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Electric Shock

CAN you imagine plugging your car into a three-pin plug in the wall, leaving it for eight hours and then driving for up to 70 miles on that single charge? Well, that is what the Smart Fortwo electric drive will do for you, from a flat battery to full charge. I drove this and two other greenies in Shoreditch earlier this week where Mercedes-Benz held an eco-drive event. Which would have been great, if it hadn't been for Bob Crow and his union turning Greater London into a carpark for the day. <br /><br />While I would normally have made my way across to West London in a nice automatic Smart Fortwo, emitting nothing but the odd fruity word in nose-to-tail traffic, it actually took two hours to get from Shoreditch to Fulham with a manual gearbox test car. And we still we had to pay the congestion charge. This is the transport infrastructure that&rsquo;s supposed to be a viable alternative to using your car? At least it seems to be filling the government&rsquo;s coffers, if nothing else. <br /><br />No, the viable alternative to getting around town without paying for the privilege is to get your name on the list for one of these, the best electric drive so far. Jump in, stick the keys in the ignition, foot on accelerator and off you go in virtual silence apart from a tiny whine from where the engine would normally sit, here replaced by a 41bhp/30kW electric motor powered by a sodium-nickel chloride battery.<br /><br />The power delivery is immediate and the handling is really fun, sitting on narrower wheels than the petrol equivalent which assists the steering, making it slightly lighter and therefore more nimble. Shoreditch threw up more bicycles than Beijing and the heat drew out all the dazed and confused so there were plenty of obstacles to skirt around, which the car did deftly. It rides nicely, feels well-balanced and is not slow &ndash; quite the opposite in fact. It has a top speed of 60mph but it&rsquo;s the 0-30 mph figure of 6.5 secs which counts; it&rsquo;s quicker than its petrol equivalent. And it&rsquo;s going to be much cheaper to run and maintain as well, as the ED has far fewer moving parts, which should mean markedly lower servicing costs.<br /><br />Now, here&rsquo;s the not-so-good part.&nbsp; The ED is only available on lease at the moment at a cost of &pound;375 per month but all vehicles are already allocated out to Smart&rsquo;s corporate partners, who have signed up for the requisite four-year trial.&nbsp; And news just in is that the allocation is full.&nbsp; <br /><br />Good news is on the horizon though, Smart are planning to put this little gem into production and we should have news later in the year. I think it&rsquo;s safe to plan for an early 2010 arrival. And as for the price, other motoring titles are bandying figures about but they&rsquo;re rumours only &ndash; there are no official prices yet.<br /><br /><strong>SMART ALTERNATIVES</strong><br />In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than look at the Smart alternatives which are the Fortwo cdi and the Fortwo micro-hybrid drive.&nbsp; The first of these, the diesel, went on sale in the UK in March this year and with impressive CO2 figures of just 88g/km and an entry-level price of &pound;8,971, it makes a lot of sense.<br /><br />And finally to the Fortwo micro-petrol/hybrid, which offers stop-start technology where the engine cuts out at standstill and sparks up again when you take your foot off the brake.&nbsp; It uses no fuel and releases no emissions at speeds of under 5mph, resulting in the lowering of fuel consumption by 9 per cent and taking carbon emissions down to 103g/km.&nbsp; This model is on sale now at prices starting from &pound;8,272.<br /><br />I went to Stuttgart a couple of years ago to witness the destruction of Smart Fortwos in crash tests and the results, I have to say, blew me away.&nbsp; The steel Tridion safety cell around which the Smart is built survived intact after combined impact speeds of up to 60mph with an E-Class Merc. Whereas the Merc offers a long bonnet to absorb maximum impact before you hit the occupant chamber, the &ldquo;wee&rdquo; Smart is tiny by comparison but the &ldquo;cell&rdquo;remained whole as did the crash test dummies. Don&rsquo;t be put off by its size. This car is a little bit of genius.<br /><br /><strong>THE FACTS:</strong><br />SMART FORTWO ED (electric drive)<br />Single-speed <br />automatic<br /><br /><strong>PRICE: </strong>&pound;12,000 (est)<br /><strong>0-30MPH:</strong> 6.5 secs<br /><strong>TOP SPEED:</strong> 60mph<br /><strong>CO2 G/KM: </strong>0 g/km<br /><strong>Road tax exempt</strong>