I’ve always been paranoid about missing flights. I’m the sort of person who likes to rock up to the airport with plenty of time to baulk at the extortionate price of coffee and get as much work done as the crappy Wi-Fi allows. So, having left the hotel late (my fault…) and been forced to go on a complicated diversion on the last day of the Smart Electric Drive launch, I’m beginning to get nervous.
I’ll have to hustle this little ‘leccy Smart ForTwo through the middle of Toulouse in France if I’m to make this flight. And by that I don’t mean break every speed limit going. Not just because that’d be a tad naughty. No, because, the 80bhp and 118lb ft this thing offers up from its single, rear-mounted and rear-driving electric motor isn’t exactly up for providing high-performance thrills. But what I will do is use every advantage the Smart Electric has up its sleeve to carve a path through the city.
Thankfully, it’s more suited to city driving than pretty much any other car out there. I’ve just pulled up in the wrong lane, but that’s no big deal. When the lights go green, a stamp of the accelerator and a dose of instant torque punts me off the line and in front of my ‘challenger’, and I dart back into the right lane with the Smart’s fast and light steering. This may take a leisurely 11.5 seconds to hit 62mph from rest, but the dash to 30mph - the more useful figure right now - is only four seconds. It’s noticeably more eager off the line than the heavier ForFour, too.
A few blocks later, I’ve somehow ended up in the wrong lane once more. Again, it’s fine. I cheekily blast along the queue of traffic backing up on the ‘correct’ side, and spot a tiny gap that I slide into with ease thanks to the ForTwo’s dinky proportions. Instead of getting angry, the van driver behind is happy to let me in. Who can get mad at a little Smart car?
There’s some traffic to tackle next, but far from getting stressed at my deadline, the near silent running of the motor calms my nerves. No vibration-heavy idle from a 1.0-litre three-pot, no annoying stop/start engine antics, no stress. It’s in this situation that electric cars seem to make more sense than any other.
I’m now diving down an impossibly narrow, winding street, but it’s no issue. The Smart’s small size and almost complete lack of overhangs mean I think nothing to darting down the titchy road and - when it opens open - dodging around parked cars.
A short stretch of motorway later, and we’re well out of the town. There’s a series of roundabouts ahead, each of which I chuck the Smart around with vigour. Doing so tends to see the front end wash out with understeer - this may be a rear-wheel drive car, but most of the time you wouldn’t know it, save for the hilariously tight 6.95-metre turning circle.
With the minibuses that’ll take us the remaining mile or so to the airport in sight, I realise something: I’m smiling. The instant torque, the body roll (which actually isn’t as pronounced as you might expect), the titchy size and the quick steering; it all makes for a hugely fun way to haul ass across town. I’ve had plenty of drives lately which have thrilled me more, but for sheer, joyful entertainment? I’m struggling to think of anything I’ve driven recently to rival this little electric car.
It looks like we’ll just about make the flight, giving me time to mull over the car. As a second car or even the sole car for folk who rarely venture out of the city in their motors, it’s ideal. It’s far less stressful to drive than something with a petrol engine, and the near 100-mile range is more than enough for most situations. It’s not too bad to charge either: a normal wall socket will ‘brim’ the 17.6kWh battery (made of 96 lithium ion cells) in six hours, and if you get a wall box installed that drops to 2.5 hours for an 80 per cent charge. When the in-built charger is improved later this year, that’ll drop to 45 minutes.
All sounds jolly nice, but once you bear the price in mind, it gets a lot less attractive. By the time you factor in government subsidies, the car will cost somewhere in the region of £17k - £18k in the UK. So while it’ll be cheaper to run than a regular Smart, it’s a lot more expensive than a regular Smart, with the petrol range starting from just £11,370. And that’s not exactly something with ruinous running costs, is it?
It will however be at least £5000 cheaper than the ludicrously pricey VW e-Up, and it should make a lot more sense when leasing or when using through one of the many emerging car sharing schemes, where available.
If the Electric Drive does meet your life requirements, though, you can be sure of having a hell of a time whenever you need to get across town.