Smart #1 review
Smart’s first electric SUV marks a turning point for the brand and there’s lots to like about it, but a poor infotainment system could be what undoes the #1
- Unique looks
- Surprisingly practical
- Range and rapid charging
- Poor infotainment
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Premium price
|Model||Range||Wallbox charge time||Rapid charge time|
|Smart #1||260-273 miles||10hrs 30mins (0-100%, 7.4kW)||29mins (10-80%, 150kW)|
|Smart #1 Brabus||248 miles||10hrs 30mins (0-100%, 7.4kW)||29mins (10-80%, 150kW)|
Smart – makers of dinky city runabouts – has been around since the late 1990s, but now it’s on the verge of a revival under the co-ownership of Mercedes parent Daimler and Chinese automotive group Geely, which also owns Lotus and Polestar. And the all-new Smart #1 is the lynchpin in this brand’s rebirth, and the first of a new generation of electric Smart cars.
Before you ask, yes, you’re supposed to call Smart’s first SUV the “Hashtag one”, not just the Smart one. The ‘#’ symbol will be Smart’s naming convention for its next generation of electric cars – much like Volkswagen’s ‘ID’ or Mercedes’ ‘EQ’ families. The Smart #1 also measures just under 4.3 metres long and 1.6 metres tall, so it’s more crossover than SUV, but in terms of its size it's right in between the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV. With other rivals including the Renault Megane E-TECH Electric and forthcoming Jeep Avenger.
Underneath the two-tone body and rounded surfacing is Geely’s new EV-dedicated SEA platform, which stands for Sustainable Experience Architecture. It’ll eventually underpin some smaller electric Volvos, including a long-awaited baby SUV that we learned of in 2021 and could be called the EX20.
The Smart #1 uses a single electric motor to power the rear wheels, which produces 268bhp and 343Nm of torque, and is enough to fling the #1 from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds. That’s already faster than the quickest versions of the VW ID.3 or Cupra Born can sprint to 62mph, but the even more potent, dual-motor Brabus version pumps out 422bhp for a sub-four-second 0-62mph time.
Both feature a 66kWh battery (62kWh of which is usable). Smart says the regular Smart #1 can cover up to 273 miles on a single charge, depending on the exact specification, or 248 miles for the Brabus-tuned version. Both figures are less than the Kia Niro EV’s official range, but the Smart #1 can go further than the Vauxhall Mokka-e or Peugeot e-2008.
But the Smart #1 does lead the class when it comes to rapid charging speeds. Plug the #1 into a suitably fast rapid charger and the car can top up at 150kW, meaning a top up from 10-80% will take less than 30 minutes. Alternatively, if you use a wallbox or public charging point capable of 22kW AC charging, the same will take less than three hours. Fully replenishing the battery from a regular 7.4kW home wallbox requires over 10 hours.
Smart is still finalising UK pricing and specifications, but we know the range will start with Pro+ trim, which we expect to start from around £35,000. It features a 12.8-inch central infotainment touchscreen, 9.2-inch digital driver’s display behind the wheel, 19-inch rims, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, LED headlights, synthetic leather upholstery and a panoramic glass roof. This particular version also comes with a slightly less efficient inverter and a tweaked motor, so despite its performance figures and battery capacity being the same as higher-end editions, range is reduced to 260 miles.
We drove the next model up called Premium that’s likely to cost around £37,500 in the UK. It has the full 273-mile range and adds additional goodies to the LED headlights, automatic parking assist with 12 sensors, leather seats, a head-up display, heat pump to more efficiently heat the cabin in extreme temperatures and a 13-speaker Beats audio system, complete with subwoofer.
Finally, there’s the top-of-the-range Launch Edition that you’ll be able to order from January, before the rest of the Smart #1 range becomes available in mid-2023. Just 100 examples of the Smart #1 Launch Edition will come to the UK, all of which will get the same gold roof and white body paint scheme as the original Concept #1.
Next year will also see the arrival of the Smart #1 Brabus with its four-wheel drive and 422bhp, which we've also driven and expect will come in around £43,000. It stands out with additional vents above the front Smart badge – which are painted matte black – and more defined lower air intakes. There are red accents in the grille and the skirts, tying in with the red roof, boot spoiler and brake calipers. Inside, there’s red stitching and red seat inserts, plus ambient lighting and black leather and microfibre upholstery.
Around town is where the Smart #1 feels most at home, offering a better compromise between body control and ride comfort than many rivals. There’s also a one-pedal driving mode that gives you the strongest level of braking regen. Power delivery is smooth and you struggle to notice the transition between energy recuperation and the physical brakes. The #1’s 268bhp is more than plenty for a car of this size, with instant punch still available even at motorway speeds.
Off the motorway and faced with some twistier back roads, the Smart doesn’t perform so well. In the corners you feel the car lean, followed soon after by the front tyres understeering on as the eco-spec tyres fail to provide enough grip. There’s little involvement to be found here, either; the steering response is crisp enough but the weight is a little inconsistent the harder you turn.
Then there’s the #1 Brabus (below), which does feel undeniably fast, especially when you select the Sport or Brabus drive modes that give you the full 422bhp to play. Do this and the two electric motors deliver the 543Nm of torque instantly, like a sledgehammer, sending you all too quickly towards the car’s 112mph top speed.
However, these modes also make the steering heavier in an attempt to make the driving experience more sporty. In reality, there’s still not much involvement to be had, and the car can struggle to cope with the extra power if you’re too harsh with your inputs. Once again, the front tyres lose traction first, and then the system seems to start allowing some slip at the rear, before changing its mind. The is a firm edge to the #1 Brabus’ ride, but like the regular model, the suspension set-up manages to prevent too much body roll - which is impressive for a car that weighs nearly two tonnes.
Overall, the Brabus is more of a point-and-squirt toy that’s great for impressing people with the straight-line performance, rather than taking on b-roads like a hot hatch. And as a result, we’d be hard pressed to justify going for the £40,000+ Brabus over the regular #1.
But the Smart #1’s biggest weakness is not how it handles. The central 12.8-inch HD touchscreen is standard across the #1 range, mounted high up on the dashboard and used to control everything in the car from the radio to activating one-pedal driving modes and climate controls. It’s the car’s weakest point, with widgets scattered across the home screen and an animated fox in the corner that makes the system look like a child’s tablet rather than the interface of a brand-new EV.
And that’s before we get into the system’s spelling mistakes, clunky navigation, windows that obscure other messages and key buttons buried far too deep in sub-menus. Even turning on one-pedal driving is an unnecessarily painful process - after pressing the correct button you have to wait for 10 seconds before the prompt allows you to confirm your command, while turning the stability control off is done with a single switch.
Worse still is the fact that the Smart #1 doesn’t feature Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, which is not only bizarre for a car costing £35,000 or more in 2022, but means you’re forced to use the car’s built-in infotainment. Why the company didn’t follow Geely stablemates Volvo and Polestar in using Android Automotive as its in-car system is beyond us.
The rest of the cabin is pretty strong in contrast. There are some high-quality plastics scattered around, padded and stitched fabrics are positioned in all of the key places. The overall layout is quite stylised, with perhaps too many areas showcasing the 64 hues of ambient lighting you can choose from, but there are still lots of useful storage bins and the whole thing feels well put together.
You can get enough space for four adults, too, with excellent levels of headroom in the back, even with the panoramic roof. There are 15 litres of space under the bonnet, ideal for storing your charging cables, plus 323 litres of boot space in Pro+ models, or 313 litres for models carrying the Beats subwoofer. But you can push the rear seats forward by 13cm and expand that capacity up to 411 litres, according to Smart.
There’s loads to like about the Smart #1: it’s a well-engineered, refined, comfortable and surprisingly practical electric car that can handle city and town driving as you would expect of the brand behind the ForTwo. But it’s almost entirely undone by the infotainment system, which you can’t bypass or avoid using as it’s responsible for every setting and control.
If the Smart #1’s looks have caught your eye and the monthly payments are reasonable when UK pricing is finally announced, you shouldn’t dismiss it without taking a look, but when you do, just make sure you can get along with the dancing fox on the dashboard and all it comes with.