Geely/Mercedes brand targets more traditional tastes with its second new-era model

Find Smart #3 deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
New car deals
Nearly-new car deals
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

Having catered to more practical tastes when it first reappeared in 2023 with the Smart #1 compact SUV, the rejuvenated Smart brand is now bringing us something a little more stylish. 

The promotional literature for the all-electric new Smart #3 actually goes so far as to describe it as “all-exciting”. Exciting or not, it is clearly a lower, more curvaceously appealing prospect than its range-mate, playing to a quite different crowd.

This is a second showroom Smart model we can use to continue to piece together how the brand is going to define itself under shared Geely/Mercedes ownership, then. Smart calls it an ‘SUV-coupé’ but, while it may be closely related to the #1, this is a car about which there really isn’t much ‘SUV’. It seems a lot more accurate to consider it a premium electric hatchback, rival to the likes of the Cupra Born, Tesla Model 3 and Volvo EX30.

The EX30 is also a platform relation of this car, whose mechanical layout and make-up the Volvo matches closely. As with the EX30, #3 buyers will be able to choose between one rear-mounted drive motor or two, rear- or four-wheel drive, and a cheaper lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) or longer-range nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) battery. We plumped for a single-motor, longer-range Premium-trim model to find out just what Smart can offer when it aims for stylish rather than sensible.

The range at a glance

Models Power From
49kWh Pro 268bhp £32,895
66kWh Pro+ 268bhp £36,895
66kWh Brabus 423bhp £45,395

The Smart #3 line-up takes in five trim levels. Only the first uses Smart’s shorter-range LFP battery instead of the bigger NMC one.

Back to top

Pro cars get heated seats, parking cameras, adaptive cruise control and wireless device charging. Pro+ adds a glass roof, a powered tailgate and level-two lane keeping assistance, in addition to the extra battery capacity. Premium models also have adaptive matrix headlights, a head-up display and three-phase AC charging.

And then there’s the 25th Anniversary (sporty styling without twin motors) and finally Brabus (20in wheels, red brake calipers, two motors and 0-62mph in 3.7sec).


smart 3 review 2024 02 side panning

While it shares plenty of exterior features with its boxier sibling, the #3 isn’t simply a #1 with a swoopier roofline. Built alongside the #1 by Geely in Xi’an, China, it is wider, and longer both in wheelbase and overall, than its range-mate, with a slightly lower driver’s hip point.

In turning a #1 into a #3, say the designers, they made the car’s roofline 80mm lower overall, but did that by taking 20mm each out of the ride height, floorpan thickness, seat height and roofline. It’s quite a lot of effort to go to when other premium brands just focus on a simpler ‘re-roofing’ job on cars like this but perhaps without spectacular results. The #3 does look quite clearly differentiated from the #1. It is a neat and well-proportioned design with plenty of sophistication about it.

Instead of asking which existing EV this car is most like, it might be easier to ask where Smart isn't liberally borrowing from. I can see bits of Tesla, Cupra, Volkswagen, Polestar and others in the #3 - but, inevitably, perhaps more Mercedes than anything else.

Our road test jury was less convinced that it constitutes something really distinctive and desirable, however. Or that it has the power to grab attention or turn heads in the metal, as a design-motivated buyer might want. The design seems more concerned with refinement than impact; it’s agreeable, if a little forgettable. And it’s certainly not bold or innovative – which, considering Smart’s foundation as a car company, does seem a conspicuous failure.

On outright size, the #3 is 4.4 metres long: just a little longer than a Volkswagen ID 3, Cupra Born or Citroën ë-C4, and a bit taller too. Its 2785mm wheelbase is also generous for the compact EV class (more than 130mm longer than that of the Volvo EX30), which promises good things on passenger space, but perhaps rather less on handling agility.

Smart offers a choice of drive batteries, motor configurations and associated number of driven wheels. You might well be impressed with the value for money offered by the entry-grade Pro model, which delivers 268bhp, single-motor rear-wheel drive and a sub-6.0sec 0-62mph time for less than £33,000. Using an LFP battery of 47kWh (usable capacity), its claimed range is just over 200 miles.

Above that sit four further model grades, all using an NMC battery with a usable capacity of 62kWh, and all capable of rapid charging at 150kW rather than the 130kW of LFP cars. All stick with the same, rear-mounted permanent magnet synchronous drive motor, although the range-topping Brabus model (uprated brakes, stiffened suspension, recalibrated traction and stability controls) adds a second, front-axle motor for 423bhp.

Suspension is via independent axles at both ends, steel coil springs and conventional passive dampers. Our test car weighed 1832kg on the proving ground scales. That’s certainly on the heavy side for a compact EV but, given this car is larger and more powerful than most direct rivals, that might be a forgivable compromise.


smart 3 review 2024 11 dash

Smart may no longer make exclusively small cars but, according to its current designers, it does want to offer the best-packaged passenger car in every market niche in which it competes. The interior of the #1 certainly bore out that strategy and the #3 does too, albeit to a predictably less striking extent.

Bigger doesn’t necessarily also mean better packaged, of course, but while the #3 does give away a little bit of head room compared with the taller #1, its cabin is still quite spacious. There’s plenty of room for taller, larger adults in the front row, although the car’s sporty-looking front seats weren’t considered ideally comfortable by a few of our testers. Their ‘integral’-style headrests are fixed, and tended to jut out and poke some drivers in the nape of the neck rather than supporting the head itself, while their seat cushions lacked useful inclination adjustment and thigh support.

Unlike the #1, the #3 gets sportier-looking seats with integrated headrests - and they just poked me right in the nape of the neck throughout our testing. The seats also lack decent side support and lumbar adjustment.

In the back row, there’s good space for adults (something you can’t say of plenty of EVs at this price point), and an accommodation level that feels similar to that of a Tesla Model 3 – right down to the slightly unnerving nearness of the glass roof to your scalp.

In the boot, overall carrying space is respectable, though no more. A capacity of 370 litres is enough to beat some opponents, but it comes by way of a slightly shallow cargo bay that would only admit bulky items after the removal of the ‘fake floor’ (under which is the car’s only really useful charging cable storage, because the ‘frunk’ is small enough to be almost useless).

The cabin ambience has a particular kind of glitzy, plasticky material lustre to it that puts you in mind of Mercedes – and probably not by accident. Shiny grey plastic is used to cover big swathes of the fascia, centre console and doors. It was textured in the case of our test car, and robust and pleasant enough to the touch, but whether it would be considered appealing is subjective. The car’s wider standard for material quality and fit and finish is quite good, though.

A 12.8in infotainment touchscreen inevitably dominates the upper dash (see ‘Multimedia system’, right) but is partnered with a slim but useful digital instrument display behind the steering wheel and (on Premium-grade cars, at least) a large head-up display behind that, so driving instrumentation and navigation prompts are kept close to your line of sight.

Multimedia system

Smart has at least attempted to make the 12.8in landscape-oriented touchscreen multimedia display in the #3 navigable. A line of shortcut keys along its base gives you access to HVAC controls, driving modes and a selection of top-level vehicle systems settings, and other menu shortcuts appear at the top edge, but there’s no physical cursor controller for it.

You therefore find yourself, arm outstretched, diving two and three levels deep into settings menus to deactivate assistance systems that are reactivated every time the car starts, and seem to have to do a lot of jumping between screens even to achieve more simple things. A user-configurable tiled home screen with frequently accessed settings on it is a conspicuous omission.

It is likewise frustrating that the factory navigation system omits a north-up mapping display mode. It’s easy enough to program and follow but doesn’t always recognise voice command destinations. Mirroring for both Apple and Android smartphones is included and works well.


smart 3 review 2024 21 front cornering

Having called out the Volvo EX30 for similar failings recently, we can’t let this section pass without noting some fairly intrusive driver monitoring and speed limit adherence systems on the #3. Both seem to us barriers to the car’s easy drivability, and neither is simple enough to disable.

The speed limit buzzer is, to be accurate, less insistent than the equivalent system in the EX30, although not as progressive as some we have encountered, and the driver monitoring system is less bothersome because, frankly, driving information is displayed where it ought to be.

Smart says it's working on a 'low' regen mode that will let the car coast farther on a trailing throttle and might mitigate its drivability quirks. Like everything else, it will be an over-the-air update if it comes.

Even so, we learned to deactivate both while still stationary, as well as the lane departure warning system and automatic speed limit adoption functions for the piloted cruise control, in order to have an undistracted driving experience.

Getting to all four ‘switches’ means accessing three different touchscreen menus in the car’s infotainment system, however – all of them buried two or three levels deep. Especially since all of these systems now default to on, better accessibility needs to be made a priority.

The #3 performs strongly on the road. Cars of this size and type typically need somewhere between 6.5sec and 8.5sec for the 0-60mph sprint, and 5.5sec to 7.0sec to cover 30-70mph. But by dipping under 6.0sec for the former, and under 5.0sec for the latter, this one sets out its stall as a more sporty, athletic type pretty well.

It takes off progressively and with composure from rest, but feels torquey and responsive from little more than walking pace, and even at motorway pace (60-80mph is 3.8sec, compared with 5.1sec for the VW ID 3) retains a fairly assertive turn of speed.

Energy regeneration management is not a particularly strong suit. No shift paddles or other physical controls are offered for it, so it’s not easy to adjust quickly as you drive, and although you can bring up a settings menu to adjust the strength of the regen, you can’t deactivate it entirely in any driving mode.

Since the same momentary ‘regen lag’ drivability problems present here as we found on the #1 (and, to a lesser extent, the Volvo EX30), the option to simply let the car ‘sail’ on a trailing throttle, only to scavenge under light brake pedal pressure, might well be one that many drivers would choose – us included.


smart 3 review 2024 22 panning

In the way it moves, steers, corners and generally conducts itself on an interesting road at speed, the #3 seems moderately agile, balanced and well reined in – but even more striking is how much better and more engaging it could have been with the benefit of more careful tuning.

It corners on better surfaces with a consistent, robust grip level, a level body and a fairly engaging sort of chassis balance but is governed by a stability control system that is quick to grab at the front brakes if you explore the car’s lateral grip levels with too much enthusiasm, and that quells any expressive lateral movement from the rear axle quickly and staunchly, even after you have selected ‘ESC-off’ mode.

The #3’s steering is intuitively weighted and paced but a little elastic on feel and short on any contact patch feedback, so you have little sense of the point at which the outside front wheel might yield to physics – and, despite the lowered centre of gravity, there is still plenty of physics in play here.

And you are made aware of that when a smooth surface underneath you takes a turn for the uneven, and the car’s good lateral body control deteriorates with its overly permissive damping of vertical body movement. It’s a good job, in short, that the #3 isn’t given to heave, pitch or roll too much, because Smart’s damper tuning doesn’t seem the type to act quickly against it.

All of these things are, of course, fixable, and the car’s chassis fundamentals feel like the right ones to have built upon them a sporting driving experience that might just rival a Cupra Born or Peugeot e-308. It is simply that the #3 doesn’t seem to have had that dynamic sophistication tuned into it, which may be the result of a model development programme that focused on software rather than hardware, or that was simply too short to sweat over the details.

Comfort & Isolation

Smart offers a choice of 19in or 20in wheels on the #3, depending on model grade, and so the 19s on our Premium-grade test car had no excuse for any lack of isolation.

In practice, the ride felt at least competitively quiet and settled over most better surfaces, but sharper inputs did make it clunk and thump noticeably, while coarser roads (cobblestones and open, broken bitumen) teased some high-frequency rattles out of the steering column and passenger door console.

On a damp and slightly windy test day, our noise meter readings also suggested that a more thorough NVH development job might have been done on this car (66dBA at a 50mph cruise compared with 64dBA for the VW ID 3 and 63dBA for the Fiat 600e), although the car is far from ill-mannered.

Aside from the minor bugbears reported earlier, the front seats are decently comfortable over distance, and visibility is fairly good to the front and side, with the sloping roof creating quite large over-shoulder blindspots around the C-pillars.


smart 3 review 2024 01 front panning

Just as it did with the #1, Smart is aiming to simplify the buying process of this car, with a straightforward range offering at an appealing list price, onto which options need not be added.

And so, even on entry-grade Pro models, equipment levels are quite good (LED headlights, 19in wheels, a full suite of parking cameras and a powered tailgate), and the only things you can pay extra for are matt shades of paint.

It means that, if you are paying cash – or even considering the car as a business fleet option – the #3 could be good value. The fly in the ointment, however, remains the lack of manufacturer support for personal finance deals. At nearly 7% APR, and without any manufacturer contribution, the #3 will be more expensive on a monthly basis for private buyers than it needs to be in order to attract sales in big volumes, and relatively unappealing compared with key rivals.

For range, efficiency and rapid-charging speed, meanwhile, our test car hit a competitive mark, but not an exceptional one. A range indication that tends to overestimate the car’s true, mixed-route potential by about 25% (225 versus 285 miles) isn’t a helpful start. Even so, the #3 still outstripped the Volvo EX30 for efficiency and range, and likewise for weighted average rapid-charging speed. 


smart 3 review 2024 24 static

If you listed all the ways the Smart #3 either meets or exceeds compact EV class standards and compared that with a similar chart of deficiencies, you may wonder how one could prevent the other from getting this car greater credit. This is a case of fine-detail finishing letting down sound fundamental qualities.

And yet those little details can’t be overlooked when they combine to significantly dull the ownership appeal of this car. Although it is surprisingly spacious, has strong on-road performance, is decently efficient with it and is neat enough to look at, the #3 falls short of true sophistication in the standard of its final execution in several notable departments (ride and handling, cruising refinement, driver assistance tuning, multimedia design and layout). Some of these shortcomings may be ‘fixable’ over the air, but not all are.

Long-time fans of the Smart marque might be most disappointed that the car is quite so conventional in its design, risking so little. Bolder and more innovative models may be to come, but until they do we will continue to wonder how much of the wider car-buying public has really noticed this brand’s return at all – and when it will fully announce itself.

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.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.