Home » Smart’s Newest Electric SUV Is Pretty But Completely Unrecognizable As A Smart

Smart’s Newest Electric SUV Is Pretty But Completely Unrecognizable As A Smart

Smarttop1

Last weekend, a photo popped up in my news feed with the caption “Smart #3…” under it. Still coughing out my lungs and dosed up to the eyeballs on medicine, I scrolled past the image and watched a video about Chicago’s commuter rail network. Then it hit me, that was a Smart! I love Smarts! So I went straight to Google where I coughed before dropping my jaw; Smart has another electric SUV on the way and it looks great. The #3 is longer, lower, and wider than the similarly-looking hot rod #1, but is — like “Hashtag 1” — completely unrecognizable as a Smart.

Smart left America in 2019, but I continue to follow the brand’s story. My love for Smart is over 14 years strong, and I’m always looking for new upgrades and Smarts to pick up. I mean, I have five Fortwos spanning five different years, three generations, and two types of engines. I still have to get a couple of Forfours, a Roadster, a Crossblade, an Electric Drive, and a Fortwo cabriolet. Speaking of which, if you happen to know of a Roadster for sale in U.S. borders, I’d love to know! At any rate, I love Smart so much that I’m even willing to buy the company’s new SUVs when they come of age roughly 25 years from now. [Ed note: Now that’s dedication! -DT]. 

But Smart’s new design language baffles me. In 2019, Mercedes-Benz decided to sell 50 percent of Smart to Geely. The plan? Relaunch Smart as an all-electric SUV brand with vehicles designed by Mercedes-Benz and built in China using Geely technology. The rebirth of my beloved Smart put me on a rollercoaster of emotions.

Smart

On one hand, I’m chuffed that Smart finally succeeded in making the SUV that it wanted to make since 2006. And it blows my mind that the Smart #1 Brabus (above) punches out 422 horsepower. That’s not just the fastest Smart ever put into production, but it’s nearly three times as powerful as the previous fastest production Smart. The Brabus is so powerful that it races to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, and it’ll spin all four tires if you let it. And this is in a Smart!

Geely has turned Smart into something that regular people would buy, and not just weirdos like me with five Fortwos. But I fear that Smart is losing its identity along the way. The #1, with its Mini Countryman-style roof, already departed far enough from the Smart formula. Now we know what Smart’s next car, the #3, looks like (below), and it looks even less like a Smart than the #1.

Slide 16 9 59 12
MIIT

Peel off the Smart badges and the new SUVs could belong to any brand. That’s weird, since Smart has long enjoyed such a distinctive design language that you didn’t even need to see “Smart” to identify a Smart. But this is all a part of Smart’s rebranding as a premium, more serious automaker. And as a reminder, Smart says that those “#” signs mean “hashtag,” so this car is the “Hashtag 3.”

The pictures of this car come courtesy of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), a government entity responsible for administrating Chinese industries and information security. MIIT publishes the Road Motor Vehicle Manufacturers and Products Announcement, which catalogs vehicles that will be available soon in China, which is pretty neat!

If you want to know how Smart got to this point, I wrote about that and you can read it by clicking here. But I’ll still give you the short version. Back in 2014, Smart unveiled the third generation of the Fortwo and the rebirth of the long-discontinued Forfour, below:

Ddtgnlcy3bd3cw4fp6gd
Smart

These cars–which shared a platform with the Renault Twingo III–were supposed to right a lot of the wrongs of the cars of Smart’s past. Smart ditched the slow single-clutch automated-manual transmission for a legitimately quick dual-clutch unit and an optional five-speed manual. Speed picked up, too, with a new, more powerful base engine.

Extra care was taken for America, where the second-generation Fortwo had suffered from poor sales and a bad image. The new Fortwo lost its signature single-box design for a muscular two-box design. Check out this picture. The first-generation Fortwo is on the left, second in the middle, and the third on the right:

Mesmarts
Mercedes Streeter

At the time, a representative at Smart USA told me that the new design was supposed to make the car look bigger than it actually was. And this was done for us. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, and U.S. sales stayed slow. And in one of Smart’s key markets, Europe, the cars didn’t quite capture the magic that the earlier ones did. But that’s the past. Smart is gearing up for a total rebirth, one that will hopefully turn things around.

The new Smart #3 appears to be the vehicle that has been seen in spy shots and was speculated to be named the #2. It’s a crossover design featuring a front and rear design similar to the smaller #1 and Mercedes’ current design language. What’s changed is the middle. Unlike the #1, which is more upright, the #3 takes on a more “crossover coupe” design that a number of models have today. The side profile tapers off almost like the teardrop-shaped Mercedes-Benz EQS. The MIIT pictures show a couple of different color variations and angles of the #3, here’s the rear:

Screenshot (104)
MIIT

According to Car News China, which found the filing, it’s 14.4-feet-long, 6-feet-wide, and 5.1-feet-tall. That makes the #3 about five inches longer, 0.8 inches wider, and 3 inches shorter than the #1. And the wheelbase is just 1.4 inches longer. Like the #1, the #3 rides on Geely’s Sustainable Experience Architecture (SEA) modular electric vehicle platform. This platform underpins cars that you may have heard of like the Lotus Eletre, Polestar 3, and Volvo EX90, as well as cars you may not have heard of like Zeeker’s 001 and 002.

The spec sheet for the #3 is reportedly the same as the #1. So, a base #3 gets a 268 HP motor driving the rear wheels. A Brabus version adds a 154 HP front motor, adding the total output to 422 HP, just like the #1. So this is essentially a #1 for people who want their Smart crossover to be a little sleeker.  Here are the #1 and #3 side-by-side. The #1 is on the left and the larger #3 is on the right:

Smahts
Smart / MIIT

While the filing doesn’t reveal battery capacity or range, I wouldn’t be surprised if it also shares the #1’s 66 kWh lithium-nickel-cobalt-manganese battery and WLTP cycle range of around 273 miles. The filing does reveal a couple of more neat details, like a curb weight up to 4,166 pounds and a tow rating of 3,527 pounds.

All of this is great! And when Smart finally starts delivering its new SUVs to customers I have no doubt that sales will be a smash hit. But I’m afraid that Smart has lost itself. Though, at least the interior of the #1 hasn’t gone completely normal:

Smart

Back at the old lighting site, I wrote about Smart’s new plan to get more serious and shake off some of the fun image. Sadly, what I feared has for the most part happened. Smart put on a business suit and now holds a real job.

There was a time when you could tell a Smart from another car without looking at the badge. But these don’t look distinctive. Remove the badging and they could be mistaken for any random SUV. Sure, it looks like you could get a #3 with a contrasting roof color, but that’s not really “Smart.” Again, these look great, but they don’t look like the Smarts that hundreds of thousands of people around the world have fallen in love with.

Roofoptions
MIIT

Thankfully, I do have some good news. David Browne, CEO of Smart UK, has confirmed that the Smart Fortwo will be getting a replacement. As of right now, the Smart EQ Fortwo is built by Ineos in Smart’s old Smartville factory in France. That’s expected to continue until sometime in 2023 or 2024. As reported by the UK’s PA Media: Motoring news service, when the Fortwo gets discontinued is up to Mercedes-Benz. Whenever the brand gets around to replacing the Fortwo, the new vehicle will likely be built in China where the electric SUV production is.

There are exactly zero details about what the new Fortwo will look like or what it’ll be like underneath. But I–perhaps foolishly–have some hope that at least the Fortwo will keep with tradition with its design. Time will tell.

2023 Smart 3 00010
MIIT

In the end, I’m hopefully that these new Smarts will finally bring the brand the prosperity it so desperately needs. But it’s disappoitning that Smart has no plans on giving America another try. And perhaps in Smart’s chase for profitability, it lost itself along the way.

I love this brand so much that I so want to drive one of these SUVs; maybe, 25 years from now I’ll be importing one.

Relatedbar

Read more on The Autopian

Want to write for The Autopian? Pitch us here. Or check out the stories on our homepage.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit

16 Responses

  1. I think it’s pretty smart of Smart to make a Smart that doesn’t look like a Smart, considering the reaction that Smart had to its original design from their target demographic.

    Just saying.

  2. You know that Seinfeld bit about sports fandom amounting to cheering for laundry? That’s what being a Smart fan feels like at this point.

    At this point, you’re just rooting for a trademark. Smart was originally a manifestation of a Swatch executive wanting to build the automotive manifestation of a Swatch. Drastically reduced part count. Delightful simplicity. Infinite customization. Environmental friendliness.

    If the founder of your favorite product would be disgusted by what that product has become, and if no one involved with developing that product seems to give a shit about the things that made you fall in love, why are you still devoting time and money to it?

  3. Rather like the look of the grey one with the red roof: sort of a Mini/Soul vibe-and anything that can smoke all four on dry pavement gets my attention. It’s a shame they are ditching the classic look. I wonder if they decided that it was too tied to a negative image? Or, maybe that doesn’t make sense: the negativity was mostly just in NA, right? Which isn’t getting the (urk!) Hashtag3.

    My parents were interested in the OG, and had a buddy genuinely exited about buying one. Parents ended up with a Prius as did my buddy. Because of lack of storage space and that the fuel mileage wasn’t all that.

  4. I imagine I am not far off from other Americans that were offered these cars new. They were not that good on gas mileage and not nearly cheap enough to look past that to buy one for daily commuting as that was what they were most good for. I can say that I might have considered the Smart Coupe had it made it to the US and I still kind of want one to swap a Hayabusa engine into, which I assume is doable like a regular Smart fourtwo? With Four doors, and hybrid tech in the picture now, I suppose price is the big missing link here?

    1. Yeah, to this day I’ll never understand why Smart USA actively decided against importing the diesel. Like, I know why Smart USA didn’t do it: the official word is that they felt that people wouldn’t want a car that took 18-20 seconds to reach 60 mph, so they gave us a car that could do it in about 12-14 seconds instead. However, I still think that people would have been willing to live with the slowness if they got 70 mpg out of the other end.

      Smart’s own internal data showed that more than half of buyers in Canada were in rural areas because they enjoyed the high fuel economy of the diesel. Instead, we got the gas engine, and the vast majority of buyers ended up being people in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City.

      As for your questions, the #1 starts at about 41,000 Euros, with the 422 HP Brabus sitting at 48,000 Euros. A bit expensive, but not too crazy. And yes, you can swap a Smart Roadster’s engine with a motorcycle engine!

      1. I would have liked to have a smart diesel. all diesels are slowish, but they are also usually a price premium, so , I am not sure I would have bought a new one, but I would take one now. I know, I am cheap.

  5. It feels like they have just decided to pitch Smart as the cheaper, smaller version of Mercedes. I wonder if this is because Mercedes felt they lost some of their upmarket, ‘premium’ credibility with the A-Class, and so this is a way of distancing the main brand from their smaller, econobox mass-market offerings.

    For me the styling (both of these and of the Mercedes EQS) is just so incredibly bland and generic, they just look like amorphous blobs. There are a bunch of the big EQ sedans and SUVs roaming around my part of the world though, so apparently others disagree.

    Also, this sentence really made my brain hurt:
    “That makes the #3 about five inches longer, 0.8 inches wider, and 3 inches shorter than the #1.”

  6. “And as a reminder, Smart says that those “#” signs mean “hashtag,” so this car is the “Hashtag 3.”

    Smart can say whatever they want, but most people of my generation or older are still going to call them the Number 1 and Number 3. Perhaps that’s why they skipped a digit so they wouldn’t have to push out a “Number 2”. I’ll take mine in brown, obviously.

    1. Yeah, I’m still a bit baffled with Smart’s insistence that these be called “hashtag” and not “number.” There is a new rumor that the Fortwo is the vehicle that will become the #2, with the logic being that Smart wants to keep “2” in the name of whatever the Fortwo’s replacement will be.

      If true, that’ll mean not only are Smart’s names bizarre, but they don’t seem to indicate anything. Because as of right now, the #3 is the bigger-ish SUV and the #1 the smaller SUV. So the #2 will be the city car?

      …I think my brain is overheating processing that.

    2. #1 is still pee pee even if we aren’t getting a poo poo car.

      Honestly, my ability to make pee pee poo poo jokes is the only thing I really like about this. The #1 at least has a cute two-tone, but it feels like a C-HR or Mini with less character.

  7. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. I get that smart wants to rebrand to be more upscale and have more mass appeal, but they have thrown out 2 decades of very strong brand recognition. The fact that this just looks like another bland electric crossover from Mercedes-Benz is frustrating since smart is known for having fun and unique styling. They could have kept fun, interesting elements like the Tridion cell and still managed to rebrand, but by throwing all that away they might as well just stop calling themselves smart too while they’re at it. This car looks nice but it’s boring, which, say what you will about them, the original smart cars weren’t.

Leave a Reply