The smart has been transformed from a two-seater city car to a compact SUV offering a sporty driving experience and, in the case of the BRABUS model, a 0-62 mph acceleration time of 3.9 seconds, and the new approach is guaranteed to win more customers.
smart is best known for its fortwo two-seater city car, which was first introduced in 1998 with a petrol engine. An all-electric version of the fortwo began development in 2006 and testing started in London with 100 units in 2007. Production of the second-generation smart fortwo electric drive began in 2009.
smart is no longer majority-owned by Mercedes-Benz; it’s now a joint venture between Mercedes and Chinese company Geely, and the #1 sits on Geely’s EV-specific SEA (Sustainable Experience Architecture) platform.
Compared to its city car predecessor, the smart #1 has grown – significantly. The 2022 smart fortwo measured 2,695 mm in length; the smart #1 BRABUS is 4,300mm long, and has a much more practical five-seater body.
Power has also increased. The electric smart fortwo had a power output of 80 hp, whereas the #1 has a power output of 272 hp, or a hefty 428 hp in the case of the BRABUS – along with 584 Nm of torque. To cope with this power, the #1 BRABUS is all-wheel drive, rather than the rear-wheel drive set-up of the other models in the range.
A longer car can accommodate a larger battery, which is now a 66 kWh NCM unit (with 62 kWh usable capacity).
The #1 BRABUS is differentiated from the other models in the #1 range by bonnet vents, unique contrast paint, 19-inch Dynamo wheels and red seatbelts. There are very, very small BRABUS badges on the bottom of the front spoiler, on the bottom of the rear bumper, and on the bottom of the trim on the rear doors.
The boot is a decent size, offering up to 421 litres of luggage space thanks to a standard sliding second row of seats, or 986 litres with the rear seats folded down (you pull on small loops of material to lower or raise the rear seats, unlike most cars where there’s a button at the outer top of the seats). There’s a compartment under the boot floor and a 15-litre ‘frunk’, either of which can be used to store the charging cable. There’s lots of storage between the two front seats, and the interior offers 64 choices of ambient lighting colours.
All smart #1 models have a 1,600 kg braked towing capacity.
Anyone who has memories of the ponderously slow transmission of the old petrol smart fortwo can banish those thoughts forever after driving the smart #1 BRABUS. Responses are instant, and 0-62 mph is reached in 3.9 seconds – which was the territory of supercars not that long ago. But the smart #1 BRABUS isn’t just about straight-line acceleration. Although it’s considerably bigger than the smart fortwo, it’s still relatively compact compared to many new cars, and this translates to a sporty agility in the handling department: driving around corners is a fun, rewarding experience. The #1 BRABUS weighs 1,900 kg, which is somewhere in the middle of the scale for EVs, but it feels more fun than you would imagine for this mass.
The #1 combines enjoyable handling with comfortable ride quality, as well as being very refined and quiet, like the vast majority of EVs.
The steering is responsive and well-weighted in the BRABUS drive mode, but light in Comfort mode, and the Alcantara-covered steering wheel has a nice tactile quality. However to fully enjoy the car’s steering you’ll need to switch off the lane departure warning system (which requires a number of button presses), otherwise the steering is effectively corrupted, aside from the car trying to steer you back into a place on the road that you don’t necessarily want to be in.
The #1 BRABUS has all-wheel drive rather than rear-wheel drive, so this definitely gives this model an advantage in terms of its driving experience. However even with all-wheel drive, the Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres did seem to struggle with translating 428 hp of power and 584 Nm of torque to wet and cold roads.
The #1 has a gear selector on the right-hand stalk on the steering column as per Mercedes (and Tesla). There’s a drive mode switch under the touchscreen, giving you the options of Eco, Comfort, Sport and BRABUS. Other than those physical controls, and some silver buttons on the steering wheel spokes with silver graphics that are hard to read in some light conditions, virtually all other controls are on the large 12.8-inch central touchscreen – which has various Tesla influences evident (as well as the smart not having an on or off switch, again as per Tesla – you just get in and select a gear and you’re off). However the overall appearance of the home screen is fairly unique and busy, with a lot of information including a graphic of an ‘Inspiring Planet’ and an animated fox, an AI assistant avatar.
There are a few shortcut buttons at the top of the touchscreen, including for navigation and media, and ‘B’ gives you the home screen. But overall, like many new cars, too much button-pressing is required to access basic car controls hidden away in sub-menus.
Climate controls are at the bottom of the screen, and another Tesla influence is that there are no controls on the inside of the doors for the door mirrors – you have to initiate the adjustment of the mirrors via the touchscreen, then change the position with the controls on the right-hand side of the steering wheel. Also like a Tesla, you have to adjust the level of brake regeneration on the touchscreen.
The #1’s driving position could be improved by having the ability to adjust the angle of the seat base.
Perhaps the one main area for improvement is to dial down the car’s regular orders to ‘take a break’, which can frequently happen when it’s obvious that there’s absolutely no need to take a break, and which can get somewhat irritating.
The smart #1 BRABUS has a WLTP combined electric driving range of 248 miles (or up to 273 miles with Premium or Launch Edition models). Our test car was typically displaying a projected range of 247 miles – ie. just one mile less than the official range – but the average real-world range after a week on test was 210 miles.
All smart #1 models have a maximum DC rapid charging rate of 150 kW, enabling a 10% to 80% charge in less than 30 minutes.
All #1 models also have a heat pump, apart from the entry-level Pro+.
The smart #1 is available in trim levels of Pro+ (from £35,950), Premium (from £38,950) and BRABUS (from £43,450), as well as just 100 UK examples of the limited-edition Launch Edition (from £39,450).
The smart #1 BRABUS is very good to drive, and it’s even better in BRABUS trim. Some people won’t like the fact that the smart has been transformed from a city-friendly two-seater to an SUV, but smart will sell a lot more #1s than fortwo models because of this. The smart #1 BRABUS offers sports car performance, agile handling, sharp steering and comfortable ride quality. The electric driving range of up to 248 miles will be okay for many people, and a maximum DC rapid charging rate of 150 kW means that public charging should be a relatively quick affair. Be aware that all models have a heat pump, but not the entry-level Pro+ trim. The #1 has a practical body style, and the cabin generally works well, aside from a lot of button-pressing for some basic car controls, but it’s not alone with that issue. The smart #1 BRABUS is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.