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In-depth reviews

Smart #1 review: a fast and funky small electric SUV

Performance, efficiency and practicality are Smart #1 highlights, but it needs ride quality and infotainment improvements to best its rivals

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

Price
£31,950 to £43,450
  • Strong performance
  • Spacious cabin
  • Impressive efficiency
  • Ride quality
  • Fussy infotainment system
  • Intrusive assist systems
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Quick verdict

New starts are hard, but despite this, the Smart #1 shows plenty of promise. We can’t knock it for over delivering on performance, having a spacious interior with a nifty sliding rear seat, or being quite efficient, which helps get more range out of its battery pack.

However, there’s still work to be done nailing down the ride and handling balance, especially in the case of the high-performance Brabus version, which isn’t what you want in a car with a sub-four second 0-62mph acceleration time. Some quirks to its infotainment system need ironing out, and we’ve found its safety assistance technology to be highly annoying and a bit distracting while driving.

Key specs

Fuel type

Electric

Body style

Five-door compact SUV

Powertrain

1x e-motor, 47kWh (useable) battery, rear-wheel drive

1x e-motor, 62kWh (useable) battery, rear-wheel drive

2x e-motor, 62kWh (useable)  battery, four-wheel drive

Safety

5-star EuroNCAP (2022)

Warranty

3yrs/unlimited mileage

Smart #1: price, specs and rivals

Smart has had a tumultuous existence. Once the brainchild of a Swiss watch manufacturer CEO and a joint venture with Mercedes (or Daimler-Benz as it was known at the time), the brand has predominantly been making tiny two-seater city cars since 1998. The emphasis was on low running costs, compact dimensions for ease of parking, and clever engineering to ensure the brand’s tiny vehicles were as safe as bigger ones.

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However, all this additional safety technology and the lack of commonality with other cars in the Mercedes line-up made them expensive. Smart’s offerings often cost about the same as a bigger car with more seats and better all-round usability, potentially explaining why Smart cars haven’t been all that popular in the UK. 

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So now there’s been a complete rethink and a change in the partnership structure. Mercedes is still a joint owner, but Chinese car manufacturer Geely is also in the mix, and with the combined efforts of Volvo and Zeeker, has developed a new platform which not only underpins this Smart #1, but the Volvo EX30 and Zeeker X as well. It has also spawned the Smart #3, and will continue to underpin other future models for the brand.

Another kicker is that Smart cars will no longer have the petrol engines or the jerky automated manual gearboxes that were regularly criticised in older Smart models. Instead, there will only be smooth electric drivetrains. There are two power outputs with the Smart #1: the standard single electric motor, rear-wheel drive model with 268bhp that’s available with Pro, Pro+ and Premium trims, or the high-performance Brabus model with two electric motors, giving you four-wheel drive and 422bhp. There’s also a choice of two battery sizes, from a 49kWh pack (47kWh useable) found in the entry-level Pro, while the rest come with a 69kWh battery pack (62kWh useable).

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There are four trim levels, starting with the well-equipped Pro trim. It comes with all the stuff you’d need, including 19-inch alloy wheels, LED head and tail lights, an electric tailgate, auto lights and wipers, adaptive cruise, dual-zone climate control, and ambient interior lighting. Next up is Pro+ (not a caffeinated tablet), which gives you a larger battery pack. The Premium trim adds matrix LED headlights, a head-up display, a fancier sound system, wireless phone charging, and (most importantly) a heat pump. The Brabus trim mentioned above is the only way to get four-wheel drive, and adds sportier exterior and interior design details on top of all the equipment a Premium trim gets you.

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Prices start at just under £32,000, undercutting the most basic Kia Niro EV and Renault Megane E-Tech, as well as the Volvo EX30 upon which the #1 is based. Opting for the larger battery and posher Premium trim raises the price to nearly £39,000, before topping out at nearly £43,500 for the Brabus version, which is around where the BMW iX1 starts.

Electric motor, drive and performance

Plenty of performance, but we’re not confident the suspension and handling dynamics of the #1 can handle it just yet

Model 

Power

0-62mph

Top speed

Smart #1 Pro 49kWh

268bhp

6.7 seconds

112mph

Smart #1 Brabus 66kWh

422bhp

3.9 seconds

112mph

If there are any lingering memories about the slow performance of old Smart cars, then the #1 will dispel them immediately. The straight-line speed is a world away because even the least powerful model has 268bhp and surges through the 0-62mph sprint in 6.7 seconds – that’s the same as the hot-hatch rivalling Ford Puma ST

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If that isn’t enough, then there’s the even more bonkers Brabus version with 422bhp. Combined with the additional traction of four-wheel drive, it launches from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds, outgunning even the more expensive BMW iX1 and plenty of high-performance petrol cars.

All this power is great for the traffic light Grand Prix, but we have many corners in this country, along with a wide range of road types of varying quality, so it needs to be backed up by well-sorted suspension to keep things controlled. 

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Unfortunately, some work still needs to be done here. Things aren’t helped by the fact that the #1 (like all electric cars) has a heavy battery pack contributing to a not inconsiderable kerb weight (up to 1900kg in Brabus form). You’ll feel that weight because the soft suspension and under-damped shock absorbers of the #1 lead to an unsettled ride that struggles to control the car’s mass. We’ve found it to be bumpy at low speeds over potholes and speed bumps, excessive body roll on twisty B roads, and a tendency to feel bouncy at speed when loaded up.

There are three different settings for the steering weight, of which we think the middle ‘comfort’ option is best. Sport adds additional heft, but it’s a bit much for what most buyers will want from a small electric SUV – especially when parking in town. 

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We’re also disappointed by the regenerative braking system – an important part of an electric vehicle. Regenerative braking is a helpful way of recouping some energy for the battery that would otherwise be wasted as heat by the brakes of a normal car while slowing down for things like roundabouts, junctions, or traffic. In many EVs, like those from Tesla, as soon as you lift off the accelerator, the car slows in a predictable manner, leading to what many call a one-pedal driving mode. It can be a smooth way of slowing down, and you benefit from improving efficiency in the process.

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However, the settings for the regenerative braking can be a little confusing in the #1. There’s a low and a high mode, but the latter isn’t strong enough for one-pedal driving, so you’ll be tempted to use the e-pedal setting (although that’s buried within a sub-menu). Unfortunately, this mode has an unpredictable delay between when you lift off the accelerator and the car starting to slow down. When it does so, it can be too grabby, causing the nose to dip due to the soft suspension. This makes it very hard to drive the #1 smoothly, leading to much frustration when behind the wheel, especially when trundling through stop/start traffic, which isn’t something we experienced in a similarly sized Renault Megane E-Tech.

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That frustration will be increased by the nannying safety assistance systems that constantly interfere with the steering when travelling down a narrow country lane, and can get quite aggressive when you move out to try and give a cyclist a wide birth, for example. The driver attention monitor is also deeply frustrating because it can go off when looking to check that the coast is clear at a junction, or if you take a sip from a water bottle. 

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All isn’t lost for those who’ve set their heart on getting a Smart, because we’ve driven the upcoming Smart #3. Its firmer suspension settings and longer wheelbase contribute a much more settled and confidence-inspiring drive, and it still has the cute looks that make the #1 such an appealing proposition.

Range, charging & running costs

Respectable range, charging speed and residual values are offset by higher insurance costs than rivals

Model 

Battery size

Range

Insurance group

Smart #1 Pro 49kWh

47kWh (useable)

193 miles

30

Smart #1 Premium 66kWh 

62kWh (useable)

273 miles

32

Smart #1 Brabus 66kWh

62kWh (useable)

248 miles

38

The Smart #1 range starts with a 49kWh (47kWh useable) battery pack in the entry-level Pro version, while all other versions come with a 66kWh (62kWh useable) battery pack. In the entry-level Pro model provides 193 miles of range, rising to 260 miles using the larger battery in the Pro+ model. This increases to 273 miles for the Premium model, while the top-of-the-range Brabus with four-wheel drive and additional power drops this down to 248 miles.

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If you’re thinking it’s odd that the pricier Premium model goes further than the Pro+ version despite using the same size battery, that’s because a heat pump comes as standard on the former. This device is a much more efficient way of heating the interior of the car in cold weather, and provides a welcome boost in range. During our testing of a Premium trim test car against a Renault Megane E-Tech, our results suggested that over 230 miles of range in warmer weather is achievable.

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The zero tailpipe emissions of the #1 mean it’ll be beneficial to company car drivers paying Benefit-in-Kind (BIK) rates, because it sits in the low two per cent category – at least until 2025. That’s much lower than similarly sized petrol or diesel small SUVs, or plug-in hybrid alternatives such as the Renault Captur.

Unfortunately, the nippy electric car performance we described earlier means your insurance costs will be higher than the equivalent petrol or diesel alternative. The least expensive Pro is in group 30, while the high-performance Brabus is in group 38. That’s a lot higher than a regular petrol small SUV, such as the 1.0 TSI SE SEAT Arona, which is only in group nine. If you’re after an EV with lower insurance costs, a Vauxhall Mokka Electric starts in group 21, while the highly regarded Megane E-Tech starts in group 26.

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According to our experts, depreciation for the Smart #1 should be reasonable by class standards, maintaining between 48-53 per cent of its resale value over three years and 36,000 miles. The best performer is the entry-level Pro, with the worst being the priciest Brabus. The Kia Niro EV in 2 trim does a little better than the #1 by hanging onto 56 per cent of its value.

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Find a suitably fast rapid charger, and you can top-up the 49kWh (47kWh useable) and 66kWh (62kWh useable) versions from 10-80 per cent charge in around 30 minutes. The smaller pack will take up to 130kW, while the larger one will take up to 150kW.

Most will probably use cheaper overnight electricity and charge up using a 7.4kW wallbox charger at home. The smaller battery pack will take up to 7.5 hours to fully recharge, while the larger capacity battery will take up to 10 hours to refill a flat battery.

Design, interior & technology

A smart looking interior is slightly spoilt by cheap plastics, and an occasional infotainment system glitch

The exterior design for the #1 came from the European side of the partnership, while the Sustainable Experience Architecture (SEA) – all the mechanical bits beneath that handsome body – are the work of Geely. It’s a partnership that, on the face of it, looks to have worked well. The bold design is very premium looking, and the free two-tone paint scheme helps it stand out against competitors.

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The interior is the highlight of the #1, because it looks like the work of a premium manufacturer, and it certainly feels like co-parent brand Mercedes had a hand in the action of the cubby lids, and the tactile feeling buttons on the steering wheel. The clever use of bold shapes, textures, and the visual delight of the 64-colour ambient lighting help to distract from the inevitable cheaper plastics mounted lower down. Overall, the effect is still impressive, giving a fresh, modern, and minimalist look.

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The driver has a 9.2-inch digital cluster tucked into the dashboard that’s a little on the small side. You can get around this by opting for a Premium trim with a head-up display, which projects important information directly onto the windscreen in your line of sight, and means you don’t need to refocus your eyes from the road. The Volvo EX30 doesn’t get this handy feature on any version, and you have to resort to looking over towards the central screen to find important information like what speed you’re going, because you don’t even get an instrument cluster in front of the driver.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

All versions of #1 get a 12.8in central touchscreen that’s reasonably responsive to your inputs. It has a rather busy-looking home screen that is a little difficult to navigate compared with the simpler sub-menus within the infotainment system, although we suspect that most will get used to it over an extended period. We did note that the animated fox (which acts as a home screen companion) was a little glitchy in the early build cars we’ve tested, so hopefully, this will be mended with an over-the-air software update.

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Those initial cars we tried didn’t have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone capability, but we were promised that this would be sorted via an update, and any orders placed since October 2023 would have this connectivity upon delivery. There are four USB-C charging points (two up front, and two for rear seat passengers), while a wireless phone charging pad is provided from Premium trim and above.

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The Beats sound system doesn’t really live up to the high-end ambitions you’d expect for an uprated speaker set-up. For its 640-watt output and 13 speakers, it’s a bit underwhelming to our ears.

Boot space, comfort & practicality

A neat sliding rear seat aids both passenger room and boot space; decent towing capability is a welcome surprise

Dimensions

Length

4,270mm

Width

1,822mm

Height

1,636mm

Number of seats

5

Boot space 

323 litres (313 litres Brabus)

You sit quite high up in the compact SUV body, and when combined with a large amount of glass all around, you have excellent visibility in all directions. You still get front and rear parking sensors, plus a 360-degree camera system to help you out when parking. Space is good up front, with enough head, leg, and shoulder room for a pair of six-footers. 

The high centre console has three separate lidded bins to give you many places to hide things from prying eyes. The front pocket can hold a smartphone, while the middle lid reveals a pair of cupholders. The largest space is at the back, with a long, deep area for storing larger items. 

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An ISOFIX point is mounted on the front passenger seat (ensure the passenger airbag is disabled when a rear-facing child seat is fitted), and two ISOFIX points are provided on the outer positions of the sliding rear bench. 

There’s lots of legroom in the rear, and headroom is good despite the panoramic glass roof. We found more space in the back of the #1 than in the Megane E-Tech, which is undoubtedly helped by the sliding rear bench. The floor is flat with no central tunnel, so there’s plenty of foot space for three passengers. The one minor downside is that the seat backrests are quite firm.

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At only 323 litres (Premium and Brabus models lose 10 litres due to the Beats Audio system’s subwoofer), the boot seems small against the 440 litres provided by the Megane E-Tech. However, the boot floor of the #1 is level with the bumper, making it less of a hassle to heave heavier items over the awkward loading lip in the Renault. Plus, the #1 has a neat, square shape boot area with a wide opening, making it actually quite useful.

You can always slide the rear seats forward for a little more capacity, or fold them down completely. Doing so increases the volume to 986 litres (976 litres for Premium and Brabus models) – and that figure measures only to the window line rather than the roof. There’s a decent amount of extra storage under the false boot floor, and the #1 also has an additional storage space under the bonnet – ideal for storing dirty or wet charging cables and keeping them away from your luggage in the boot. 

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Aside from the entry-level Pro model, all two-wheel drive 66kWh and four-wheel drive Brabus models have a 1,600kg braked towing rating, which is good for an electric car. If you need to pull greater weights, you’ll either need a pricer electric car, or head back to a fossil fuel vehicle such as a diesel-powered VW T-Roc, because that small SUV can lug around 1,700kg.

Safety & reliability

It’s too early to discuss the reliability of an all-new car built in a new factory, but safety is top-notch

Key standard safety features

Euro NCAP ratings

  • 5 out of 5 stars (tested 2022)
  • Adult occupant protection - 96%
  • Child occupant protection - 89%
  • Vulnerable road users - 71%
  • Safety assist - 88%

The Smart #1 received a maximum five-star rating from safety experts EuroNCAP. It scored better than the Megan E-Tech in all areas. It even beats the pricier Nissan Ariya in most areas apart from the ‘vulnerable road users’ and ‘safety assist’ categories.

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You get a lot of safety technology as standard, including adaptive cruise control to keep you a safe distance from the vehicle in front, a lane-keeping assist system to help keep you within your lane, and also intervene if you’re about to collide with a vehicle travelling alongside you in your blindspot, and a cross-traffic alert system to warn you of vehicles crossing your path when reversing or entering a main road from a junction. 

It’s a bit early to say what the reliability of the #1 will be because it’s the first of a new line-up of Smart cars built on a new platform. It’s also built at a different manufacturing plant in China, whereas all previous Smart cars were built in a factory in Hambach, France. From a superficial build quality standpoint, we’ve so far been impressed with certain aspects of the fit and finish of the #1, such as the damping of the few interior buttons it has, and the action of all the covers on the centre console. Some cheaper plastics are used inside, but that criticism can also be levelled at far pricier electric rivals to the #1. 

Should you buy a Smart #1?

The #1 is undoubtedly an impressive first effort in terms of interior space, performance, efficiency, and safety. It has several thoughtful details, such as a front boot to help keep dirty charging cables away from your luggage, and a sliding rear seat to improve versatility. Plus, it looks very smart (ahem). We’d recommend going for one in Premium trim because its standard heat pump helps boost efficiency in colder weather, and contributes to this model having the best range of all the #1 models.

However, it needs another round of polishing on its suspension to give it the surefooted handling it should have given the power on offer. And we’d like the regenerative braking to be given another going over so that we can drive it as smoothly as its electric car competition. For now, rivals like the Renault Megane E-Tech are more worthwhile options for spending your money.

Frequency Asked Questions
There’s a lot of potential in the Smart #1. It provides a decent electric range for the money, has a flexible sliding rear seat to aid leg room or boot space, and is very safe. However, it misses out on our recommendation over the Renault Megane E-Tech because it could do with improvements to the ride, and have less intrusive safety systems.
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Online Reviews Editor

Max looks after the reviews on the Auto Express website. He’s been a motoring journalist since 2017 and has written for Autocar, What Car?, Piston Heads, DrivingElectric, Carbuyer, Electrifying, and Good Motoring Magazine.

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