Driving the smart fortwo electric drive

by Ernie Hernandez on January 2, 2012

smart fortwo

Driving car2go’s electric rental car

In November we wrote about the car2go car sharing program that came to San Diego. The company offers rental cars by the minute, hour or day. Zipcar also offers a San Diego car sharing service, but Zipcar services basically the University of California San Diego (UCSD) with its few cars concentrated on campus or affiliated sites around town. car2go offers 300 smart fortwo electric drive cars to its San Diego customers, with vehicles concentrated in the greater downtown area.

When we were able to join with no membership cost during the launch event in November, we were also provided with 30 minutes of free rental time. We thought that this would be an outstanding opportunity to get an extended test drive in the smart fortwo electric drive, and we were able to take advantage of our minutes last week. This is what we found.

car2go has a very good car locating service on their website. Not only will it pinpoint vehicle locations, it will provide the current state of charge of the battery. Good to know information, depending on what your plans are. Armed with this information, we located a suitable car (96% state of charge), parked our LEAF and hopped in.

First – smart fortwo is appropriately named. It is a small vehicle that will hold only two occupants and a small amount of cargo. Think overhead bin storage on an airplane. Okay… that might be short changing the fortwo. But not my much. Let’s face it – the car is only 8 feet, 10.1 inches long. The tallest man that ever lived was taller than that. More disappointing than its size are its driving characteristics. Let’s face it – one drives a car to get from place to place. This is where the smart fortwo disappoints.

Many of downtown San Diego’s streets are in sore need of improvement. While the potholes won’t swallow a whole smart fortwo, it seems that they’ll come close. The ride on these streets was abysmal. We’ve owned and raced many sports cars over the years, which puts us closely acquainted with race car suspensions. The fortwo, while not offering race-car-like handling, offered a race-car-like ride. At 1,958 pounds, it is one of the lightest cars on the road today. The combination of firm springs and light weight caused the car to leap around like a leprechaun. It was not a comforting experience. So we opted to check out its acceleration. Big mistake.

The fortwo’s 30 kilowatt motor equates to 40 horsepower. Worse is the 88 pounds-feet of torque (LEAF is 207 by comparison). Horsepower gives you top speed (84 mph) while torque gives you acceleration. 88 pounds-feet of torque doesn’t give you much acceleration. We were fearful of the truck behind us as we pulled onto the freeway, hoping that we would accelerate faster than the grill gaining on us in the rear-view mirror. Thankfully, we managed to beat the truck onto the freeway. We then took an exit that had us moving up a steep grade into Balboa Park, home of the San Diego Zoo. We made it to the top, but not without working the little motor that almost could. Suffice it to say that the fortwo electric drive would rather provide a mellow cruise than a spirited adventure. On smooth roads.

As one would expect of a car this small, it had an extremely short turning circle. We suppose that would make it easier for all of the clowns to gather, once they’ve tumbled out of the car.

We really don’t wish to be negative about the smart fortwo electric, but there is not a lot to be positive about. It is maneuverable, and thus easy to park. But it doesn’t have much go power, and there’s not much room inside. This is the car that most people might envision, if they were to take the time to think about an electric car. Fortunately, there are better alternatives available.

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