Review: Smart #1 first drive

From £38,950

Not a lot of people know that Smart is something of an EV pioneer. An electric version of its iconic city car, the Fortwo, was first introduced way back in 2008. The Smart range then went 100% electric in 2019.

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Now a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and Chinese giant Geely (which also owns Volvo, Polestar and Lotus), the latest Smart is a pure electric vehicle and the first fruit of the new partnership.

The awkwardly named Smart #1 (pronounced ‘hashtag one’) is marketed as a “compact SUV” and is about the same size as a Mini Countryman, Volkswagen ID.3, Peugeot 2008, Hyundai Kona or MG ZS.

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Sharing a platform with the upcoming Volvo EX30, the Smart #1 is boldly styled, with a hint of an oversized Vauxhall Adam about it and a rear not unlike a scaled-down Mercedes-Benz EQB.

Smart cars have always dared to be different, and the #1 is much the same.

The distinctive design continues inside the cabin where there’s a quality feel, it’s surprisingly spacious, very safe, packed with tech – and a bit quirky.

Competitively priced from £35,950, there are two Smart #1 specs (Pro+ and Premium) and both get a 66kWh battery pack and a 268bhp motor that drives the rear wheels with 253lb-ft of torque.

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Pro+ models get a decent 260-mile range, while Premium is capable of up to 273 miles thanks to the addition of a heat pump and other clever tweaks.

Both accelerate from 0-62mph in just 6.7 seconds, while the healthy 150kW charging speed means a 10-80% top-up takes as little as 30 minutes.

Frankly, it feels rapid enough, but if you’re feeling flush and want serious performance, then opt for the range-topping Brabus #1.

Starting at £43,450, this hot all-wheel-drive version gets an extra electric motor, develops a huge 422bhp and is capable of 0-62mph in just 3.9 seconds. The downside is that the range in the heavier Brabus #1 drops to 248 miles.

Inside, the Smart #1 is minimalist up front with just about everything controlled via the 12.8-inch central infotainment screen (Apple CarPlay is integrated, but Android Auto is yet to come).

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There are useful shortcuts along the bottom, for essentials such as climate control. The menu structure makes sense and the screen is responsive, but maybe there’s a little too much functionality via the touchscreen. For instance, you can’t even adjust the wing mirrors without going in there.

That said, the system will save your profile, so it will remember your individual settings every time you drive the car.

A quick mention of the animated fox, which appears on the infotainment screen. It’s a fun face for the voice assistant, and you’ll either find it irritating or cute

Personalising settings takes a while, but once you switch off irritating things like Driver Exhaustion Alert, Steering Wheel Re-Centring and Lane Assist, you’re well on your way.

All Smart #1s also get a slim 9.2-inch driver’s digital instrument cluster with essential info, while Premium adds a useful head-up display.

The Smart #1’s cabin feels spacious (apparently, there’s the same interior space as a Mercedes-Benz E-Class), plush and funky. My only quibble is that I would prefer a lower seating position.

On the plus side, there’s plenty of head and leg room for rear passengers too. The 60:40 split rear seat also reclines and slides backwards and forwards.

Boot capacity ranges between 273 – 411 litres (up to 986 litres with the rear seats flipped), though the parcel shelf is low and the floor high, so the useable space is compromised. There’s also a tiny 15-litre “frunk” under the bonnet.

To get going there’s no Start button, it’s just a case of selecting a gear. You can choose between three driving modes – Eco, Comfort and Sport – though they only really alter the throttle response, steering weight and level of regenerative braking.

The first thing you notice on the road is how swift, smooth and refined the Smart #1 is. The ride is on the firm side, but it still manages to iron out all but the poorest of surfaces, while wind and road noise are well contained.

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Overall, it manages to hide its 1,800kg weight well and stays surprisingly flat in faster corners. Grip levels are impressive, too, though I suspect the rear could kick out if you floor it in the wet, such is the power from that motor.

There are settings via the touchscreen for the steering, but light is too light and heavy is hard work, so Auto will do just fine.

Thanks to its tight turning circle of 11 metres, good visibility (slender pillars) and plenty of glass, it’s agile and easy to manoeuvre in town. It’s fun on faster, twisty roads too, but it is at its best cruising smoothly.

Like most EVs, the brakes aren’t the most progressive, but they’re fine once you get used to them, though the brake regen is a tad fierce even at the weakest setting.

Ultimately, the Smart #1 has some of the best road manners in its class.

I also took the Brabus version out, and it’s capable of being savagely quick in a gut-wrenching way. Traction is impressive too, but without major changes to the suspension set-up (other than to compensate for the extra weight up front), it’s not quite as dynamic as it looks.

Awarded a maximum of five stars in crash testing by Euro NCAP, the Smart #1 is packed with the latest safety and driver assistance systems, and it achieved one of the highest Adult Occupant protection scores of the year with 96%.

There’s plenty of scope for personalisation externally too, with a wide range of colour and “floating” roof colour combinations. The full-length panoramic sunroof is worth a mention because it doesn’t eat into the headroom, unlike some rivals.

The Smart #1 comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty, plus an Integrated Service Package which includes maintenance and MOT, plus vehicle wear and tear items for three years/30,000 miles.

I’d need a week to assess its real-world range, but based on a day driving the Smart #1 on mixed roads, it seemed to hold its charge well and at least 200 miles would be a reasonable expectation – maybe closer to 240-250 miles in a city environment.

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The Smart #1 compact crossover is, quite simply, one of the best EVs in the £35-£40,000 price bracket. Classy, well equipped, surprisingly spacious, swift and safe, it’s also funky and delivers an entertaining drive.
Show More

Quality

4.00/5

Performance

4.00/5

Range

3.50/5

Comfort

4.00/5

Dynamics

3.50/5

Fast Facts

Price

£38,950

Battery Capacity

62 kWh

WLTP Range

273 miles

Maximum Power

266 bhp

Torque

253 lb-ft

0-60

6.7 secs

Top Speed

112 mph

Boot Capacity

273-
986 litres

Pros and Cons

Refined drive, good range
Well equipped
Competitively priced
Quality materials
Modest boot
Too touchscreen-focused
No Android Auto (yet)
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