Early examples of Smart’s new dawn didn’t instantly impress. We try the EV hatchback on UK roads

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Before we dive into the details of the Smart #1, some context. 

Look at the long histories of Porsche and Opel and you’ll find that they still produce much the same kind of cars as they did around their foundation – sporty luxury cars for the former and dependable middle-class transport for the latter.

The interior materials are mostly very good, but the choice of leatherette seats for Pro+ trim and leather for our Premium test car is rather unimaginative. Where are the plush fabrics?

Others have experienced serious mission creep, even in a relatively short time. You won’t find it in the literature for the Smart #1, but the name Smart was originally conceived as a slightly contrived acronym for Swatch, Mercedes, Art. The project originated not with a major car manufacturer but with Swatch, a Swiss maker of affordable watches, who wanted to make a city car that embodied the spirit of its timepieces.

As Google and Apple have found out, making cars is a tough side gig, so Swatch settled on Mercedes-Benz as an experienced partner. But the realities of car making soon bit and Swatch gradually realised it was morphing into the kind of project it didn’t want to be involved in. Even when Smart was exclusively under Mercedes-Benz, it started to shift from making just the clever tiny cars it’s still known for to making simply A Car, in the form of the Mitsubishi-based Forfour.

Twenty-five years after the launch of the original Smart, even Mercedes has come to the conclusion that the original idea wasn’t a very good one. ‘Good’ in this case means lucrative, because there is plenty of demand for well-designed small cars. So it decided to sell off 50% of the business to noted home for mismanaged European car brands Geely.

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The first product of this joint venture is the #1, an electric hatchback that takes the fight to the Volkswagen ID 3, Kia Niro EV, MG 4 and Peugeot e-308. That’s a tough field of competitors, so the #1 needs to do better than the original Forfour did all those years

Range at a glance

Pro 51kWh268kWh£32,500 (est)
Pro+ 66kWh268kWh£35,950
Premium 66kWh268bhp£38,950
Brabus 66kWh422bhp£43,450

The Smart #1’s powertrain is tied to the trim level. All currently available #1s have the same 66kWh battery. Pro+, Premium and Launch Editionuse a single rear motor, whereas the Brabus adds a second, smallermotor at the front. A Pro model with a smaller LFP battery and the same 268bhp rear motor is likely to join the range soon. It is priced at €37,490 in Germany.


smart 1 review 2023 02 panning side

Smart’s new dawn under Geely means that the #1 uses a Geely platform, called the Sustainable Engineering Architecture (SEA).  It’s shared with the Volvo EX30, Zeekr X, Zeekr 001 and even – in a sense – the Lotus Eletre

Of course, these platforms are massively versatile and scalable, so the #1 doesn’t share a great deal with the Eletre, but there are a lot of similarities with the EX30 and the X. All have a single rear-mounted 268bhp motor in their more basic versions, joined by a less powerful unit up front in the performance variants for a total of 422bhp. 

At 66kWh total capacity, the Smart gets a slightly smaller battery than its cousins, although it uses the same familiar nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) chemistry. An entry-level model is on the way with an even smaller, lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) battery that has 49kWh of usable capacity (out of a total 51kWh). That battery is shared with the Volvo. Bigger-battery cars can charge at 150kW, while those with the smaller battery can still muster 130kW.

While suspension is as expected, the #1 unusually has larger brake discs in the rear than in the front. This is partly because EVs are heavy, and partly for easy sharing with the dual-motor model, which gets upgraded front discs.

Although the #1 is mostly related to its Geely siblings under the skin, its exterior mainly emphasises the Mercedes connection. The V-shaped headlights and tail-lights that are connected by light bars are reminiscent of the EQ models, although the Smart’s design is more playful than that of the somewhat strait-laced Mercedes. There are more rounded shapes and details such as the baseball cap roofline, frameless windows and upswept sill. 

The #1 shows plenty of nods to aerodynamics too, such as the mostly closed-off wheels and the flush door handles, which all make the relatively high drag coefficient of 0.29 rather disappointing.That may be a result of the #1’s deceptive size. Smart calls it a ‘city SUV’, but don’t tell the people who let down tyres in London, because the #1’s big wheels and low ride height mean it just about passes for a hatchback.

Then again, although it’s slightly shorter in length than a Cupra Born (4270mm versus 4322mm), it’s actually 96mm taller. It even towers 66mm over the more SUV-ish Kia Niro.



That shorter length puts the #1 roughly in the middle between the MG 4 and Renault Mégane E-Tech on the one hand and the Cupra Born and Kia Niro EV on the other.

And so it goes for interior roominess. That’s reflected in the rear leg room, which isn’t quite as generous as the best in this class but perfectly adequate for adults. However, as with quite a few Chinese cars, boot space is where the Smart stumbles. At 313 litres, it’s quite some way behind even the MG 4’s 363 litres, never mind the Niro’s cavernous 475 litres.

It’s a square shape, though, with some useful extra space under the floor, and it claws back some points with a sliding rear seat, which is neatly designed with some spare carpet to cover up the gap between the seat and the boot floor. Even so, rivals are easily more practical. Up front, the vibe in the #1 echoes the exterior design, with a strong Mercedes-Benz family resemblance.

The rounded centre console with three bins is very Mercedes but somehow fits the Smart’s cheerful demeanour better. It’s very practical too and there is a big tray on the floor for bigger items.

The white pearlescent finish (grey metallic on cars with white seats) is novel and doesn’t attract fingerprints like the ubiquitous gloss black. Sure, it’s made of hard plastic, but that’s easier to accept here than in a £120,000 EQS. In general, soft-touch materials cover most of the surfaces that you’re likely to touch, which is something that can’t be said of rivals such as the Born and MG 4.

The whole interior is full of white ‘squished donut’ shapes. They’re on the sides of the headrests, on the dashboard, and even on the handle of the charge cable. Despite the black leather of our test car, they help give the #1 quite a bright, airy, fun atmosphere.

That feeling is augmented by the big upright glasshouse. In that sense, the #1 is the opposite of the letterbox Mégane E-Tech. Aside from the small boot, we have one big complaint and it’s a very familiar one in 2023: the lack of buttons. In some ways, this is handled better than in other cars because the screen gives easy direct access to the climate control and a number of secondary controls. However, having to go into a menu to adjust the side mirrors is particularly annoying.

Multimedia system

When we drove a left-hand-drive car earlier in the year, we were promised that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto would feature from launch, so when we got this test car in October, we connected our phone with great anticipation, only for nothing to happen.

They’re now supposed to arrive in an over-the-air update this month. It’s a poor show and we can’t test how well the phone mirroring integrates with the native interface.

Smart almost gets away with not offering it, because it’s a very good system. The home screen uses the available space to good effect to show you concise navigation, trip computer and media info at a glance, as well as keep the climate controls in permanent view. A shortcut menu lets you quickly toggle things like lane keeping, regen and ESC.

The native nav is good too. We wish you could send the cartoon fox packing, because its roughly five animations get tiresome after a day. The voice control is largely unhelpful and quite creepy when its robotic voice responds in the first person.


smart 1 review 2023 23 panning

While most of its rivals have settled on 201bhp (150kW), the Smart #1 – and its Volvo and Zeekr platform-mates – give you a more indulgent 268bhp. Essential? Not particularly, but there’s no question that it’s nice to have. Accordingly, the #1 easily walks away from its peers in a straight line. 

The #1 smashed its quoted 0-62mph time of 6.7sec, needing just 5.9sec despite a slightly damp surface. The Cupra Born needed 7.2sec, and by the time the Cupra reaches 100mph, the Smart has already headbutted its 112mph limiter. The Smart doesn’t have particularly short gearing either: 7.0mph/1000rpm is roughly the same as in the Kia Niro EV. (We don’t have that data for the Cupra.)

On the controlled, flat surface of Millbrook’s mile straight, braking performance was exemplary too. However, out in the real world, the Smart starts to fray at the edges. Hard braking on a bumpy surface can make the ABS stumble in a way that is not unsafe but does produce odd jerks.

More irksome is the calibration of the accelerator pedal. In fact, it is exceptionally poor. First of all, it’s not linear, with the last 50% of the travel being largely for the birds. There is also always a delay before the throttle does anything, after which it ramps up to your desired amount of power. That ramp-up happens fairly quickly in Sport and agonisingly slowly in Eco. The result is that muscle memory never quite tells you how much throttle you’re actually inputting.

Smart gives you only three regen settings: standard, strong and E-Pedal. The first two are self-explanatory, with the E-Pedal adding one-pedal driving. The #1 earns a demerit straight away for not offering a coasting mode. The same delay in acceleration happens in deceleration. Irrespective of the setting, when you release the pedal, the car coasts for about a second and then throws out the regen anchor.

Thereafter, you can sort of mete out the amount of regen, but the degree of pedal travel that allows you to do so is razor-thin. The net result is that the #1 can be tiring to drive because the regen sneaks up on you and punches you in the face when you just want to slow slightly or maintain 30mph.


smart 1 review 2023 22 cornering rear

Rear-wheel drive, 49:51 weight distribution and a low centre of gravity are promising ingredients for a good driver’s car, and while non-AMG Mercedes are rarely ‘fun’ as such, they are usually well sorted and quite satisfying to hustle down a B-road. The #1 falls a little way short of that. It’s not bad in any major way but simply lacks any sort of distinctive dynamic character.

It has no particular vices in terms of body control, staying fairly level and dealing with bumps in a matter-of-fact way. There is adequate grip – more so on the Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres of our earlier test car than on the Continental EcoContact 6Qs of the yellow car in these photos. The steering is intuitively geared and weighted, firming up very slightly when you really load up the front axle but not transmitting much in the way of feedback at any other time.

A wet Millbrook Hill Route showed that the #1 leans fairly hard on its ESC system. When it’s partly disabled, the Smart is quite keen to rotate on a trailing throttle and on the brakes. Accelerating out of a damp corner can produce a sudden and unexpected spike of oversteer as the non-linear, delayed accelerator effectively does a clutch kick shortly after squeezing the pedal. While that’s amusing on a skid pad, you wouldn’t call the #1 throttle-adjustable because it’s just too unpredictable. That said, most drivers will never notice, because so long as you don’t touch the ESC off button, the electronics smoothly rein in the power before anything remotely dramatic occurs.

So configured, it just feels quite beige and forgettable. There are worse things for a chassis to be, of course, but when a car is powered by an electric motor, there is more pressure on the chassis to show some personality. In rivals such as the MG 4 and Cupra Born, it does.

Comfort & Isolation

The ride equally fails to commit. It’s neither particularly soft nor particularly stiff, and neither especially loose nor especially tightly controlled. Some higher-quality damping could make the #1 quite a nice-riding car. As it is, it’s mostly unobtrusive, but a little underdamped, causing some excess body movement over undulating roads. The wheels can also rattle through potholes clumsily.

Overall, the #1 is pretty refined, largely thanks to its excellent noise isolation. It proved just as quiet as the Cupra Born at 70mph – another particularly quiet cruiser. 

Not so good are the seats. They’re electrically adjustable, even on the entry-level Pro model. However, they have a fairly short base and no tilt function, to the dismay of taller testers. The backrest also feels too flat, with insufficient lumbar support. There is adjustable lumbar support, but it is fairly harsh and can’t compensate for the natural shape of the seat. 


smart 1 review 2023 01 cornering front

Smart #1 prices start at £35,950 for the Pro+ and rise to £38,950 for the Premium trim of our test car. Apart from a £1262 towing package, there are no separate options. Smart doesn’t even charge extra for special paints. Even the Pro+ is very well equipped, so the #1 is only really beaten on list price by the MG 4, a car that has a much more budget-oriented feel. 

Things aren’t quite so rosy on finance. Because of their better residuals, a similarly specced Cupra Born or Kia Niro EV would require about the same monthly outlay, even though they are several thousands of pounds more expensive to buy outright. However, the Smart does beat the Peugeot e-2008 and Jeep Avenger. The refreshed Tesla Model 3 isn’t too much of a stretch in straight cash terms, but it’s about £100 more per month on finance.

The #1 did quite well in our charging test. Its 150kW headline figure somewhat overstates its capability because it drops down from that peak fairly quickly. Even so, its weighted average puts it ahead of the Renault Mégane E-Tech and just behind the MG 4. We have not yet done a rapid-charging test on a Born or Niro EV, but the Smart would easily beat the latter because that tops out at just 72kW.

Our test car’s efficiency indicator was quite erratic, swinging between wildly inefficient and wildly efficient. However, based on a charging test following a representative route, we calculated an economy figure of 3.7mpkWh, which is not quite as good as a Born or Niro EV, but still competitive. It translates to a real-world range of 229 miles. Smart offers a three-year warranty for the whole car and guarantees 70% battery capacity  for eight years and 125,000 miles.


smart 1 review 2023 24 static rear

There’s been a change over the past 10 years in other industries, such as video games and mobile phones, where products are brought to market slightly unfinished because they can easily be ‘patched’ over the air later.

Is the same happening in the car industry? Perhaps, because some of the Smart #1’s issues – the lack of phone mirroring, the unpredictable accelerator pedal, the wonky adaptive cruise control – couldpotentially be fixed in a software update. The phone mirroring allegedly will be soon.

Solving those would turn this 3.5-star car into a four-star one, because that would leave only the small boot, mediocre seats and unmemorable chassis as meaningful weak points. At the same time, the #1 makes a lot of sense. ‘Unmemorable’ will suit many people just fine, as will the competitive pricing, range, efficiency and charging.

Apart from the boot, the interior is thoughtfully designed with a distinctive style, and the #1 is a quiet cruiser. While the luxury segment has the BMW iX and i7, and the medium SUV class has the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5, we’re still waiting for a standout electric hatch or crossover. The Smart #1 isn’t it but it presents an appealing alternative in a fast-growing segment.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.