The original Smart car was a pioneer when it launched in 2001 and become a sales hit across Europe. As car buyers started to favour larger, more premium SUV models, sales of the humble Smart diminished.
That’s why the re-birth of Smart is so important to the brand and its dealers. It’s not just the car that’s new, either. Smart as a company has changed, quite considerably, with Volvo and Polestar owner Geely now holding a 50% stake in the company.
With its retailers now operating via an agency agreement, Smart is hoping its new car will deliver a significant boost in registrations.
The Smart #1 (pronounced hashtag one) is the first model to be co-developed. Mercedes took the lead in the car’s design inside and out. Geely, meanwhile, did the powertrain.
The result is a stylish, practical and capable compact electric SUV, that wades into battle against models such as the Hyundai Kona and VW ID3.
Unlike previous Smart models, the #1 is geared closer to the premium end of the market and, as such, has been given a more upmarket interior and improved ride and refinement.
Despite its footprint being close to that of a Nissan Juke, Smart claims that the #1 offers a comparable interior space to a Mercedes E-Class. Once inside, it’s clear the #1 is a roomy car. The rear seat space is particularly generous and there’s decent headroom for all occupants.
Boot space is less impressive, with just 273 litres on offer. You can sacrifice rear legroom for more luggage capacity by sliding the rear seat bench forward. This provides up to 411 litres of space.
It’s hard to miss the Smart #1’s 12.8-inch central touchscreen as it dominates the car’s interior. The high-resolution display delivers a high-tech and impressive user experience.
Many of the car’s functions can be handled by the voice-controlled personal assistant. For reasons we don’t quite understand, this takes the form of a crudely animated fox that pops up on the screen.
Prices for the Smart #1 start at £35,950, for the Pro+ version, rising to £38,950 for the Premium. Both use the same powertrain. A sportier, twin-motor, Brabus version is also available for £43,450.
There are no options to be added, only a choice of colour, and Smart is adopting a transparent fixed pricing policy to simplify transactions. A three-year servicing package is also included within the price.
Smart has bundled a high level of equipment in as standard, so even the entry-level Pro+ model has a 360-degree camera system, heated front seats, LED headlights and an electric tailgate.
The Premium adds a head-up display, Beats sound system and matrix LED lights. It also comes with a heat pump and a modified inverter, which provides a longer range.
Brabus variants have sportier body styling and suede upholstery.
The Smart #1 Pro+ and Premium use a 272PS electric motor that sends power to the rear wheels, giving punchy performance and a 0-62mph acceleration time of 6.7 seconds.
The Brabus version has a second electric motor that powers the front wheels. This pushes the power output to 428PS, giving a 0-62mph sprint time of just 3.9 seconds.
All models feature a 62kWh (useable) battery. It provides a range of 260 miles in the Pro+, 272 miles in the Premium and 248 in the Brabus.
The battery can be charged in around 30 minutes, using a 150kW rapid charger or in 10 hours using a home wallbox. The Premium and Brabus models can utilise 22kW AC chargers, too, shaving the charging time to around three hours.
The single motor cars feel suitably potent, giving punchy acceleration when needed. The Brabus model is fiercely rapid when you step on the throttle, especially if you select the Brabus driving mode, which also firms up the steering and suspension.
In either guise, the Smart #1 is enjoyable to drive without feeling overtly sporty. There is firmness to the ride that can become harsh over potholes and rough roads, but in most situations the #1 is comfortable.
The steering is light and direct in feel, which provides a nimble feel to the handling. At higher speeds and on the motorway the car remains stable and relaxing to drive.
We found some of the driver assistance systems to be a little over-bearing, with repeat warnings of “driver distracted”. The car does score highly in Euro NCAP safety tests though, with a five-star rating. It also comes with adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist as standard.
The #1 marks an important step forward for Smart. It’s stylish, well-equipped and good to drive. Competitive pricing places it keenly against rivals and, while the boot is a little small and there’s a few irritations with the technology, the overall package is highly desirable.