Road tests

New Smart #3 2024 review: is three the magic number?

The Smart #3 improves on the things the #1 struggled with, but it's far from perfect

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Verdict

Somehow, Smart has carved out a clever niche in the electric coupe-SUV market with the Smart #3. We’ll have to wait to drive it in the UK before giving our definitive verdict, but the omens are good so far. Plaudits go to Smart for listening to criticisms of the #1, thereby making the #3 a much more appealing package.  

The launch of the Smart #1 was a huge moment for the brand. It introduced a new design for the maker, a new naming system, and most importantly, new technology from parent company Geely. But with only a lukewarm reception, Smart is aiming to right a few of the #1’s wrongs with this: a coupe-SUV called the #3. 

As well as Geely, Mercedes holds equal ownership of Smart. But it’s the Chinese firm’s Sustainable Experience Architecture (SEA) you’ll find beneath the #3’s swoopy body – the same platform that underpins the new Volvo EX30 and the Zeekr X

At a glance, the #3 looks almost identical to the #1, with similar light bars front and rear, a similar grille shape, plus recognisable rounded surfacing. The body is bespoke to the #3 however, sitting lower, wider and longer than the #1. It’s the same height as a Volkswagen ID.3, so the ‘coupe-SUV’ tagline could easily be swapped out for ‘four-door coupe’ depending on your tastes. As a result, the #3 has no direct rivals at its price point of £39,950 (for this Premium trim level) – £1,000 more than the equivalent #1. 

The design changes continue inside, with round air vents and minor tweaks to the centre console. The materials used are the same too, which is a shame because while it’s a pleasant design, there are a lot of cheap-feeling plastics dotted around.

You might expect the #3’s lower roof to impact on headspace, but the seat has been lowered for a sportier driving position. Space in the rear isn’t a problem for tall adults, as the panoramic roof (standard fit on all #3 trim levels) allows for a bit of extra headroom and legroom is decent too. As the #3 is longer than the #1, there's actually more room in the boot with 370 litres in the #3, compared to the #1's maximum 323 litres. 

There's not much in the way of customisation with the #3. Smart will only allow customers to choose paint finishes and a few interior trim detailing on top of their trim levels as a way of making the #3 feel more premium as standard. It's well-equipped though with the entry-level £32,950 #3 Pro version comes with a sunroof, automatic LED headlights, a 360-degree camera, 19-inch wheels, heated front seats and a powered bootlid. The £36,950 Pro+ adds leather seats, wireless smartphone charging and Smart Pilot assist. 

Premium is next with a head-up display, an uprated sound system, automatic parking assist, a heat pump and ambient lighting. A 25th Anniversary Edition has also been revealed with exclusive colours, trim and badging, although this is yet to be confirmed for the UK. Finally, there’s the Smart #3 Brabus (from £45,450) with its 20-inch wheels, suede seats, unique bodykit, and red detailing inside and out. 

All models get an impressive 12.8-inch central screen and 9.2-inch instrument cluster. The driver’s display does sit a little low in the dash although we expect this was done with the driver attention camera in mind. The touchscreen is a little busy, with lots of information, but we expect you’ll learn where the main functions are pretty quickly after living with it. Compared to the #1's infotainment system it also felt less laggy. 

What you’ll probably not get used to is the incessant nannying from the driver attention systems. Smart says it has taken steps to lessen interference, and it’s certainly less intrusive than the #1’s, but turning your head at junctions, wiping your face, or even drinking a bottle of water, will sometimes set it off. 

The Pro gets a 49kWh battery, while all other models feature a larger 62kWh unit with a single-motor on the rear axle. Brabus versions get a dual-motor set up. Premium cars get a 283-mile range – 10 miles up on the equivalent #1 – thanks to improved aerodynamics. Charging speeds of 150kW mean you can recharge the #3 from 10 to 80 per cent in under 30 minutes; the same as the #1. Smart hasn't revealed efficiency figures for the #3 but we managed a respectable 3.8miles/kWh on a gentle cruise. 

Jumping into the #3 you immediately notice you’re in a sleeker car with a more driver-focused seating position in relation to the #1. Smart has stiffened the springs and dampers, so the ride is a little firmer than in the #1. But on the smooth roads of Mallorca, we found the #3 nicely settled. With marginally wider tyres, road noise is quite noticeable – as is wind noise at motorway speeds. 

Without the option of adaptive dampers, there’s still not a great deal of feedback through the suspension. The initial response from the front end is a little vague, although the #3 keeps body roll in check, despite the relatively hefty 1,810kg kerbweight. 

There’s a selection of driving modes just as you’d get with the #1: Eco, Comfort and Sport. They don’t really impact the driving experience all that much, the steering is a bit heavier in Sport, though you can independently change this in the vehicle settings menu. The throttle pedal is a bit too responsive in Eco and Comfort mode (especially for stop/start town driving) although it seems better calibrated in the sportier setting. 

We didn’t much like the brake regeneration system in the #1 and it’s sadly the same story with the #3. There’s still a delay between lifting off the accelerator pedal and the regen kicking in, which interferes with your ability to modulate your speed. The more powerful ‘E-Pedal’ mode is selected via the touchscreen and requires a 10-second wait to confirm, though once engaged there’s still a delay. While it’ll brake harder, it’s not quite one-pedal driving. 

With 268bhp and 343Nm of torque, the Smart #3 feels plenty potent enough for the chassis. Turn off the traction control and it’ll allow for a little bit of slip, which is just about gathered by the slightly numb steering. Power delivery is rampant up to about 60mph, but tails off slightly at motorway speeds. Overtaking at speed is no chore, though; there’s still a typically immediate EV response from the motor. 

It’s rare we’ll recommend a coupe-SUV over its more spacious SUV sibling, but the #3 feels like a more-rounded proposition than the #1. There are mild advances in the driving dynamics, and the technology is less annoying. Smart is certainly on the right path with the #3.

Model:Smart #3 Premium
Price:£39,950
Powertrain:62kWh battery/1x e-motor
Power/torque:268bhp/343Nm
Transmission:Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
0-62mph:5.8 seconds
Top speed:112mph
Range/charging:283 miles/150kW 10-80% <30mins
On sale:Spring 2024
Senior news reporter

A keen petrol-head, Alastair Crooks has a degree in journalism and worked as a car salesman for a variety of manufacturers before joining Auto Express in Spring 2019 as a Content Editor. Now, as our senior news reporter, his daily duties involve tracking down the latest news and writing reviews.

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