What is that?

Ask someone to think of a ‘smart car‘ and their immediate image will be that of the small two-seater Fortwo, renowned for its legendary ability to reverse-park in parallel parking spaces. An icon? Without a doubt.

But in recent years, Smart has been pretty dormant. Moving on to selling pure electric vehicles in 2019, with its Fortwo and Forfour, these city-targeted models with their small electric range (80 miles max) had limited appeal. In recent years, the company has only sold around 100 cars per month in the UK. That all changes now with SUV #1 (pronounced hashtag one). It’s time to find out what it is.

What’s new?

Previously wholly owned by Mercedes-BenzDaimler’s parent company, in 2019 Smart became a new joint venture, still half-owned by Mercedes and half-owned by Geely – the massive Chinese car giant that changed VOLVO‘s fortunes around, and is now doing the same with Lotus.

The design of the #1 has been taken over by Mercedes, in the meantime Geely handled the engineering, and it also uses the latter’s new EV-only platform. A radical departure from what Smart has done in the past, the No. 1 is a volume-hunting model competing in the hugely important compact electric SUV segment.

What’s under the hood?

From the launch of No. 1 – for which orders don’t open until early 2023 and deliveries aren’t expected until September next year – there will be two powertrains available. The former is a regular rear-wheel-drive setup, while a flagship 422bhp Brabus model will also be offered.

We’re trying the ‘standard’ car here, which uses a rear engine producing 268bhp and 343Nm of torque, which are healthy numbers next to its rivals. Going from 0 to 60 mph takes 6.5 seconds, while the No. 1 can hit 112 mph when maxed out. A 66kWh battery is also used, allowing for a claimed range of up to 273 miles. You can also charge it up to 150kW, with a 10-80% charge taking less than half an hour.

How is it to drive?

Smart has little intention of his #1 being a challenger for the Best Drivers Car crown, but by class standards, the #1 performs well. Although these are still “pre-production models”, it almost feels there in this regard.

There’s plenty of pace even from this ‘standard’ car, and few will want more day-to-day power, while thanks to the large glass area, visibility is another strong attribute. The extensive safety equipment included also makes city driving easier. On the open road you can select the level of steering weight you want, with ‘heavy’ giving plenty of feel, even if there’s quite a bit of body roll in the corners.

How does it look?

The #1 represents quite a departure from the brand’s current car, and although company bosses say it’s “still a Smart car”, we’re not so sure it there is a clear link. There are subtle Mercedes influences, particularly with the front and rear LED light bars, but it’s a funky crossover that stands out on the road.

There are some great details on it, such as the pop-up door handles that sit flush with the car when driving or parked, while the ‘floating roof’ and funky wheel designs are other neat touches. While this may be a modern-day Smart, the sense of fun remains.

How is it inside?

The interior of the Smart #1 interior is a real highlight, especially from a space perspective. The floating center console (another small link that will be familiar to Mercedes customers) offers huge storage space below, while the amount of space in the rear seats is superb and far greater than its rivals. The downside is that the 313-litre boot is quite small, although there is dedicated space under the floor to store cables out of the way.

Dominating the interior is a new 12.8-inch touchscreen that controls the vast majority of commands. It can be tedious at first, mainly due to the amount of features on offer, but it’s super responsive and clear to use. In a futuristic twist, there’s an AI-powered ‘fox’ on the screen that’s supposed to help you navigate, although we’re not quite sure why, if we’re being candid.

What is the specification?

Standard equipment is very generous, with a 360-degree camera, panoramic sunroof, electric and heated front seats and a 64-color ambient interior included on the entry-level Pro+.

A Premium trim brings leather seats, a Beats audio system and head-up display, while the Brabus flagship brings plenty of Alcantara and the huge power bump,

Verdict

Reinventing a reputable brand for such a bold, niche product was always going to be tricky, but #1 seems like a big step in the right direction for Smart. Ask any mainstream manufacturer and there’s no money to be made in crummy cars like the Fortwo, especially in the electric age. Smart had to change.

Yes, it might be another SUV, but the No. 1 ensures that Smart will still exist in the future, and the sense of fun and style of the original ‘Smart car’ shines through here. It’s refreshingly different in a class not known for bravery. It’s unlikely to challenge the best, but promising plentiful equipment, loads of tech and generous cabin space, the No. 1 has plenty of reasons to tempt you to consider it.

The facts at a glance

Model: Smart #1

Model tested: Smart #1 Premium

Powertrain: rear electric motor with 66 kWh battery

Power: 268 hp

Torque: 343Nm

Top speed: 112mph

0-100 km/h: 6.5 seconds

Range: 273 miles (WLTP)

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