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Road tests

New Smart #1 Premium 2023 review

Smart's new small but spacious electric crossover is aimed at younger buyers

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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Verdict

There's a really good car lurking somewhere within the Smart #1, but the ride quality needs to be better and improvements to the infotainment would help, too. However, we can’t fault the range and charging capability, or the level of kit you get for the price. It’s a practical crossover that’s exactly the kind of car a young, urban brand such as Smart should be making. It just needs a little finessing.

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Smart is back for the electric era as part of a 50:50 joint venture between Mercedes and Geely. The former has brought the design, while the latter has delivered the platform for the reborn Smart brand’s first vehicle since its return, the #1 (pronounced “hashtag one”).

We’ve had a chance to try this new brand-defining car in the UK, with Smart moving from compact city cars to crossovers – although it has prior experience with electrification, having embarked on a trial project with the Smart ForTwo EV in 2008.

This, however, is a different proposition. Under the smoothly styled skin sits Geely’s SEA platform, the same architecture that underpins the forthcoming Volvo EX30. The 62kWh battery provides 260 miles of range in the entry-level Pro+ model, which is priced at £35,950. The Premium model we tried has a range of 273 miles and a starting price of £38,950.

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All #1s feature adaptive cruise control, heated seats, a 360-degree camera set-up, LED lights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (from October-delivery cars – customers who receive their vehicles in September will be offered this as a free over-the-air update), climate control, all-round parking sensors, a panoramic roof and 19-inch wheels. There’s a three-year, 30,000-mile service pack included, too. Premium models add a Beats stereo, a head-up display, matrix LED headlights and park assist.

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The tech inside consists of a responsive 12.8-inch screen. However, the homepage layout is a little confused; the page of icons and sub-menus for different areas of the system are much easier to navigate.

But the animations of the #1’s ‘fox’ personal assistant are glitchy. We could leave that gimmick, to be honest, just as
we could leave the annoying and overactive driver-attention warning. 

However, the other technology on offer is a match for the best vehicles in this class, including the 150kW charging capability that’ll replenish the battery from 10 to 80 per cent in less than 30 minutes.

While the SEA platform might have helped keep costs down, it has its limitations on Britain’s broken roads. Sitting on 19-inch wheels, the Smart’s ride is bumpy at low speed. You feel the weight in the car because the #1’s reactions to depressions in the road are more aggressive than you might imagine, but as the speed rises the comfort level does, too.

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The steering is devoid of feel and there are three different assistance modes, which seems needless in a family SUV. The middle setting for weight is the best.

And when it comes to settings, the brake regeneration is a little confusing. You can either choose a low or a high mode, but the latter doesn’t offer one-pedal driving. However, an e-pedal setting is also available, although the toggle for it is located in a separate menu to the standard brake regen options. In this mode it will bring the car to a standstill and the level of retardation when you lift off is stronger.

But this is also responsible for one of the #1’s less appealing traits. There’s a delay as you lift off the accelerator and the regen kicks in, which makes it hard to modulate your speed and therefore drive smoothly, especially in traffic. As a result of the weight and the grabby regen, the #1 can often dip its nose aggressively when lifting off.

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It’s a shame, because with 268bhp and 343Nm from its rear-mounted motor, the Smart is a quick car, taking 6.7 seconds to accelerate from 0-62mph. It’s the low and mid-speed punch that makes it so easy to drive, and acceleration even at motorway speeds is strong, as is refinement. There’s very little motor whine, even compared with premium EVs, so the #1 is quiet. 

Quality is a mixed bag. There are some nice materials and touches inside, such as the soft pad to rest your knee on where the wing-like dash curves down into the centre console, which offers a huge amount of storage. However, some of the plastics feel decidedly less premium.

The interior’s strong point is the level of space on offer. This is a 4.27-metre-long car that offers as much space as a Mercedes E-Class inside, according to Smart. There’s lots of legroom in the rear, and headroom is good, despite the panoramic sunroof. Boot space stands at 411 litres in this Premium model (10 litres less than Pro+ because of the subwoofer), so practicality is good.

Model:Smart #1 Premium
Price:£38,950
Powertrain:62kWh batt./1x e-motor
Power/torque:268bhp/343Nm
Transmission:Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
0-62mph:6.7 seconds
Top speed:111mph
Range/charging:273 miles/150kW
On sale:Late August
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Sean’s been writing about cars since 2010, having worked for outlets as diverse as PistonHeads, MSN Cars, Which? Cars, Race Tech – a specialist motorsport publication – and most recently Auto Express and sister titles Carbuyer and DrivingElectric

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