2024 smart #1 review – could this be the smartest EV choice if you’re transitioning from a premium ICE car?

2024 smart #1 review – could this be the smartest EV choice if you’re transitioning from a premium ICE car?

Considering an EV as the family’s next second car? There are no shortage of options if you’re thinking of making the switch from petrol power to batteries today.

The BYD Atto 3 led the first wave, taking up an upper middle class porch spot that would have otherwise been occupied by a nice compact SUV, anything from the Honda HR-V to a BMW X1. The BYD became the king of a small pond in no time.

Then, Tesla came to town and pulled the rug from under all brands selling EVs in Malaysia, causing some models to become uncompetitive overnight. Never mind the direct sales model with no traditional SA support, the brand’s power and eye-popping pricing means that slit-eyed Model 3s are a common sight in the Klang Valley now, and you’ll soon see a wave of Model Ys too, as deliveries of the crossover have started.

2024 smart #1 review – could this be the smartest EV choice if you’re transitioning from a premium ICE car?

These new Tesla owners had +/- RM200k to spend on a car; in the pre-EV era, their money would have gone to BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The premium Germans have EVs themselves too, but they’re no longer the default choice, at least when it comes to electric.

Amidst all this – and the Chinese EV price war that’s currently happening in the sub-RM150k space – the presence of the smart #1 might have slipped your mind. It was launched in November 2023 after a long-drawn saga of a preview; that was just four months ago although it feels much longer, perhaps a sign of how much is going on in the EV space.

But you shouldn’t overlook the smart #1. In my humble opinion, it offers something unique in the market and is an ideal ‘first EV’ if you’re transitioning from a premium-badged ICE car.

Design by Merc, cooler than Merc

2024 smart #1 review – could this be the smartest EV choice if you’re transitioning from a premium ICE car?

If you don’t already know, today’s smart is a JV between Mercedes-Benz and China’s Geely. Famous for tiny city cars in the Y2K era, smart is now an EV-only brand, and the internals and platform of its cars are by Geely. However, the Germans are responsible for design, and there’s some Mercedes EQ flavour in the #1’s looks.

Mercedes-Benz has its own compact SUV EV of course, but the EQA appears safe and dull next to the smart, which looks unlike anything on sale today – a tall hatchback, but not quite the typical SUV. The #1’s large wheels, ‘stuck on’ baseball cap of a roof, and organic shape gives it a futuristic look. Quirky, but I like it.

The smart is as special inside too. The dashboard is a huge T-shaped cockpit partition with plenty of gloss white and matte silver bits, which reminds us of a previous-generation Apple product. Again, the lines and shapes are consistently organic and you won’t find any sharp edges.

Soft landing on EV land

2024 smart #1 review – could this be the smartest EV choice if you’re transitioning from a premium ICE car?

It won’t be an EV without a huge screen in the middle but unlike Tesla, the 12.8-inch freestanding portrait screen is supplemented by a traditional ‘meter panel’ ahead of the driver – and in our Premium tester – a head-up display as well. No need to glance sideways for vitals here. And there are stalks, two of them in fact – one for the gears, another for the lights and wipers, just like on a Mercedes-Benz. Why are we even talking about stalks, you ask?

Unfortunately, stalks aren’t a given anymore. The Tesla Model 3 doesn’t have any, and you have to look elsewhere – literally – for basic functions such as gears, signals and wipers. Just a matter of getting used to, Tesla drivers and fans say. True, but this is still a classic case of reinventing the wheel when there was nothing wrong with it. In any case, screen requires more effort than stalk, and you can’t argue against that.

Now, this isn’t a digital vs analogue debate – the smart is a modern EV and most of its features are embedded in the system – but logic and ease of use. If we can’t have physical climate controls in the name of modernity, the least that carmakers can do is to dedicate a section of the screen for this most frequently used function. It is so in the smart, ventilated seats included. Controls for the glass roof are also where they’re supposed to be – on the roof.

I feel that smart has managed to design an interior that’s funky and high tech, yet logical and familiar. It needs some learning, of course, but the curve isn’t uncomfortably steep in my opinion.

Moans and niggles? Perhaps there are profiles that can save a driver’s preferences (if so, the next point is moot), but having to manually turn off warnings for speed limit and lane departure on every drive is annoying. I’m OK with the wing mirror controls being tucked away (activate in the screen, adjust with steering buttons) though, as that’s a set-and-forget thing.

Warning: You’re never alone in the #1. There’s an orange fox living in the screen. He can be overdramatic at times but is harmless. I can imagine Mr. Fox and his habitat being a tad too cartoonish for some, but IMO it fits in with smart’s younger, less stuffy image.

Best of both worlds

2024 smart #1 review – could this be the smartest EV choice if you’re transitioning from a premium ICE car?

We started off by saying that the smart is a good landing point for those coming from premium ICE cars, and that’s seen not just in the interior design, but in the drive as well. Mostly in the the drive, actually.

You see, Chinese EVs, and their cars in general, tend to be very comfort-oriented. While comfort is desirable, veer too far to that end of the scale and you’ll get suspension that’s too soft and floaty, and steering that’s too light and artificial. That might be OK in a purely urban context, but it’s not a good match for Malaysia’s high speeds, less than flat highways and backroads – the nett effect is far from comfortable.

It’s the way it is because this is what consumers in the world’s biggest auto market want, and the carmakers tune accordingly – rightly so. The smart #1 doesn’t follow that template though, even though it’s made in China.

2024 smart #1 review – could this be the smartest EV choice if you’re transitioning from a premium ICE car?

The #1’s suspension is a fair bit firmer than say, a BYD Atto 3, and the steering is much more natural in feel too, heavier and grainier. Compared to what we’re used to from Chinese SUVs, the smart corners flatter and has tighter body control when faced with undulations too.

Continental feel, if we’re being simplistic. But on the other hand, European electric SUVs can have the tendency of an overly busy ride, an irritant that’s difficult to ignore and one that diminishes the relaxed, effortless feel of an EV. I’ve not driven the iX1, but Hafriz Shah has, and he says that the BMW’s ride lets it down.

The smart #1 strikes a good balance between comfort and dynamics, and there’s more than enough handling and grip here for EV buyers, we reckon.

We move on to acceleration, which is, once again, quite well balanced in our 272 PS/343 Nm Premium tester. The claimed 0-100 km/h figure is 6.9 seconds, but the typical EV eagerness to leap ahead from rest to 50 km/h ensures that the #1 feels much faster than any ICE car with similar acceleration timing.

We also sampled the 3.9 seconds Brabus dual-motor range-topper (428 PS/543 Nm) and its ‘V8’ soundtrack – both the acceleration and ‘engine noise’ are hilarious, but seriously, the single-motor RWD Pro/Premium are more than quick enough. Fast enough that I covered all of my miles in Comfort mode, save for trying out Sport once for the sake of this review. You get an even bigger initial burst with Sport, but few will be missing it.

One area that ICE drivers might find jarring in the smart #1 is the excessive ‘engine braking’ that can’t be dialled down. We are of course talking about energy regeneration, which is part and parcel of the EV experience. The #1 has three levels of regen including single-pedal drive, but even in the mildest option, the pullback effect is strong and this translates to less-than-smooth progress. A longer leash would be nice.

Brilliant efficiency and charging

2024 smart #1 review – could this be the smartest EV choice if you’re transitioning from a premium ICE car?

My driving/living impressions of the #1 was formed by a media drive to Penang and back – where I shared driving duties with two others – and a separate session where I integrated the EV into my weekday routine for a ‘real-world’ setting.

My final score from the latter is 15 kWh/100 km over 216 km. According to the smart’s trip computer, I consumed 54 kWh and regenerated 22 kWh over my 3D2N stint. I collected the car with 303 km range (94% SOC) and returned it with 39%, good for 161 km.

Not bad, but Hafriz did much better – the EV owner and serial tester managed a jaw-dropping 13.2 kWh/100 km over 400 km of mixed driving. That’s better than the 15-16 kWh/100 km he managed for the Mercedes-Benz EQA and BMW iX1, and if you extrapolate it, max range would be around 460-470 km, which is more than smart’s claimed 440 km WLTP range for the 66 kWh Premium. Fantastic efficiency from a fully-loaded EV rolling on UHP tyres.

Our man also reported accurate range readings and prediction, and trust is doubly important when it comes to EVs, as you can’t just stop for fuel anywhere like you would with ICE. Speaking of charging, the smart #1’s navigation function has charger locations from the top CPOs in Malaysia, covering 70% of charge points in the country. We used this in our drive to Penang, which needed a top up at the PLUS Sungai Perak R&R, and it worked as advertised.

This is also found in the Hello smart app, which you can use to pay for charging, keeping everything in-house. The app now supports debit/credit card payment in addition to the previous credits, which is a good upgrade.

With the app, you’ll be able to find out where the chargers are, who owns it, how many guns are there, operation hours and price – all without leaving the smart ecosystem. Pick a spot and it’ll be on the car’s big screen via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. When you’re there, initiate and pay with the app, then monitor the progress on your phone. One app to do it all? That’s pretty smart.

We applaud smart Malaysia for going beyond the basics of selling/servicing an EV. There won’t be many complaints if they sold the CBU #1 as is (we’re used to it), but smart took the effort to localise the in-car system and develop an EV-specific app that goes beyond telematics with ACO Tech, even improving it with time.

The smart #1 has another charging trump card, and it’s in the hardware. There’s always plenty of focus on DC fast charging, but an EV’s primary source of juice is AC, and the #1 stands out in the field with a 22 kW AC onboard charger. For context, all BYD EVs in Malaysia including the range-topping Seal Performance AWD max out at 7 kW, while premium brand EVs like the EQA and iX1 suck 11 kW, as per all Tesla and Hyundai EVs.

With 22 kW AC and a compatible source, going from 10-80% SoC takes just three hours. This means that you can have a long lunch break or rest time at home and when you’re done, the smart is replenished, all without paying DC rates. Yes, EVs are typically left to charge overnight, but the smart’s high AC rate gives you plenty of flexibility, including the option to AC over DC when you’re on the move.

2024 smart #1 review – could this be the smartest EV choice if you’re transitioning from a premium ICE car?

Of the EVs currently sold in Malaysia, only the ’55 quattro’ variants of the Audi Q8 e-tron/e-tron GT and the Porsche Taycan support 22 kW AC, so the smart’s charging game is strong, a big USP at this price point. What about DC? 150 kW is nearly double the rate of the Atto 3 ER and Chery Omoda E5 (both 80 kW), and beats the EQA (100 kW) and iX1 (130 kW). smart claims 10-80% SoC in 30 minutes.

Daily, family

The RM219k Premium variant we tested has an equipment list that’s truly premium – in fact, I can’t think of many cars – ICE or EV – for the money that’s as well-equipped. The few features that I appreciated are the above-mentioned glass roof (which is huge), the ventilated front seats, the ‘courtesy’ sliding function of the driver’s seat that eases entry/exit, and the 13-speaker Beats sound system. The latter’s A-pillar tweeters are illuminated and even double up as blind spot flashers – smart!

Less flashy and certainly not a ‘feature’ to be highlighted, but the #1’s ample and sizeable storage areas in the cockpit (huge door bins, cooled centre box) and generous rear quarters make it a good family car as well. Not only is rear legroom better than the EQA and iX1 by some margin, the seat base height is ideal (not a given with EVs), the backrest is reclinable and it’s a spacious and pleasant experience overall, for all.

An educated guess would attribute the spacious cabin to the smart’s dedicated EV platform (the EQA and iX1 have ICE sisters). However, we got to sit in the Volvo EX30 and Zeekr X at the 2024 Bangkok International Motor Show, and while both those compact SUVs are also underpinned by the same Geely Sustainable Experience Architecture (SEA) 2 platform. they’re much smaller inside, proving that good old packaging is important too.

When it comes to electric vehicles, it’s easy to get all nerdy and caught up in the E and forget the V part of the equation. The propulsion source might be different, but at the end of the day, EVs are cars that should fit into our lives and serve us well. Strong on both counts, the smart #1 is a very competent electronic device, but as we discovered over long distance and daily driving, it’s also a good car, and that has to count for something.

Sense and cents

But isn’t it a bit expensive? The smart #1 appears pricey at a glance. The range starts from RM189,000 for the 49 kWh Pro, and the 66 kWh Premium as tested here will set you back RM219,000. For the dual-motor AWD Brabus with the same 66 kWh nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) battery, add RM30k.

Curiously, the base variant’s battery is of the lithium-iron phosphate (LFP) variety, which can be charged to 100% regularly with no issues. It’s advised that you charge NMC batteries to about 80-85% for regular use, which compromises maximum range. It would be great if the Premium came with an LFP battery, but nothing is perfect.

2024 smart #1 review – could this be the smartest EV choice if you’re transitioning from a premium ICE car?

Premium brand EV rivals BMW iX1 and Mercedes EQA are priced close to RM300k

Anyway, smart’s asking prices might look high next to Chinese EVs from BYD, GWM and Chery; but the Geely-Mercedes product is more premium in equipment and – as established here – driving experience. The #1 is also a superior EV when it comes to performance and charging (the latter impacts your daily life, don’t disregard it), with the bonus of a multitasking app.

The Mercedes-Benz EQA 250 AMG Line and BMW iX1 xDrive30 M Sport are more appropriate EV rivals, and both are priced close to the RM300k mark. The EQA has a high 496 km WLTP range but is over two seconds slower to 100 km/h, while the dual-motor AWD iX1 does the century sprint a second faster than the #1 Premium, with a similar 440 km range. If you’re bullied, just call big brother Brabus.

Against the premium Germans, the smart #1 is great value. Not only is it better equipped and more spacious than the duo, it charges faster in both AC and DC, and you can buy an ICE SUV with the price difference! How about Tesla? Big hype and strong value there, but you must try before you buy – the smart EV experience is friendlier and familiar, from purchasing (traditional dealership and SA support) to driving (stalks!).

GALLERY: smart #1 media drive

GALLERY: smart #1 Premium

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Danny Tan

Danny Tan loves driving as much as he loves a certain herbal meat soup, and sweet engine music as much as drum beats. He has been in the auto industry since 2006, previously filling the pages of two motoring magazines before joining this website. Enjoys detailing the experience more than the technical details.

 

Comments

  • It could be smart choice of no Proton’s involvement.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0
  • Bob Mal on Apr 01, 2024 at 2:02 pm

    Well as this 1 has the exact same platform as the Volvo EX30 however as many reviewers already said the Volvo wins hands down in performance, fashion, driveability, entertainment, comfort and quality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
  • Dah Menang Semua on Apr 01, 2024 at 2:29 pm

    Next gen EV 2027-2030
    With solid-state battery
    Current EV can throw

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2
    • Richard Teo on Apr 01, 2024 at 8:28 pm

      Is why China dumping the lot elsewhere now. While the Chinese government hastily pulling different mainland companies BYD, CATL together to commit a date to chase after the West Japanese, Korean in terms of solid state battery tech (This news U can google it)

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • ThePolygon on Apr 01, 2024 at 4:00 pm

    Like the editor I do hope they update the battery when newer versions are made available while remaining the rest of the package cause it’s perfect, the only concern is the battery. And with the diminishing battery cost, maybe lower down the selling price as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
  • FrankC on Apr 01, 2024 at 4:48 pm

    Hafriz stopped at Sg Perak R&R to top up battery for trip to penang. Man, you should have drop by kuala kangsar town and had it charged there (please suggest to the one with power, setup a fast charger station in kuala kangsar town).
    Man you wont have to sit at the station waiting 30~45mins to get charged up. u can explore the town on foot or the station could have provide you with an alternative car for explore locally. we have lots of good & clean ‘halal’ foods to explore. even the palace is in the town… he he
    please visit kuala kangsar!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2
  • The appearance is a big failure, enough said

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  • Fungus Foong on Apr 01, 2024 at 7:23 pm

    Just don’t like the way it looks. Doesn’t look like a serious car.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  • ROTI CANAI on Apr 01, 2024 at 9:00 pm

    the price killed it

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  • Question would be, this against the BYD Seal and the Tesla Model 3. In isolation it’s good, is it as good as these 2 similarly priced rivals of a different form, a comparison beckons. Please do that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  • Was in the market for an EV a few months ago. Completely turned-off by their launch strategy – did the Proton execs think they were launching a supercar?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
 

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