Smart #1 Driven: Mercedes Luxury Small Car Brand Enters New Era

Smart was one of the first automakers to offer an EV, the Fortwo electric drive, starting in 2007. This car has continued to develop, and the most recent Smart Fortwo EQ version is one of the best “pure city” electric cars around, although the very limited range meant it was for urban use only. But now Smart has taken a new direction in electrification. Its latest car is called the #1 for this reason – it’s the first of its kind for the company. I got to drive a couple of different versions and my first impressions are positive. Mostly.

Smart #1: Not Really An SUV

The initial thing to get out the way is that Smart has jumped on the bandwagon and called the #1 an SUV. But it fits that category only in that it sits higher than a regular compact car (1.6m / 64in), in a similar fashion to the excellent Hyundai Kona. It’s really a small family hatchback, but much larger than the Smart Forfour, and is in the same category as the Kona, Kia Niro EV, or Volkswagen group options such as the VW ID.3 or Cupra Born.

There is considerable visual similarity to the Mini Clubman, with near-identical length and width, although the #1 is about 20cm (8in) taller. The front “face” is cleaner and more serious. The roof also looks separate from the rest of the car with one of the two-tone paint options, which may or may not appeal to you. The flush door handles feel classy, however, and the overall exterior fit and finish exudes the quality that you would expect from a car coming out of the Mercedes-Benz group.

Although there is a Launch edition, only 1,000 of these will be on sale (and just 100 for the UK) so you’ll probably end up having to choose between the three main trim levels: Pro+, Premium and Brabus. Equipment levels are generous in all of these, with a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, heated seats, 360-degree parking camera and powered tailgate standard issue across the range.

The Premium trim adds leather upholstery, a Beats audio system, matrix LED headlights, automatic parking assistance, and 22kW AC charging. The Brabus version, unlike the Brabus edition of the Fortwo EQ, is a significant performance upgrade as well as having plenty of design cues to its special status.

The versions I got to drive were the RWD Premium and the AWD Brabus. The Premium and Pro+ are rear-wheel drive with 200kW (268hp), which is pretty powerful for a small car, but the Brabus is borderline insane with 315kW (422hp) and all-wheel-drive. This means it can accelerate to 62mph in just 3.9 seconds, where the other two versions take a still rapid but more sober 6.7 seconds.

Something you usually expect from a German car brand is an options list that would make War and Peace look like a novella. But Smart has sensibly chosen to limit this considerably with the #1, so that with the nine color choices and two interiors, there are allegedly just 37 combinations to choose from. This will make leasing companies happy and increase the likelihood that the combination you choose is in stock, reducing sales lead times.

Smart #1: Spacious Interior

Unlike previous Smart EVs, the #1 is a pure electric car – there will be no fossil fuel-powered versions. That means its interior layout is uncompromised by the need for a transmission tunnel. One of the reasons it’s tall is to accommodate batteries under the floor. The car is based on Geely’s SEA2 platform and comes from a 50/50 joint venture between Mercedes and Geely. The SEA2 platform is also used by Volvo’s EX30 and the Zeekr X. The pure BEV design maximizes the room inside. In fact, Smart claims that the rear passenger space is larger than an E-class Mercedes. As a previous owner of the latter vehicle, I can confirm that there is more headroom, although knee room is comparable. The panoramic sunroof adds to the sense of space in the rear.

The interior quality in the Premium and Brabus editions of the #1 I drove is top notch. There is a strong luxury feel, but with a modern spin including plenty of trim with a brushed metal look. The storage compartments have sturdy sliding doors, and there’s wireless phone charging beneath one plus two cupholders beneath another.

The steering wheel and controls are relatively traditional, but like most EVs the majority of options for the car can be found on the 12.8in infotainment screen. The menu system is mostly well laid out, although the division between a text-based menu and icons seems unnecessary. The trip and energy consumption display is from the icons, whereas other charging functions are in the text menu. There’s a small instrument display behind the steering wheel, but you will probably not be looking at this. Instead, there’s an excellent Head Up Display projected onto the windscreen that supplies essential speed, speed limit, navigation and ADAS information.

Rear luggage space is decent if not outstanding. You get 421 liters with the back seats up on the Pro+, and 411 liters with the Premium and Brabus, which beats a typical hatchback. However, this only expands to 986 liters and 976 liters respectively with the rear seats down, which is behind some hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen ID.3. The Nissan Leaf also offers more rear capacity. So the #1 isn’t top of the league for cargo carrying. However, it can also tow 1,600kg braked, so you can take your dinghy to the beach at the weekend. There’s a small frunk as well.

Smart #1: Driving, Performance and Range

The Smart Fortwo EQ was fun to drive beyond its performance specification in urban environments. The #1 is a different kind of beast, with much more A-road potential. Even the Pro+ and Premium are quick, with faster acceleration than the Volkswagen ID.3. With rear-wheel drive, the steering is relatively light and nimble, but also has a solid feel. There’s plenty of overtaking ability and a sense of assurance on the road.

The all-wheel-drive Brabus is in a different league. The ability to hit 62mph in 3.9 seconds is similar to the MG4 XPOWER, and gets close to what a Tesla Model 3 or Y can deliver. But the Smart #1 Brabus is a lot shorter than either and despite weighing a bit more than a Model 3 Performance it has an exuberance about its handling that provides plenty of fun. However, although the center of gravity is low with most of the weight in the batteries below the floor, this is a taller car than the MG4 XPOWER making the latter feel a bit sportier.

Everything looks very promising for the #1, but if it has one weakness it’s the range. All versions of the car have a 62kWh battery, which gives a 260-mile WLTP range for the Pro+, 273 miles for the Premium, and 248 miles for the Brabus. With plenty of EVs now offering more than 300 miles of range, this seems a bit limited. During my test driving with the Premium car, it managed a little over 4 miles per kWh, which is excellent, although the drive didn’t include a lot of sections faster than 60mph. That would equate to around 248 miles.

You can still do long journeys in the #1 like you really couldn’t in the Fortwo EQ, and having a 150kW DC capability means a 10 to 80% charge only takes 30 minutes. With the Premium and Brabus, there’s also 22kW AC charging. So, if your company has this available onsite, the #1 can fully charge in three hours.

Smart #1: Safety, Warranty and Value

The #1 has plenty of safety tech as standard, including lane departure warnings and assistance, blind spot detection, and adaptive cruise control with stop and go – always a boon in traffic jams. It has achieved the full five stars in the Euro NCAP safety tests, with a 96% score in Adult Occupant protection and 88% in safety assist, showing the value of its ADAS technology.

The basic warranty of three years is shorter than many Chinese and Korean cars now offer (despite the Smart being manufactured in China), but that is for unlimited mileage. The battery has the typical eight-year warranty for 70% capacity, for a healthy 125,000 miles. You also get free roadside assistance for eight years or 100,000 miles, so long as the car is maintained at a Smart aftersales partner. A three-year 30,000-mile service package is included with the new car purchase, too.

Considering Smart is a Mercedes brand, you might expect the #1 to be expensive. However, while it’s not cheap, it’s not extortionate either, particularly given the high level of equipment supplied even with the Pro+. This starts at £35,950 ($45,600) in the UK, with the Premium costing £38,950 ($49,400), and the Brabus £43,450 ($55,200). That makes it cheaper than a Volkswagen ID.3. The MG4 XPOWER gives you similar performance and range for a lot less, so if you’re after the best value in a fast EV that is still the optimal choice. But the Smart #1 provides a higher level of luxury. Although I’d have liked a little more range, the Smart #1 is a quality small electric car that could be an intelligent choice for everyday family activities.

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