What is it?
Ask someone to think of a ‘Smart car’ and their immediate image will be of the dinky two-seat Fortwo, renowned for its legendary ability to be parked the opposite way in parallel parking spaces. An icon? Without a doubt.
But in recent years Smart has been quite dormant. Switching to selling purely EVs in 2019, with its Fortwo and Forfour, these city-aimed models with their tiny electric range (80 miles max) have had limited appeal. In recent years, the firm has sold only around a hundred cars a month in the UK. All that changes now with the #1 SUV (pronounced hashtag one). Time to find out what it’s like.
Previously entirely owned by Mercedes-Benz’s parent company Daimler, in 2019 Smart became a new joint venture, half owned by Mercedes still, and half by Geely – the huge Chinese automotive giant that’s changed Volvo’s fortunes around, and is now doing the same with Lotus.
The design of the #1 has been handled by Mercedes, meanwhile Geely has handled the engineering and it uses the latter’s new EV-only platform too. A radical departure from what Smart has done in the past, the #1 is a volume-chasing model competing in the hugely important compact electric SUV segment.
What’s under the bonnet?
From the #1’s launch – of which orders don’t open until early 2023, and deliveries aren’t expected until September next year – there will be two powertrains available. The first is a regular rear-wheel-drive setup, while a flagship 422bhp Brabus model will also be offered..
We’re trying the ‘standard’ car here, which uses a rear motor producing 268bhp and 343Nm of torque, which are healthy figures next to rivals. Getting from 0-60mph takes 6.5 seconds, while the #1 can hit 112mph when maxed out. A 66kWh battery is also used, allowing for a claimed range of up to 273 miles. You can also charge it at up to 150kW, whereby a charge from 10 to 80 per cent can take under half an hour.
What’s it like to drive?
Smart has little intention of its #1 being a challenger for the best drivers’ cars crown, but by class standards the #1 performs well. Though these are still ‘pre-production models’, it feels almost there in that respect.
There’s plentiful pace even from this ‘standard’ car, and few will be left wanting more power on a day-to-day basis, while thanks to the large glass area, visibility is another strong attribute. The plentiful safety equipment included also makes driving through the city much easier. Out on the open road, you’re able to select the level of weight you want to the steering, with ‘heavy’ giving plenty of feel, even if there’s quite a bit of roll through the corners.
The ride quality shows signs of being firm, but we’ll have to wait until we get the #1 in the UK before making a full judgement.
How does it look?
The #1 represents quite a departure from the brand’s current car, and though the firm’s bosses say it’s ‘still a Smart car’, we’re not so sure there’s a clear link. There are subtle Mercedes influences, particularly with the LED light bars at the front and rear, but this is a funky-looking crossover that stands out on the road.
There are some great details on it, such as the pop-out door handles that sit flush with the car when driving or when parked, while the ‘floating roof’ and funky wheel designs are other neat touches. Though this might be a modern-day Smart, the sense of fun remains.
What’s it like inside?
The inside of the Smart #1’s interior is a real highlight, particularly from a spaciousness point of view. The floating centre console (another small link that will be familiar to Mercedes customers) gives a huge storage area underneath, while the amount of room in the rear seats is superb, and far superior to rivals. The downside is that the 313-litre boot is quite small, though there’s a dedicated area under the floor to store the cables out of the way.
Dominating the interior is a new 12.8-inch touchscreen that controls the vast majority of controls. It can be fiddly at first, mainly due to the sheer amount of functions on offer, but it’s super responsive and clear to use. In a futuristic touch, there’s an AI-powered ‘fox’ on the screen that’s said to help you navigate, though we’re not really sure why if we’re being blunt.
What’s the spec like?
As we’ve mentioned, you’ll be waiting more than a year until you can get your hands on a #1 in the UK, but Smart has already confirmed the trim levels.
Standard equipment is very generous, with a 360-degree camera, panoramic sunroof, electric and heated front seats and 64-colour ambient interior included on the entry-level Pro+.
A Premium trim brings leather seats, a Beats sound system and head-up display, while the flagship Brabus brings lots of Alcantara and the huge bump of power,
Smart is yet to confirm pricing, but the firm’s UK boss hopes it will start from around £35,000. If they can stick to that, it looks to be well-priced next to opposition.
Reinventing a brand renowned for such a bold and niche product was always going to be tricky, but the #1 feels like a big step in the right direction for Smart. Ask all the mainstream manufacturers and there isn’t money to be made in dinky cars like the Fortwo, particularly in an electric era. Smart had to change.
Yes, it might be another SUV, but the #1 ensures Smart remains to exist in the future, and the sense of fun and style of the original ‘Smart car’ shines through here. It’s refreshingly different in a class not known for its bravery. It’s unlikely to challenge the best, but promising plentiful equipment, loads of technology and generous cabin space, the #1 has plenty of reasons to make you consider it.