New Volvo EX30 vs Smart #1

The all-new Volvo EX30 was developed using the same know-how that made the Smart #1 a class leader. But can the newcomer leapfrog its relative?...

New Volvo EX30 vs Smart #1 fronts

The contenders

NEW Volvo EX30 Single Motor Extended Range Plus

List price £38,545
Target Price £38,545

The smallest SUV yet from Volvo is based on the same underpinnings as the #1, but has a longer official range

Smart #1 Premium

List price £38,950
Target Price £38,950

With a plush interior and punchy performance, our reigning Small Electric SUV of the Year will be hard to beat

Like a reusable water bottle, a sustainably produced hiking jacket or a vegan-friendly backpack, the electric Volvo EX30 is both a fashion accessory and a talking point. Not only is it the smallest SUV yet from the Swedish brand, but the claim that it has the lowest carbon footprint of any Volvo to date makes quite a positive ecological statement.

But we know what you’re thinking: virtue signalling doesn’t come cheap. Well, in this case, things are different; the EX30’s starting price (albeit for a model with a relatively small battery) is very competitive. Meanwhile, even in the mid-tier Single Motor Extended Range Plus form we have here, it costs roughly the same as our reigning Small Electric SUV of the Year, the Smart #1 in Premium trim.

Volvo EX30 rear cornering

That social media-inspired name might be a bit cringeworthy, but the #1 will be tough to beat in most other regards; when we tested it previously, we were impressed by its punchy performance, quick charging and upmarket interior.

Then again, with Smart and Volvo both being owned by Chinese giant Geely, the #1 and EX30 actually have very similar underpinnings. And if any brand has shown it knows how to produce a highly desirable premium SUV, it’s Volvo.


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Each car is powered by a 268bhp electric motor that drives the rear wheels. So, although the EX30 proved slightly faster than the #1 in our tests (0-60mph took the former 5.5sec and the latter 5.9sec), both are much nippier than such rivals as the Hyundai Kona Electric (7.8sec) and Kia Niro EV (7.4sec).

Smart #1 rear cornering

Unlike those front-wheel-drive models, which can easily break traction when pulling out of slippery junctions, the #1 and EX30 have no problem putting their power down on the road; when accelerating, the physics of their weight shifting rearwards pushes the driven wheels harder against the Tarmac, increasing traction.

At least as important as sprinting ability, though, is stamina. And to test this, we charged the batteries of both cars to 90% and drove a route that simulated a mix of motorway, country and town driving (at our private test track so that traffic conditions wouldn’t influence the results).

The EX30 covered 2.8 miles for every kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity it consumed, giving it a hypothetical real-world range of 179 miles from its 64kWh (usable capacity) battery – nearly 40% short of its official range. While the #1 has a slightly smaller, 62kWh battery, its superior efficiency of 3.1 miles/kWh allowed it to cover a theoretical 190 miles between top-ups – a less drastic 30% shortfall from its official figure.

Volvo EX30 side driving

With the ambient temperature hovering around 10deg C, we suspect that some of the #1’s advantage came from the heat pump it has as standard. This is a more efficient way of warming up the interior than conventional heating and has less impact on range. The EX30 does without a heat pump unless you step up to the flagship Ultra trim.

It’s a shame neither car got closer to its official range, because both are unusually relaxing cruisers. In terms of noise at 70mph, they are separated by just 0.6dB, with the EX30 marginally better at blocking out the wind rushing past and the sound of the tyres passing over the road.

While the EX30 has a slightly firmer ride than the #1, it’s still supple enough to soak up most bumps and potholes comfortably, and it’s more adept at controlling body movements over undulations. The #1 doesn’t ride badly, but it tends to thud more over expansion joints and patched-up sections of bitumen.

Smart #1 side driving

By wider class standards, the #1 handles very tidily, being better to drive than the likes of the Jeep Avenger. However, it doesn’t feel as sharp through corners as the EX30 and suffers more body lean. Both have reasonably accurate steering, allowing you to place each car’s nose with confidence, although some drivers might find the EX30’s a little too light, even in its heaviest mode (of three).

Like almost all electric vehicles, the #1 and EX30 have regenerative braking systems that actively slow them down under deceleration while sending energy back into their batteries to help eke out range. The EX30 sheds speed promptly and smoothly when you lift off the accelerator pedal or press the brake pedal, but that’s not the case in the #1. Its system is hesitant and inconsistent in its responses; as a result, making smooth progress is trickier.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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