Wed10222014

On The Road

Smart start


Photo By: Gary Anderson/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Gary Anderson/Special To The Town Crier

Mercedes-Benz shows off one of its new Smart electric-drive cars during a recent tour stop in San Francisco.

Imagine a bright Saturday morning in April on the Embarcadero along the San Francisco waterfront, under the clock tower of the Ferry Building. Fresh produce spills from the stalls at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, classic trolleys pass on their steel tracks and Giants fans whisk by on their way to AT&T Park.

Now visualize a fleet of shiny subcompact Smart electric-drive cars by Mercedes-Benz – led by one Smart brilliantly painted with the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline – soundlessly cruising up and down the Embarcadero in front of the very view painted on the car.

This scene was as exciting as watching the circus unload as a youngster. The event resembled a circus – of the most modern kind.

Mercedes is introducing its Smart electric vehicles to “eco-minded urbanites and early adopters” in an 11-city tour across the country. With a base price of only $25,000, the Smart will be the most affordable electric vehicle on the market, competing with the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi MiEV and Ford Focus EV. It uses much of the same technology as the Tesla.

The tour’s goal is to showcase the new car, now available at Smart dealers, by giving the younger city-dwellers a chance to drive it in the setting for which it was designed. It also allows them to inspect the zero-emission car’s particular attributes, from unlimited customization opportunities to its structure, built around a rigid tridion safety-cell exoskeleton.

The most noticeable attribute of these cars in this setting is their size – just under 9 feet long, 5 feet high and 5 feet wide – dimensions that work well in dense downtown traffic, tight city parking and even tighter spaces in urban garages.

What was equally obvious during the test-drive up and down San Francisco’s steep hills was the torquey responsiveness of the electric motor, perfect for a dash across crowded intersections and able to make easy work of the hills that are typical of the city. The zero-to-60 time of 12 seconds and top speed of 78 mph provide a more than adequate performance envelope for use in city applications, even if part of the commute includes freeway miles.

With the advanced Mercedes-developed lithium-ion battery stowed in the area where the fuel tank usually goes, and the motor replacing the engine between the rear wheels, the car retains its standard interior space and cargo room. And it’s easily capable of handling routine city errands.

As for answers to frequently asked questions: The Smart EV can travel between 50 and 80 miles on a single charge and recharge from 20 to 80 percent full in 3.5 hours on a 240-volt outlet.

And yes, cities are increasingly making these outlets available in downtown parking structures. A smartphone app manages power and recharging – there’s no reason for range anxiety in typical city use, even if that use includes a trip to the airport or errands around town on weekends. The best part is that the Smart EV gets the equivalent of 122 miles per gallon, more than most motor scooters.

Increasing the Smart EV’s convenience and efficiency is that it can be programmed while plugged into the power grid to heat or cool the interior to a comfortable level just before use.

The bottom line from our brief time running around San Francisco on a busy Saturday morning: This may be the most practical transportation for use around a suburban village like Los Altos.

The Smart in either body style may be purchased like any other new or leased car from Mercedes.The Smart Fortwo electric-drive coupe lease price is $199/month, $269/month for the convertible, and includes “Battery Assurance Plus.” This program allows customers to rent the battery on their Smart car, including maintenance and replacement for up to 10 years, and is also available as part of a purchase package.

Although the Smart has been at dealers for only a few weeks, we’ve already seen two in downtown Los Altos. But that’s not surprising, given the early-adopter mentality of the village and the attraction of the price, efficiency, comfort, flexibility and style.

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