Test Drive of the week: Smart Fortwo

The car is a small, compact two-seater. It is easy to get into and feels spacious inside.
The interior is not really basic; it feels slightly luxurious. The upholstery was a nice patterned grey colour and the dashboard and side doors were also shades of grey.

The dashboard is very clean and easy to read. The GPS seems quite sophisticated and is inlaid, like a TV set.

It starts up just like a normal car. There are only three speeds: neutral, drive and reverse–very simple. You don’t have to press very hard to accelerate. The car will go from 0 to 30mph in 6.5 seconds, and has an electronically limited top speed of 60 mph. Of course, there is no sound when driving since it is electric.

It drives easily and responsively. We drove on a test track with lots of winding roads and a traffic-free straight away and it was a peppy, but not really speedy, ride.

It has a lithium battery which is included in the cost price and should last 8 to 10 years. It also has ESP, ABS brakes two airbags and seat belt pre-tensioners, and also features a NCAP tested tridion safety cell. It is air-conditioned which is a nice, although not that necessary, plus. The 30kW electric motor is built by Zytek Automotive, a UK technology company.

As the first step of its electric drive program, smart has been running 100 demonstration vehicles in the United Kingdom since 2007. The series production of the smart fortwo electric drive has now started with 1,000 vehicles, which will be run in both Europe- starting by the end of 2009- and the United States- starting in the second half of 2010 in several cities. The series production in large numbers will start for model year 2012 vehicles, which can be bought in all smart centers.

The smart fortwo electric drive will be equipped with a 16.5 kWh lithium-ion battery powering a 30 kW motor positioned over the rear drive wheels. The battery can be charged with either 100V or 220V systems and will require between 3.5 and 8 hours of charging time, depending on the voltage used and the starting state of the battery charge. An 85 mile range is anticipated.

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Mercedes BlueZero

The Mercedes BlueZERO concept caris a very interesting vehicle, or rather, a trio of vehicles (electric car, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell). Mercedes says it is production-ready, and that its design will influence the next-generation B-Class.

The three versions of the BlueZERO concept have in common a compact, permanent magnet synchronous electric motor, which operates at a maximum of 13,280 rpm. It is rated at 16 kW and 236 lb.-ft. of torque.

Auto Motor und Sport reports that Mercedes will bring three new electric drive concept vehicles across the ocean. The Blue-Zero E-Cell (pictured) will be powered exclusively by lithium ion batteries. The others, called the Blue-Zero E-Cell Plus (hybrid) and the Blue-Zero F-Cell (hydrogen fuel cell), we don’t have pictures of. Yet.

The E-Cell Plus adds the Smart ForTwo’s turbocharged three-cylinder engine to the E-Cell package, and its batteries can move the vehicle for 100 km (62 miles) on their own. With a full charge and a full tank (and using regenerative braking), the E-Cell Plus will go 600 km (373 miles). The engine powers the battery during the drive but can also directly move the wheels when needed. Without the liquid fuel assist, the E-Cell’s li-ion pack can move the car for up to 200 km (124 miles), while the F-Cell can go twice as far using the 90 kW fuel cell and capturing energy by regenerative braking. All three should make the jump from zero to 100 kmh in under 11 seconds.

The sandwich component design keep the weight low to the ground, which increases handling ability of the vehicle and decreases the likelihood of rollover. The 5-seat, front wheel drive Mercedes BlueZero F-Cell will begin small scale commercial production in late 2009.

The two companies have joined together to create several BlueZero models which show their joint commitment to create the powertrain of the future. By combining Evonik’s experience with lithium-ion battery technology and Mercedes’ talent for advancing state of the art technologies, the two believe the new concepts will represent a major step forward for electric vehicles.

There is no mention of plug-in charging for the battery pack, meaning this vehicle runs on Hydrogen only, which could present a problem if there’s nowhere to fill it up. The only difference between this fuel cell version and the battery EV version seems to be range. An EV with 400km range is becoming a reality with larger 53kw/hr battery packs like that found in the Tesla – which has an EPA range of 244 Miles (390km) likely being cheaper to install than an entire fuel cell system dependent on an as yet non existent hydrogen infrastructure.

A little more realistic is the third version, the BlueZERO E-CELL PLUS which is a plug in series hybrid with very similar specifications to the Chevy Volt. It has the same 1.0-litre turbocharged gasoline engine as the smart fortwo as an additional range extender. This compact three-cylinder powerplant has an output of 50 Kw at a constant 3500 rpm. If required, it can recharge the 17.5-kWh lithium-ion battery via a similarly rated alternator. A range of up to 600 kilometres is possible on a single tank. The purely electrical, locally emission-free range is up to 100 kilometres.