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Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one

Shaun · Dec 18, 2023 10:36 AM

Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one 01

"Character" serves as more than just an adjective; it's a rationale, a sort of justification that some of us car guys use to romanticise our interactions with a car. Said car is typically a few decades old, more often than not falling apart. Strange noises? Nah, it's just part of its character.

We tend to anthropomorphise these cars, attributing human-like flaws to them, and some might go so far as to describe it as a soul within the machinery.

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After spending a few days with the Smart #1, I discovered myself frequently using the term "character," but with a different connotation. Electric vehicles (EVs) have often been likened to appliances, akin to washing machines or toasters – machines devoid of a soul.

Overview: 2023 Smart #1 Premium
Price RM 219,000 (OTR without insurance)
Segment C-segment
Powertrain Single-motor RWD
Battery capacity 66 kWh NMC
Charging 22 kW AC, 150 kW DC, CCS2
Range Up to 440 km (WTLP)
Power 272 PS
Torque 343 Nm
0-100 Km/h 5.9 seconds (as tested)
Origin CBU, China

While I consider myself a full-blown car enthusiast, as evidenced by my daily manual driving in Klang Valley, I don't perceive labelling EVs as appliances as an insult. After all, everyone needs appliances in their lives.

I don't expect a microwave to stir my soul; I simply want my food heated quickly. So, why should a car be any different when all someone desires is efficient transportation from point A to point B?

Also read: No more teasers - Smart #1 launched in Malaysia, from RM 189k, up to 428 PS/543 Nm, 440 km

Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one 01

The crux of the matter is, there's nothing inherently wrong with a car or an EV that lacks excitement. Its primary function is to operate reliably day in and day out. However, the Smart #1 is a little more than that. It possesses a certain... character. How so? Let’s start with the design.

Exterior - The devil is in the details

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Despite being labelled an SUV, the Smart #1, with its large wheels and overall proportions, could easily be mistaken for a hatchback.

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While the Smart #1 shares familial ties with its Geely counterparts beneath the surface, the Mercedes affiliation is quite evident through its design. The Y-shaped headlights and taillights, connected by light bars, evoke a resemblance to the Mercedes EQ models, yet the Smart's characterful (I’ll try not to overuse this word) design sets it apart from EQ models.

Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one 04

More EQ resemblance is the flush door handles for aerodynamic purposes. The closed-off wheels also aid aerodynamics. The presence of bulbous shapes, distinctive features like the baseball cap roofline, frameless windows, and upswept sill give the Smart #1 its own design identity.

Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one 05

Personally, I find the appearance of the Smart #1 quite appealing. I would choose it over the Tesla Model Y based on looks alone.

However, I will admit that the Smart #1 can appear somewhat awkward from certain angles, particularly from the rear three-quarter view. The upright glasshouse gives a slight impression of pulling your chin in.

Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one 06

Look closer and you’ll start to notice little design details that adds character (there’s that word again). Things like the Smart logo on the C-pillar that lights up or the little Smart #1 graphics on the windows.

Interior - Airy and Mercedes-y

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Inside, the Mercedes-Benz family resemblance continues with a rounded centre console and three bins. Storage spaces are aplenty, including a large tray on the floor for bigger items and a chilled centre storage.

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The white pearlescent finish introduces a novel touch that resists fingerprints, a direct opposite of the common gloss black. Though perceived quality of the white trim pieces isn’t great, to be honest. But hey, character.

Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one 09

Boot space is 323 litres with the seats in rear-most position, and goes up to 411 litres. Still, much smaller than in the Tesla Model Y.

Soft-touch materials cover most commonly touched surfaces, while hard plastics are found in the lower and far-from-arm’s-reach regions, which is to be expected.

Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one 10

Despite the black leather in the test car light-coloured headliner, enhanced by the panoramic roof, and the white elements contribute to a bright and airy atmosphere. The upright glasshouse enhances this feeling with its letterbox-like design.

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That’s all fine and dandy but here comes the complaint – the scarcity of physical buttons, requiring users to navigate through menus for certain adjustments, like adjusting the side mirrors or a simple volume adjustment for the passenger.

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Some things are best accessed via a button.

Thankfully, the system is quick to response and the displays are crisp. The cartoon fox voice assistant is a quirky touch. Wireless Android Auto worked flawlessly in my time with the car, and the Beats audio system is a gem. A little bassy, but easily remedied by turning it down a notch from the settings.

Driving Experience - Pedal calibration disaster

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As is the norm for EVs, acceleration is more than brisk. As tested, the Smart #1 consistently surpassed its quoted 0-100 km/h time of 6.7 seconds, achieving 5.9 seconds.

Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one 14

Despite its straight-line prowess, the Smart #1 exhibits some shortcomings in real-world driving. The accelerator pedal and regen calibration are rather poor, which gets annoying over time. There’s always a delay whether it’s on or off the accelerator pedal.

You can feel the power ramping up to your desired amount while your throttle input stays the same. The speed at which it ramps up is altered via the drive modes, but it’s always there. This is a common trait amongst Chinese EVs, not surprising considering it’s by Geely’s underpinnings.

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The delay is also observed in deceleration as well. Regardless of the setting, releasing the accelerator pedal results in about a one-second coasting period before the regenerative braking takes effect. The limited regen settings and a lack of coasting mode can make driving the #1 somewhat tiring.

Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one 16

There’s an E-pedal mode for one-pedal driving, but the calibration is unchanged and more often than not, I would still resort to using the brake pedal when coming to a stop. Having tried a multitude of EVs with one-pedal driving, this is perhaps the least intuitive. Character? Not a likeable one.

Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one 17

Handling wise, the steering is perhaps the strongest aspect in terms of driving. It’s accurate and sharp, with no slack in its response, while weightage is well-judged for its purpose.

Around the bends, it demonstrates commendable body control, maintaining stability and handling bumps with relative ease. The Continental EcoContact 6Q provides more traction than the average buyer would explore.

Review: Smart #1 Premium - EVs are boring? Not this one 18

The adaptive cruise control works well in Malaysian traffic conditions – doesn’t panic when someone cuts in and maintains a reasonable distance without annoying the driver behind. It also takes the chore of judging the accelerator pedal off the driver, so that’s a plus.

Ride Comfort - Could be better

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The ride comfort of the Smart #1 falls into a middle ground, neither excessively soft nor overly stiff in the context of EVs. But one can always sense the inherent sense of firmness, particularly over sharp edges, and the wheels can transmit vibrations through potholes or pockmarked surfaces.

Over larger undulations, the suspension feels slightly underdamped, which allows quite a bit of body movements and results in head toss for the passengers.

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The electrically adjustable front seats lack of tilt function and has a short base, compromising thigh support. The backrests are also on the smaller side, though side bolsters are decent. The adjustable lumbar support can be a little aggressive.

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At the back, it does have the typical EV trait of a high floor that results in a slight crouched like seating position. But being an SUV, it’s not overly pronounced in the Smart #1 and the seatback provides a comfortable recline angle.

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In terms of isolation, the Smart #1 generally hushed as is expected from an EV. But it’s far from the quietest as tyre noise can be quite evident as the speed climbs, and traffic noises aren’t as well muffled as say, the Tesla Model Y.

2023 Smart #1 Premium - Cabin noise level
60 km/h 56 dB
90 km/h 60 dB
110 km/h 67 dB

Energy Consumption

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After clocking a 100.8 km trip in mixed conditions, the trip computer indicated an average energy consumption of 15.3 kWh/100 km. Our calculations revealed the actual efficiency at 19.7 kWh/100 km based on energy delivered after two consecutive charges to 90 percent.

Conclusion

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For all its quirkiness and character, the Smart #1 will ultimately be compared to the Tesla Model Y, and in many cases, the Model 3 as well. This is now the norm, every EV gets compared to the poster child of EVs.

As an overall package, the Model Y is a more compelling product. It’s even more spacious inside with a bigger cargo capacity in both front and rear. It also drives more intuitively with well-calibrated driving controls.

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However, it looks like a swollen Model 3 and the Smart #1 wipes the floor in terms of design, inside and out. The Smart #1 doesn’t take itself too seriously and gives off a cheerful vibe. The last car to give me a similar feeling was the first-generation BMW-revamped MINI Hatch, and that might be the highest praise I can offer.

Also read: 8 outlets opened - Smart is asking you to drop by and ask any questions on the Smart #1

Shaun

Senior Writer

The quest for automotive knowledge began as soon as the earliest memories. Various sources information, even questionable ones, have been explored including video games, television, magazines, or even internet forums. Still stuck in that rabbit hole.

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