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First Drive: 2013 Electric Smart ForTwo Vastly Improved from Previous Versions |

Mercedes-Benz is the first to admit that the first and second generation of all-electric Smart ForTwos—built as prototypes rather than mass-produced models—were not up to par. Beyond 30 miles per hour, the small cars had embarrassingly weak acceleration, produced more than their share of motor whine, and offered overall performance only suited to local urban driving.

So Mercedes Benz went back to the drawing board for its third-generation Smart ForTwo ED. With a new motor, battery pack, and power electronics, the 2013 Smart ForTwo ED is the small electric car Mercedes-Benz should have made in the first place.

The Smart ForTwo ED is slightly taller, wider, and longer than its gasoline sibling. That’s partly to help make room for a sizable 17.6 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack, on-board charger and power electronics. Despite its growth spurt, its overall proportions still feel right. You’d have to put the new Smart ForTwo ED side by side with a gasoline Smart to notice the difference.

Inside, there’s the usual accoutrements you’d expect from a Smart ForTwo, including two well-proportioned seats, Smart’s latest 6.5-inch in-car infotainment and GPS system, and cruise control. In place of the tachometer and clock found in the gasoline smart’s center-mounted dash pods, you’ll find a state of charge meter, and an economy gauge, measuring how much instantaneous energy you’re using or regenerating.

Like gasoline models, starting consists of placing a foot on the brake pedal, inserting the large key into the floor-mounted ignition switch next to the gear selector, waiting for the car to complete its short start-up routine, and selecting the desired direction of travel. Like all other electric cars on the market, the 2013 Smart ForTwo ED has no conventional gearbox, making it super-simple to drive.

Paddle-Controlled Regen

What makes the Smart ForTwo stand out however, is the use of paddle-shifters mounted on the steering wheel to control the amount of regeneration. By clicking the left paddle-shifter and engaging D- mode, it’s possible to completely turn off regenerative braking on accelerator liftoff, giving it the same coasting functionality as GM’s famous EV1. A click to the right engages the standard D mode, which gives mild regeneration on launch. Click the right paddle shift one more time, and D+ mode is engaged. In this mode, it’s regenerative braking as severe as that found in cars like the Mini E and Tesla Roadster, making ‘one pedal driving’ possible. It also gives the Smart ForTwo ED a really sporty feel, especially on twisty country roads.



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