EV review: New Smart #1 may have the recipe just right

It may lack the innovation of the original Smart, but its links to Mercedes could be its route to success

Smart #1

It’s a long overdue return for the Smart brand that failed to spark to life when its innovative two-seater city car first hit the streets at the turn of the century.

The little ForTwo was an eye-catcher at the time, but a mix of high price and limited practicality meant it was most popular on a few pioneering car-sharing schemes or as a mobile billboard for marketing companies.

Aside from its price, the Smart’s other weakness was an infuriating automatic gearbox on the first- and second-generation models. It was truly awful.

And while the Smart ForTwo worked relatively well in the big European cities, it didn’t do much on the Irish market. Is this second coming going to be a success?


The noisy little engine was never the star of the show, so replacing it with an electric motor shouldn’t matter to the brand.

Part of its opportunity now is that the brand is now a joint venture between Mercedes and China’s Zhejiang Geely Group – which also owns Volvo and Polestar, along with several other brands.

And with the public clearly open to adopting new brands, Smart has a much better chance to win over buyers, provided it gets its proposition right.

It’s also strategically timely for Mercedes. The brand is planning to cull its smaller models and focus on the top-end of its market where volumes are lower, but margins are much better. Smart leaves them with skin in the game, and a way for its dealers who take on the brand to retain the customers. For Geely, it offers another model to use its electric car platform – dubbed SEA – which already underpins the likes of the Volvo EX30.

Setting aside all the business reasons for building this car, the Smart #1 does seem to have the recipe right. It’s stylish and sleek, abandoning the quirky formats of original Smart for a silhouette that has a few hints of a beefy Mini. It also impressively bridges the gap between hatchback and crossover without becoming boxy. Kudos to the designers.

Inside, the benefits of having Mercedes and Volvo’s parent on board show in the fit and finish of the car, which has proper premium touches to the cabin.

You get a big 13-inch (33cm) screen in the centre of the dash and on all but the basic version, you get a nice slim digital driver display, plus a heads-up display on the higher-end variants. Volvo, which abandoned a driver display on its EX30, should take note.

The centre console shows where the Mercedes parts bin has been raided, as this essentially replicates the one on the previous C-Class. It’s got a handy wireless charging tray and USB sockets that also can close with a cover, to avoid distractions from phone alerts. There’s also a vast storage space underneath, along with big door bins, so it’s quite practical upfront. Plus, as with Volvo, you get very comfortable seats.

Smart #1

The comfort continues into the back seats, with plenty of headroom – on a par with most big-selling crossovers – plus ample legroom for adults. In fact, it’s noticeably more roomy than its Volvo cousin, the EX30.

Now the downsides. The boot space is more city car than hatchback, and while you can certainly fit a weekly shop, it’s not as roomy as the sizeable exterior suggests.

Next on our quibble list is the touchscreen, which comes with a cartoon fox as a digital avatar for the voice control system. Some like it, some don’t but the real issue – as with several new models out now – is that too many of the necessary utilities are buried in menus, which are fiddly to access, particularly while on the move. Smart aren’t the worst offenders here, but they should have leant on Mercedes for mapping out the user functionality – on screen and off it.

Now to driving and here, the Smart has to balance ambitions of performance with the reality of its weight. This is a heavy car and that’s reflected in its performance, despite the typically impressive torque of the electric motor and a 0-100km/h time of 6.7 seconds, which is nippy for any regular hatchback.

While the Smart #1′s agility is compromised by weight, this car does ride remarkably well, even on Irish back roads. It cushions all the usual bumps and potholes with the adeptness of a premium SUV at twice the price, but it doesn’t leave you wallowing along like you’re riding on a spring.

With the Launch edition, Pro + and Premium versions, you get a nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) battery pack with 62kWh of usable capacity, powering a 272hp electric motor and promising a range of 440km from a full charge, which in real-world conditions will be closer to 350km or so.

Smart #1

For the entry-level Pro version, a smaller 49kWh lithium-iron-phosphate battery is fitted, meaning the official range drops to 310km.

We averaged 17.5kWh/100km during our time in the Premium version test car, which is a relatively decent energy consumption figure, though one that was beaten by the BYD Dolphin we recently drove, achieving an average of 13.2kWh/100km in admittedly a smaller car, but one that’s also notably less expensive.

Our test car was €48,332 and that’s a harder sell – even to the Mercedes customer base – but starting at €37,479 and with the mid-range Pro + version at €41,894 arguably the best buy (the NCM battery with better range is worth the extra spend), it can compete with a host of rivals.

And there are plenty of alternatives all vying for attention, starting with the practical BYD Dolphin, but extending across a wide range of brands, including Volvo’s EX30, though it starts at €44,995.

A problem for Smart is that, while it’s smart and smooth, this #1 – and the larger #3 that’s on the way – lacks any of the DNA originality or innovation of the original brand. It’s a long way from the quirky ForTwo, for good and ill.

The downfall of the original Smart was that it wasn’t practical and was too pricey. This Smart addresses both of these, and with its stylish design it certainly should prove a more tempting proposition to Irish buyers than ever before for the brand here. Cosying up to Mercedes buyers being left behind may well be its recipe for success.

Lowdown: Smart #1 Premium

Power: A 272hp electric motor putting out 384Nm of torque and powered by a nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) battery pack with 62kWh of usable capacity

Official WLTP range: 440km

0-100km/h: 6.7 seconds

Max charging speed: 22kW AC charging/150kW DC charging

Price: €48,332 as tested (starts at €37,479 for smaller battery version)

Our rating: 3/5

Verdict: Smart looking and comfortably smooth to drive

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer is Motoring Editor, Innovation Editor and an Assistant Business Editor at The Irish Times