Mercedes offers free test drive of new $28,000 electric car

by: COURTESY MERCEDES-BENZ - The new version of the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive goes on sale in May.Portland’s reputation for hipness, environmentalism and commitment to electric cars has resulted in another vehicle debut.

Mercedes-Benz will offer free test drives of its new Smart Fortwo Electric Drive starting at 5 p.m. today during the First Thursday Art Walk and continuing through Sunday. A selection of the cars will be at 906 N.W. Davis St. through the weekend.

The vehicles will sport custom wraps designed by local artists Derrick Villalpando and Thomas Hooker.

Previously, Mitsubishi nationally debuted its all-electric MiEV in Portland in October 2011. And Toyota loaned a number of prototype plug-in Prius hybrids to Portland State University for testing before they went on sale.

“Portland is a very forward-thinking city full of creative people that is focused on transportation planning and solutions,” says Mercedes spokeswoman Terry Wei.

The Smart Fortwo originally debuted several years ago as a tiny, two-passenger, gas-powered city car. A small number of electric versions have been available on a lease-only basis through a handful of dealerships for the past year.

Now Mercedes will sell its newest electric version starting this month for approximately $25,000, making it the least expensive electric vehicle in the country. Customers also may be eligible for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits, further reducing the cost. Federal and state tax credits of up to $1,750 also are available for home charging stations.

The Smart Fortwo Electric Drive is available as a convertible, making it the nation’s only electric vehicle with a removable top. It starts at around $28,000.

The EPA-tested range is 76 miles in city driving. European test results were closer to 90 miles on a full charge, Mercedes says.

The Smart Fortwo Electric Drive is powered by a magneto-electric motor installed between the rear wheels in place of the conventional engine. Power is provided by lithium-ion batteries hidden under the floor. They can be recharged from any normal household 110-volt wall socket or a 240-volt socket with a charging station. It takes about three-and-a-half hours to charge the battery from 20 to 80 percent, and about six hours to reach full charge from a depleted battery.

Electric-vehicle sales in the United States have been slower than expected, in part because gas prices have largely stabilized, and more manufacturers are offering high-mileage gasoline-powered cars. Wei says Mercedes is committed to electric vehicles, however, in part to meet the federal government’s increasingly higher mileage standards.

Portland is the second of 11 cities where the Smart Electric Drive is debuting between April 19 and June 7. The tour began in Los Angeles and will end in Chicago.

An earlier version of the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive is part of the Car2Go short-term car rental fleet in Portland and a number of other cities.

Public test drives will be offered from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2; noon to 8 p.m. Friday, May 3, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5.

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