What Car? says...
The Smart #1 represents the start of a radical new era for a company best known for those tiny two-seat city cars you see taking advantage of impossibly small parking spaces.
A few years ago, Smart’s original owner, Mercedes, signed a 50/50 partnership with Chinese car maker Geely to reinvent the brand as an electric car specialist with an entirely new line-up of models.
The Smart #1 – which you're supposed to call the “Smart Hashtag One” – is the first product of the joint venture. As you can probably tell from the photos, it's not another tiny city car. In fact, this small SUV is similar in size to the BYD Atto 3, Hyundai Kona Electric, Jeep Avenger, Kia Niro EV and Peugeot e-2008.
But does the Smart #1 deserve to become as popular as a viral tweet? Or is it as bang on trend as MySpace? That's what we'll tell you in this review. Read on and we'll run you through how this fully electric car stacks up for range, charging, practicality and performance, plus we'll also tell you which version makes the most sense.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The entry-level Smart #1 has a 268bhp electric motor driving its rear wheels and is quicker than any of its direct rivals. It can officially do 0-62mph in a zippy 6.7 seconds, but in our tests it sprinted from 0-60mph in just 5.8. For context, the similarly priced BYD Atto 3 and Kia Niro EV took around 7.5 seconds, while the Jeep Avenger took 8.7.
The performance-focused Brabus version adds a second electric motor driving the front wheels. That gives it four-wheel drive and a big jump in power to 422bhp. The 0-62mph time drops dramatically to 3.9 seconds, so it's as fast as an Audi RS3. It feels brutally quick and builds speed so effortlessly it's hilarious.
Whichever version you go for, the #1 gets a 62kWh (usable capacity) battery. That gives the Pro+ model an official range of 260 miles, while the Premium – which has a slightly more efficient motor – can officially manage 276 miles. In our real range test a #1 Premium travelled 245 miles before running out of juice – that’s 30 miles more than the Atto 3.
Relatively firm suspension makes for a slightly choppy low-speed ride, but on faster A-roads and motorways, the #1 rides more smoothly than most rivals, including the Atto 3 and the Avenger.
The #1 feels more alert and sportier than those cars at low speeds. The steering is well-judged, with a natural response and a reassuring amount of weighting in the heavier of its three driving modes. You have to push it hard through a series of bends to make it lose any of its composure.
Refinement is good, with just a bit of road noise on a motorway and the occasional suspension thump at low speeds disturbing the peace inside.
The braking is the only real weak spot, with the sharp brake pedal causing it to slow quickly with even a light touch. You can also slow down through regenerative braking but it takes some getting used to because there’s a slight pause between you lifting off and the braking force kicking in.
The Brabus version hasn't been given a huge mechanical makeover, just a whole lot more power. It remains pretty agile for an electric SUV at low speeds, but the tyres can feel overwhelmed when you make full use of the power – especially in the most aggressive Brabus drive mode.
Meanwhile, the #1 Brabus's suspension struggles to contain body movements as it pitches back and forth when you press on. Many petrol hot hatchbacks – such as the VW Golf R – are more confidence-inspiring and handle with far more finesse.
Strengths Strong refinement; agile handling; quick performance
Weaknesses Powerful Brabus version could be more composed
The interior layout, fit and finish
You don't sit far from the road by SUV standards, but otherwise the driving position in the Smart #1 is tough to fault. The seat supports you in all the right places and there's plenty of electric adjustment (including adjustable lumbar support) to help you get comfortable.
Visibility is good, thanks to upright, slender windscreen pillars and a low dashboard. Impressively, all models come with front and rear parking sensors, and a 360-degree bird's eye view camera to help out with parking.
The 9.2in digital instrument panel looks quite narrow, but it’s bright, crisp and easy to read with all the information you need. Premium and Brabus versions have a head-up display that projects your speed and other information on to the windscreen in your line of sight.
A big 12.8in touchscreen infotainment system sits in the middle of the dashboard. On the plus side, the screen is very responsive to touch inputs, you can play games on it, and there's a pet mode so you can leave an animal in the car without it getting dangerously hot (Teslas offer the same function).
You have to use the touchscreen (or the hit-and-miss voice control) to adjust the air-con. We'd prefer physical controls, like the ones you get in the Jeep Avenger, and it's also a faff that you have to use the screen to adjust the door mirrors.
The #1's interior quality impresses, though. There are plenty of soft-touch materials, and while there's also a lot of hard plastic, it's good-quality plastic – like the kind you might find on a high-end Apple product.
The entry-level Pro model has artificial leather seats, while the Premium gets genuine leather. Meanwhile, the Brabus version has grippy faux-suede upholstery.
Strengths High quality interior; great visibility; crisp displays
Weaknesses Some basic features are hidden in the infotainment system
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Space up front is good, and despite the Smart #1's minimalist interior look, there are plenty of storage compartments. In the back, you’ll find a surprisingly decent amount of head room (enough for six-footers), and leg room is good too.
It edges the Kia Niro EV and the BYD Atto 3 in that respect, and also beats the Hyundai Kona Electric. The flat floor (common to most electric SUVs) makes life relatively comfy for someone sitting in the middle seat.
The rear seatback splits and folds down in a 60/40 split, and there's a ski hatch in the middle so you can poke long items through between two passengers. Unusually at this price point, the Smart #1 has sliding and reclining rear seats so you can juggle between boot space and rear-seat comfort.
Rather less impressive is the boot. We managed to fit in just three carry-on suitcases below the load cover, four with the seats slid forwards, compared with five in the Jeep Avenger, six in the Atto 3 and seven in the Niro EV.
That doesn't tell the whole story, though, because there's a useful amount of underfloor storage (plenty for the charging cables). There's also a small front boot under the bonnet, although it's roughly the size of a lunchbox. A powered tailgate is standard on all trims.
Strengths Spacious for all occupants; versatile rear seats
Weaknesses Tiny boot
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The Smart #1 isn't as cheap as an MG4 EV or an MG ZS EV but it does undercut some key rivals, including the BYD Atto 3 and the Kia Niro EV. It's predicted to hang on to its value fairly well too, although expect slightly faster depreciation than with a Niro EV.
There are two trims for the regular #1 – called Pro+ and Premium. Entry-level Pro+ is really well equipped, with dual-zone climate control, heated seats, adaptive cruise control, a sunroof and keyless entry. However, we reckon Premium is worth the extra because it adds a heat pump (for more efficient warming of the interior), matrix LED headlights and a head-up display.
The Brabus version adds some sporty styling touches, including bonnet vents, red brake calipers and seatbelts, and an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel.
The #1 was awarded the full five-star rating by safety experts Euro NCAP when they tested it in 2022. What’s also very impressive is the fact that you get lots of safety equipment as standard, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, and front and rear cross-traffic alert. Some car brands save their best safety equipment for the range-topping trim level.
For peace of mind, every #1 comes with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty, while the battery has its own eight years/125,000 miles warranty. To help minimise running costs, a service package covers the initial three years or 30,000 miles and includes wear-and-tear items such as brake pads and windscreen wipers (but not tyres).
Strengths Well equipped; competitive price; fast charging capability; generous safety equipment
Weaknesses Nothing major, but the warranty period could be longer
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The #1 is built in China by its part-owner Geely.
The Smart #1 is 4270mm long, 1822mm wide and 1636mm tall. The Brabus version is 30mm longer.
|RRP price range||£35,950 - £43,450|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||2|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||electric|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / No mileage cap|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£72 / £87|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£144 / £174|