet Nightsky
Price: £27,135 (£23,635 with plug-in car grant)
Engine: Electric motor linked to lithium-ion battery
Power: 82 hp
Torque: 160 Nm
Max speed: 80 mph
0-60mph: 11.6 seconds
Range: 99 miles
CO2 emissions: 0 g/km

Jack Evans
Jack Evans
Articles by Jack Evans are provided for The Executivecondominium by the Press Association. They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.

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