Smart gets smarter

Smart has given its new #1 its UK debut and the new model is bigger and more premium than its predecessors. We've had a look at it and chatted to some of the team involved.

We’ve seen some city cars come and go over the past couple of decades, bullied out of town by the rise of the SUV, but amazingly, Smart has stayed with us. First officially launched in 1998, the Mercedes-Benz brand gave us the ForTwo, then the ForFour and the Roadster Coupe. 

The range has dwindled somewhat in recent years, reduced to just the EQ ForTwo, only available as an electric model and manufactured under contract now by Ineos Automotive, the company bringing us the Grenadier 4x4. 

The ForTwo will continue for a few years yet, but now there’s a smarter Smart in town and because it wants to hang with the cool kids, it talks in hashtags. The Smart #1 marks the re-launch of the brand under the ownership of Mercedes and Chinese automaker Geely. It uses Geely’s clever SEA open-source electric platform but it’s bigger than the Smarts we are used to, way bigger.

It’s being billed as a small SUV, a little disappointing for fans of the small Smart city cars that came before it, but understandable considering that compact SUVs now account for nearly half the overall new car market in the UK.

That, according to MD of Smart Automotive UK, David Browne, makes it a “great time to be re-launching a compact EV brand,” even one that’s less compact than it used to be. Orders for the new model will open in the UK in December this year, with first deliveries expected to take place around the middle of 2023, but what’s it all about?

Smart electricity

Firstly it’s about a new era of electric mobility, with the rear-wheel drive #1 powered by a 66kWh battery that can handle 150kW fast chargers and which offers a claimed range of up to 273 miles. We’re told it’s also about a re-invention of interior space, which is most apparent when you sit in the back where the legroom is on a par with the Mercedes E-Class. 

It’s also about tech, lots of tech, with everything from a head-up display and digital instrument cluster to a smartphone app and of course, loads of driver assistance and safety systems. 

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It’s all a bit sensual

Then there’s design because the #1 heralds a brand new design direction for Smart and so we had a chat with one of the design team, Henryk Strojwasiewicz, who also works on interior styling for Mercedes.

He describes the new look at daring, brave and radical, adding that it has a sensuality about it, something designers always like to say. There’s a shark nose look up front that actually takes its cue from the ForTwo, and sharks obviously, and the main body sits between upper and lower shells, like a pearl - again that’s Strojwasiewicz’s words, but we can see what he means. 

Inside it’s all premium luxury, more Merc than Smart perhaps, although with Mercedes announcing that it will be dropping its smaller models like the A-Class, perhaps that’s the whole idea. The dashboard has been inspired by a oblong Bluetooth speaker and from it flows a sculpted centre console that sits quite high up for a compact car. The infotainment screen dominates the dash and provides access to all the usual connected services. There’s even a little fox personal assistant avatar, which Strojwasiewicz says was chosen because it’s intelligent and fun.

The materials all feel plush and of good quality, even more so than some of the rivals it will be up against in the compact EV market. There’s good boot space too and an additional little frunk in the front for keeping cables or other stuff in. 

Poised to be premium

Smart is promising a high level of standard spec and there will be Pro+ (not the same as those student caffeine pills), Premium and a special Launch Edition, the latter limited to just 1000 units of which 100 will come to the UK. There will be a three year warranty on the car, eight-years on the battery and all models will have a three-year/36,000 mile service package which includes wear and tear items. 

All of this comes in at a price of, well actually we don’t know yet. Smart isn’t releasing pricing at the moment, only telling us that it will be competitive against the Hyundai Kona, Mini Countryman and Volkswagen ID3, so that will put it in the early 30s.

The Smart #1 is bigger, more techie, more premium and undoubtedly more expensive than we are used to. We’ll only get to drive it later this year, but from our first look it definitely looks, smarter.