Update March 25, 2014: a smart USA representative notes in the comments below: “we’d like to help clear up any cost confusion, battery confusion, lease confusion, etc. There are two options for leasing a smart electric drive: with Battery Assurance Plus or without it. Most opt to lease WITH Battery Assurance Plus because of the additional benefits that come along with it. For instance, when you decide to rent the high voltage battery for $80/month, we reduce the sales price of the vehicle by about $5,000. In addition, the annual battery maintenance (or 10,000 miles, whichever comes first) is already included in your monthly rental amount so there’s nothing else coming out of your pocket.” See more info in the comments.
First of all, it’s critical to note that the smart electric drive is much cheaper than the average car, or even the average electric car. After the US federal tax credit, the smart electric drive (ED) is $12,490 — not even half the price of the Ford Focus Electric ($27,700), and far less than the Nissan Leaf ($21,300), Fiat 500e ($24,300), or even Chevy Spark EV ($19,995). Actually, a few thousand dollars lower the Mitsubishi i ($15,495), it’s the cheapest electric car on the market in the US. However, there’s one big caveat — that’s the price without the battery. The battery seems to only be available for lease, for $80/month. If you assume you’d keep the car for 5 years, that brings the cost to $4,800 for the battery and $17,290 for the base model. If you assume 10-year ownership, the battery will cost you $9,600 and the entire price comes to $22,090. So, that brings the price of this two-seater above the price of the 5-seat Nissan Leaf and the 4-seat Chevy Spark EV, and well above the price of the 4-seat Mitsubishi i.
The smart ED acceleration, for example, was not as nice. It felt a bit like accelerating in a race cart. The pedal had more resistance and didn’t feel as comfortable as in the three cars above (or even the Renault Twizy). Nonetheless, the acceleration was quite good compared to a gasmobile, and very smooth compared to a gasmobile. (Even on the 0–60 MPH acceleration, the smart ED reportedly has a time of 11.5 seconds compared to its gas cousin’s time of 12.8 seconds.)
The interior of the smart ED was also clearly a step down from those other electric cars I tested. Everything was very basic on the interior. Also, of course, the smart ED only has two seats (the Leaf has 5, Ford Focus Electric 5, Chevy Spark EV 4, Mitsubishi i 4, Fiat 500e 4, BMW i3 4, VW e-Up! 5). As part of the simpler interior, the smart ED doesn’t have the fancy visualization screens that the Leaf, i3, and e-Up! have.
The smart ED does have two trump cards, of course. One is that the car can make extremely sharp turns. I had fun in my test car going in tiny circles like I’ve never done in any other car. This and the car’s small size also make for easy parking. The following is a pretty hilarious short video about this benefit:
Another benefit is some of the assurance you get from renting the battery for the smart ED instead of buying it, which many people may certainly prefer. From the smart ED website:
Our battery rental program doesn’t just make this the most affordable electric vehicle in America. It covers your annual battery maintenance costs for 10 years with no mileage limits. It guarantees your battery’s capacity level. And if you need a replacement battery during your rental term, it’s on us. It’s all included with Battery Assurance PlusSM, the plan developed with your peace of mind… in mind. We’ll wait while you absorb all that awesomeness.
Naturally, being a small, electric car, the smart ED has excellent fuel economy — 122 MPGe in the city, 93 MPGe on the highway, 107 MPGe combined. The car has a range of 68 miles on a full charge and uses a 17.6kWh battery.
If you’d like to read a review from an actual smart ED owner (yet a slightly more generic one), here’s a review from the first smart ED lessee:
My name is Mindy. I’m a PhD student, US Army Officer, wife, and mother to a 10-year-old boy. I’m also the first person in the America to lease the original smart electric drive. It’s been over two years and nearly 22,000 miles of unguzzled driving since then, and I must say it still makes me smile whenever I get in my smart electric drive.
It all started when I was returning to the US after doing a tour for the army in Baghdad. I knew I was going to buy a car once I got back, but didn’t know exactly what I wanted. During the flight, we flew over the Persian Gulf, and I saw oil platforms as far as the eye could see. The choice became very clear; electric car or nothing. From there, everything seemed to fall into place. Not too much later, I had the chance to test the first smart electric drive at a meeting of my local Electric Auto Association. I was instantly hooked. I had to have one.
Since the day it rolled into my driveway on January 26, 2011, I’ve had many wonderful adventures in my smart. I’ve driven in the Phoenix Electric Light Parade, a nighttime parade wherein we cover our cars with lights powered by the cars themselves. I’ve also participated in the Phoenix 100-Mile Challenge, twice. It’s a road “race” for electric cars that’s not so much about speed, but about efficiency. I came in second place last year, and this year I came in first place! I won the grand prize!
My smart electric drive has changed my perspective on many things. I used to hate driving and simply tolerated it because it was necessary. Now, I love driving. I always preferred a manual transmission car, and my smart electric drive gives me that control sensation without any gears. It’s just “go” and “go faster.” But most of all, I’m proud of the example I’m setting for my son; it’s possible to be environmentally friendly without losing out on fun. This is my first smart electric drive, and I’m confident it won’t be my last.
Mindy K. — Arizona
I’ve had other smart ED readers comment on my posts saying that they loved their vehicles. Seems like the smart ED is a good buy if you want a smaller car, but it’s hard to imagine a case in which it’s really a “better deal” than the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Spark EV, or Mitsubishi i.