The Smart Fortwo Electric Drive (ED) is a new battery-powered version of the world's smallest car.
If you're thinking this sounds a bit familiar, that's because there have already been two electric editions of Smart's city car. However, the third-generation car will be the first you can actually buy when it arrives in the UK next spring.
Smart says the previous versions of its electric Fortwo (which were leased in small numbers to selected companies) have helped it gather invaluable data about the habits of electric car drivers, enabling the new car to be tailored to customers' needs.
Surprisingly, the Smart's limited range was way down the list of complaints; the three biggest demands were a shorter charging time, improved acceleration and a higher top speed.
Smart has obliged, fitting a more powerful electric motor and a faster charging system (which takes seven hours to charge the battery from a domestic socket). For good measure, range has been slightly improved: it's now a maximum of 90 miles in ideal conditions.
What's the 2012 Smart Electric Drive like to drive?
If you're expecting sluggish, milk-float performance then you'll be pleasantly surprised, because the ED is actually much nippier than the diesel version of Smart's two-seater.
The 74bhp electric motor makes its full 96lb ft of torque available from standstill, so it pulls hard the instant you hit the accelerator, and it feels just as strong at higher speeds. The 0-62mph sprint takes 11.5 seconds and top speed is 78mph.
The ED is also remarkably easy to drive in the city and in built-up urban areas; there are no gears to worry about and the dinky dimensions mean you can squirt through gaps that drivers of larger cars could only dream of.
Unfortunately, all versions of the Fortwo suffer from a choppy ride because of the car's short wheelbase, and things are even worse in this electric model due to the stiffer springs needed to carry the extra 150kg of battery weight.
The regenerative brakes also take some getting used to, because they're initially very wooden, then suddenly bite when you press the pedal beyond a certain point.
What's the 2012 Smart Electric Drive like inside?
Much the same as a regular Fortwo, which means there are only two seats, but each one has enough room for a burly six-footer.
The distinctive interior is well laid out and has big, user-friendly buttons and dials. However, you might find it difficult to make yourself comfortable because there's no seat-height or steering wheel adjustment.
One thing worthy of special mention is the Smart Drive iPhone app. As well as helping to make handsfree calls and playing stored music through the car's stereo, the app can also be linked with the car remotely to check the status of the battery, find nearby charging points and even precondition the cabin temperature while the car's plugged in, to avoid draining the battery with the air-con when you set off.
The Fortwo's wide-opening doors make it easy to get in to and out, and the 220-litre boot gives you roughly the same luggage space as a Fiat Panda.
Should I buy one?
Smart will sell you the whole the car (batteries included) for around £15,000, but we'd think very carefully before taking them up on this offer because the battery will only be covered by a three-year warranty.
If anything goes wrong with it after this time, you'll be saddled with a bill of many thousands of pounds. This ticking time bomb isn't likely to do you any favours come resale time, either.
That's why you'd be far better off with the other option: buying just the car (for an estimated £11,500) and leasing the battery pack separately for £55 a month. Go about it this way and the battery will be covered indefinitely. Better still, you aren't tied into a contract, so when you sell the car the next owner can start to lease the battery.
Even then, though, £13,500 (over three years) is a lot of money to be spending on a Smart car. Yes, your fuel bills will be much smaller than they would be with any petrol or diesel rival, and you'll be able to take advantage of various other incentives (included free parking and charging bays in some cities). However, the vast majority of buyers will be better off with a cheaper petrol city car, such as the VW Up Bluemotion. The Up also qualifies for free road tax, Congestion Charge exemption and is a much better car.
Or if you're happy to spend the extra knowing you'll be doing the environment a big favour, then consider the Renault Zoe due to arrive in October. Initial impressions are very promising, and prices won't be that much higher than the Smart's.
What Car? says...