The stylish and spacious electric crossover is reinventing the brand… again

The stylish and spacious electric crossover is reinventing the brand… again

Smart has spent the past couple of days trying to erase memories of the tiny ForTwo from our minds. It is a brand that was never intended to make only small cars, as is now claimed, and now represents the most spacious and practical cars in any segment.

We’re told it costs the same to build a ForTwo as it costs to build a Mercedes E-Class, so today’s radically different models are designed to help Smart sell something at a profit. Well, that last part wasn’t actually part of the official line, but it was heavily implied.

As it approaches its 25th anniversary in 2024, Smart is now jointly managed by Mercedes and Chinese automaker Geely. Geely also owns Volvo, Polestar, Lotus and several other brands, and has developed the electric car platform used by both the No. 3 and the longer, sturdier Smart No. 1, so there is a close mechanical relationship with the likes of the Volvo EX30 and the upcoming Polestar 4.

Smart #3

So, you’ll be able to buy this No. 3 — yes, it’s pronounced “hashtag 3” and no, that hasn’t gotten any less ridiculous since we tested its stablemate — with a choice between two batteries, rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive plus the Brabus Sport model.

The entry-level No. 3 Pro costs a very steep £32,950. This comes with a cheaper battery, one that uses lithium iron phosphate (LFP) chemistry, which, in combination with a basic 7.4kW AC charging system for home wall boxes, for example, is over £4,000 cheaper for the Smart that makes it from Longer batteries. Scope model.

The Pro’s battery has 49 kWh of usable power, giving it an official range of 202 miles on a full charge. It will be replenished with up to 130 kW of DC fast charger, meaning 10-80 percent takes less than 30 minutes.

Upgrade to the £36,950 Pro+ model or the £39,950 Premium model on test here and you’ll get a 62kWh battery that uses more energy-efficient lithium-ion technology.

This gives a potential range of up to 283 miles, although there is no additional power – the same rear-mounted 268bhp electric motor is used.

That’s not a bad thing because it has plenty of poke, and is capable of propelling the No. 3 with the larger battery to 62 mph from rest in just 5.8 seconds.

Brabus tuning

There is an upgrade available for those who want more performance. Brabus made its name by cramming massive V12 and V8 engines into the engine bays of various Mercedes cars, and now it’s making electric smart cars go even faster.

The £45,450 Brabus #3 gets two engines, all-wheel drive and 422bhp, with a ridiculous 0-62mph time of 3.7 seconds.

That’s a fraction of a second slower than the closely related Volvo EX30 Performance, but then the No. 3 is a bit longer and larger than the Volvo. In any case, it’s faster than many gasoline-powered sports cars can manage.

When it comes to the interior, Smart’s promise is that the No. 3’s inherent intelligence lies in the amount of interior space it offers.

It certainly feels roomy enough inside, with plenty of leg and headroom in the back despite being around 80mm lower than the Smart #1.

But the luggage compartment is not great – it holds only 370 liters, and the luggage compartment under the hood expands to a vaguely meaningless 15 liters. However, not all electric cars offer this.

Front passengers get a pair of delicious high-back sports seats, which are heated and electrically adjusted across the entire range.

A large panoramic glass roof is also standard, and makes the cabin feel airy even though it’s low.

Smart #3

Between the front seats is a long center console and has a large open storage area underneath, with smaller covered compartments for odds and ends.

Oddly enough, the entire center console – from the armrest down to the three small round air vents – looks as if it was simply lifted from an old Mercedes C-Class and resprayed. Perhaps one of them was lying around on hand on the day the interior was designed.

Crazy touch screen

All models get a decent 12.8-inch touchscreen in the center of the dashboard, although the base Pro model has to dispense with the nifty little bar for the driver information screen behind the steering wheel.

This is unfortunate, because it’s less distracting to look over there to check your speed, range, etc. than at the big screen.

There’s also a head-up display projected onto the windscreen for higher-spec models.

As for the large touchscreen, it comes incredibly close to ruining your experience with the No. 3. Granted, you may get used to the Byzantine menu layout with more practice over time, but you’ll constantly be driven mad by the endless parade of beeps and warnings it emits.

Now, fair enough, these are for safety-sensitive items like speed limits, lane departures and approaching the car in front of you, but you’d be less angry about them if they were actually consistent.

The speed limit warning – which berates you in a full human voice if you drift over the limit – is particularly dense, and seems unable to propagate the correct speed limit for a given road for more than a few seconds at a time. No, Smart, it’s not okay to go 50 miles an hour through this little village.

Smart #3

The digital voice assistant is similarly useless, no matter how adorable the cheetah avatar appears on screen. It seemed oblivious to repeated uttering of the “Hello Smart” start command, and when I finally did, it was able to lower the driver’s window (ironically, one of the few items that still has a physical switch) but was unable to turn the steering wheel heater Running.

If anything, the navigation was even worse, frequently directing us to off-limits streets, or insisting that the airport was in the city centre.

Combine that with excessive controls for things like the door mirrors, and you’ll wish Smart offered a trademark cut-off hammer, so the screen could be dispensed with permanently.

Lots of power…

Will the driving experience provide any comfort? A little, but the No. 3 isn’t what you’d call a particularly exciting car to drive. With 268 horsepower for the rear-drive model, it’s never less than quick, although it can run out of steam on long highway climbs.

It cruises quietly and smoothly on main roads, but this unfortunately gives you ample opportunity to listen to cabin creaks and rattles (a pre-production vehicle, in fairness) or loose items strewn about in the unlined door bins.

Smart #3

Going around corners. It brakes precisely and smoothly. But the No. 3 car never shows anything more than a passing interest in the field of driving. The steering is quite numb at any of the adjustable weight settings, so there’s little to nothing here for the enthusiastic driver.

It’s not particularly good in town, where the long wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) creates a wide turning circle that might leave you having to reverse and go again at small roundabouts.

At least the scope is holding up well. Our premium test car showed a full 280 miles of range on a full charge, and despite highway and mountainous driving, it seemed to mostly live up to that promise, using about a kilowatt-hour for every 3.5 miles.

The Premium’s heat pump climate control, which lesser versions lack, no doubt helped.

Should enthusiast drivers upgrade to the Brabus version? Maybe… It’s certainly very fast in a straight line, enough that vomiting is rarely more than a twist of the ankle for some riders.

Most of the time, however, it doesn’t seem to have the agility or driver appeal to really convince, but then again if you shift it into the ‘Brabus-specific’ driving mode it picks up a bit, with more linear steering weight and speed and a sense of muscular enthusiasm.

It’s not a great driver’s car, and certainly not by traditionally lofty Brabus standards, but it’s fun, if a touch pointless given that you lose about 30 miles of range, so any extra speed you generate will be negated by an early charging stop.

Clearly, Smart had to adapt and evolve beyond its sleek two-seater city car roots, simply because not enough people were buying them and profit margins were slim.

The No. 3 should be more popular, thanks to it being the car everyone seems to want right now — an electric crossover — and more profitable thanks to lower Chinese factory costs.

What he lacks is a true sense of purpose, which allows him to scream “Look at me!” Higher than the swamp of other electric crossovers you’ll be surrounded by – aside from its attractive entry-level price. It’s beautiful overall, and certainly roomy and just as great – if not more so – to drive. Will all this be enough to revitalize the smart brand?

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