Smart left Australia over half a decade ago – but is this all-new electric model a reason for the brand to reconsider? We ride along in a pre-production version to see what it’s all about.
The new Smart #1 SUV is the brand’s largest-ever model, and potentially its most important to date. Smart is famed for producing tiny city cars that can sit side by side in a parallel parking space, but at 4.27 metres long, the #1 won’t be pulling the same trick.
The #1’s Geely-derived SEA platform is compatible with a city car sized vehicle, and we’ll see a successor to the iconic ForTwo later down the line. But in the meantime, the #1 is the car tasked with rebooting the brand, and we’ve been for a ride in a prototype.
This model will be built in right-hand drive, too, although Smart left the Australian market in 2015. Seven years on and this all-electric model is much different than what was offered here previously.
The #1 has a similar footprint to the MINI Countryman. It’s a bigger car than pictures might suggest, the benefits of which are apparent when you climb aboard. Despite a tall, Mercedes-like centre console that cocoons the front occupants, the cabin is spacious and accommodating, with plenty of rear legroom and a 411-litre boot. The brand claims that there’s as much room as in a Mercedes E-Class in here, and while we can’t verify that without putting the two cars side by side, one thing is clear: the Smart is a very spacious car for its size.
Some of the trim materials are still being finalised, but perceived quality is high. The leather-trimmed facia is nicely padded and the swooping dashboard looks thoroughly modern, although the 12.8-inch infotainment display doesn’t gel with the rest of the design. The system is inoperable in this prototype, and we are told that the touchscreen-based climate controls will be a permanent fixture at the bottom of the display, which is a plus. A 9.2-inch screen sits behind the steering wheel to display key driving information.
As the first model to ride on the new SEA platform, the #1 sets the trajectory of future electric Smarts and will be initially available with a rear-mounted 200kW electric motor, powered by a 66kWh battery. The setup provides 439km of range, and the car’s 400V architecture enables 150kW rapid charging, with a 10-80 per cent charge taking around half an hour.
The road was wet during our passenger ride and our pre-production test car had a windscreen seal issue, so we’ll reserve judgement on overall refinement until we get behind the wheel of the #1 in production form. Even so, the car does feel solid and relatively well isolated at town speeds, with smooth, silent running typical of an EV.
One or two foibles emerge when picking up speed. The car’s suspension calibration has yet to be signed off, but as it stands, the #1 struggles to contain all of its 1820kg mass over undulating roads. A quick sequence of bumps can send the car jockeying around as the dampers struggle to contain vertical movement, and we’re hoping that the final production car is more settled. Sharper imperfections are absorbed fairly well, though, and the #1 rounds off the worst jolts.
With 342Nm of torque on tap, the electric motor is able to mask the car’s bulk and the acceleration is punchy, if not quite hair raising. There’s ample performance for real-world driving, but as with other EVs, power begins to tail off when battery charge has depleted – below 30 per cent, in this case – and the top speed is limited to 180km/h. The driver can choose between Eco, Comfort and Sport driving modes which alter the throttle response, steering and regenerative braking, although these parameters can be adjusted independently. Full one-pedal driving is possible, too.
With the battery pack contained within the floor, the #1 doesn’t fall onto its springs as you might expect through quick corners. You can feel the car’s weight fidgeting across its axles over mid-corner bumps, but it feels mostly secure and stable from the passenger seat. According to Smart’s engineers, the #1’s chassis is surprisingly adjustable with the ESP system slackened off, which bodes well for the rumoured dual-motor Brabus version.
With its quirky looks, decent performance and roomy, space-age interior, the #1 has clear potential. It enters into a lucrative and deeply competitive sector, though, and from this early encounter, the #1’s hefty kerb weight could put a ceiling on its dynamic performance. Fewer kilos would also extend the car’s range, so it’s a shame the #1 isn’t a shade lighter given its new bespoke EV platform.
|Model:||Smart #1 prototype|
|Battery/motor:||66kWh/ x1 e-motor|
|Charging: s||150kW DC/10-80% 30min|
|Transmission:||Single speed automatic, rear-wheel drive|