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Smart economics: If you must get a Fortwo electric car, lease it

The Smart Fortwo electric drive is quicker than its gas cousin, but is also much more expensive.

Daimler AG

The electric vehicle with the lowest sticker price in Canada is not a $26,990 slug. No, the Smart Fortwo ED (Electric Drive) will do 0-100 km/h in less than 12 seconds, which means it's quicker than a gasoline fortwo. And eventually, the Fortwo ED can do 125 km/h. That in a car you can park in a shoe box.

The bad news is that even with an $8,500 provincial EV rebate in Ontario ($8,000 in Quebec), to own you're looking at 48 monthly payments of $457.86 (with nothing down, a 2.5 per cent interest rate, and 13 per cent HST included). If you must have a zero emissions city runabout, that's the least you will pay to own one. Mercedes-Benz Canada can put you in a 36-month lease for $325 a month.

Or consider Option B: lease a thrifty, gasoline-only Smart Fortwo for $99 a month. Smart will give you a 24-month lease at 0.9 per cent, with zero down on a $17,060 Fortwo pure coupe. The secret ingredient: a $4,125 factory discount.

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So a Smart EV to own costs about 4.5 times as much as the lease on a regular Smart. The numbers show why EV sales in Canada are statistically insignificant.

Still, let's give the Smart ED its due. Yes, it's a small two-seater, but the battery pack under the floor does not eat up much cabin space, if any. The car itself starts up and drives like any other. The only hint that this is an EV is the silent ride and dash-mounted readouts that inform you of the state of charge and power demand. The rest is all regular Smart car, from the skinny little seats to the flimsy rear-view mirror, inexpensive plastics and the clam-shell opening at the rear.

I was able to shoehorn myself into my electric Smart tester and whip through short errands. But I would not want to sit in this thing for more than half an hour – certainly not at $450 a month. But for $99, someone in the city core might think about leasing.

So until the economics of EVs change, they have little chance of going mainstream.

Tech Specs

Base price: $26,990 (including $1,295 freight)

Electric motor: 55kW

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Transmission: One-speed automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 1.5 city/2.1 highway in litres equivalent

Alternatives: Mitsubishi iMiEV, Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV.

Looks: The square shape makes the most of cabin room, which explains why the Smart is a little cube on four wheels. Practical, but as a design, it's a toaster.

Interior: Tight fit? Yes. Two normal-sized adult makes will be shoulder-to-shoulder in the front buckets, which are thinly-padded and marginally supportive. At least the controls are simple.

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Technology: This is a pure EV at a relatively affordable price, so let's give props to Smart for that. What's missing is something visual that stands out as a "wow" feature. A 120-volt charge takes 16 hours and a 240 takes eight for the lithium-ion batteries. Nothing special there.

Cargo: Behind the two front seats is a cargo area with enough room for two good-sized airplane roll-aboard carry-on bags and perhaps a pair of briefcases.

The Verdict

5.5: The price has to factor into this and, at $27,000 to start before taxpayer subsidies, this EV is too much money.

You'll Like This Car If: You're an early adopter who wants a teeny, tiny city car that puts out zero emissions.

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