Picture this, you’re driving a Smart car and decide to race someone at the lights. They’re in a flashy BMW, yet you somehow beat them. Clearly, you’re dreaming, right? Apparently, this could be a reality if only you could buy Smart’s new seriously fast electric SUV. The Smart #1 Brabus seems to be one of the coolest EVs you’re not allowed to buy here in America. There are not many new cars I would buy right this moment, but this I would, yet, nobody on this side of the Atlantic can even touch one. Let’s take a look at why this car is so appealing.
Today on the Autopian Drive-In, we’re highlighting the work of Mat Watson of the YouTube channel carwow. I love this channel because its charismatic host makes car reviews fun. At the same time, Watson reviews the sorts of vehicles we cannot get here in America, so I like to watch and dream about what if.
Recently, Watson got to take the Smart #1 Brabus for a spin and I’m excited to see what he thinks about this piece of forbidden fruit.
Smart left America back in 2019 and since then there has been a city car-sized hole in my heart. Really, so many city cars have left this country that I couldn’t even realistically replace my Smart. The good news is that Smart hasn’t abandoned its roots and reportedly, the new #2, née Fortwo, will go into production eventually. At the same time, Smart has also realized that it does need to make money, and it’s doing so by putting out a duo of Mini Countryman-sized crossovers. For a while, I felt as if Smart sold out and killed the fun it was known for, but I’ve come around to these new little guys. Smart’s electric crossovers aren’t cute and quirky like the Fortwos of the past were, but they do look pretty fun!
A Long Road
Crossovers have been in Smart’s plans for a while. Back in 2006, the brand was supposed to launch in the United States with a compact SUV. Even back then, Smart knew that bigger was the path to survival. Unfortunately, Smart ran out of cash at the 11th hour. The Formore was only weeks from production, but the company was liquidated, nearly all prototypes were destroyed, and the factory would never come online.
From 2007 to 2019, Smart largely became a one-trick pony, selling just the Fortwo for most of that time before that car was later joined by the second-generation Forfour, which shared the majority of its bones with the Renault Twingo III. Still, even adding back the Forfour wasn’t enough to bring Smart the prosperity it wanted and in 2019, Mercedes-Benz sold a 50 percent stake in Smart to Geely to help reboot Smart. Together, the brands overhauled Smart from a maker of quirky city cars to “premium” mini electric SUVs. The launch product of the new grown-up Smart is the #1 electric crossover.
Before you ask, officially, the crossover’s name is “Hashtag One.” Smart is calling its vehicles “hashtags” because they’re supposed to make you think about what’s trendy on social media. It’s Smart’s way of attracting a younger online generation to its rebooted cars.
Get past that, and the cars look pretty good on paper. The Smart #1 is built on Geely’s Sustainable Experience Architecture (SEA) modular electric vehicle platform. In the UK, the #1’s starting price is £35,950 ($43,459). For that, you have a 14-foot-long electric SUV that seats five, puts down 272 horses to the rear wheels, and delivers a zero to 60 mph time in 6.7 seconds. And thanks to the 66 kWh lithium-nickel-cobalt-manganese battery, it has a WLTP range of 260 miles. It even has a tiny frunk!
If you want more spice in your life, for the price of £43,450 ($52,539) you can buy the fastest production Smart ever built, the #1 Brabus. In this unit, which has been breathed on by famed tuning house Brabus, range goes down to 248 miles, but your 60 mph acceleration time also goes down to 3.9 seconds. This is thanks to dual motors putting down a total of 428 HP. Now, clearly, the #1 isn’t even close to being the fastest or most powerful EV out there. But over 400 HP from a stock Smart? That’s pretty silly!
In terms of design, the Brabus package adds red accents, vents to the front fascia, larger wheels, a wing, a mild body kit, and the requisite Brabus logos all over the vehicle. The Smart #1 Brabus makes sure you know you’re driving a Brabus! Inside it’s more of the same as the Brabus features Alcantara seats, an Alcantara steering wheel, red stitching, red seatbelts, and more Brabus logos to stare at. Smarts may no longer be cute cars, but I still dig the design.
Is It As Fast As Smart Says?
Watson starts his review off by laying down the numbers and then hopping behind the wheel for a 60 mph test. I see he’s getting the important stuff out of the way immediately. Using timing gear, Watson found out that the #1 Brabus would stomp out 60 mph in just 3.78 seconds.
Watson then shows off a montage of far more sporty ICE cars that can’t beat that. Those cars range from the Porsche Cayman GT4 and the BMW XM to the Audi RS 3, BMW M2, and even the Zenvo TSR-S. In other words, Smart has some good company nowadays.
Watson starts off by saying Brabus completely reworked the #1’s chassis to deal with the power. Brabus upgraded the suspension, changed out the hubs and subframes, added limited-slip differentials, widened the track, upgraded the brakes, and even put sticky tires on there. Well, except all of that was complete nonsense. The Brabus work on the #1 is really just an appearance package plus a suspension tweak on the front axle to handle the extra weight from the second motor.
On the road, Watson says it’s pretty good around corners. It doesn’t lean too much and there’s plenty of grip. When the road gets bumpy, the suspension also remains composed. The steering is also sharp, adding to the sporty experience. Watson points out that none of this is new and that the standard #1 is pretty much just as good with handling. The difference is that the Brabus has so much power that you could chirp all four wheels at a launch. The car’s maneuverability is even retained as the front motor didn’t increase the vehicle’s 36-foot turning circle.
Watson says the car can slingshot out of bends and you can cover a lot of ground quickly. Ultimately, Watson likes how the #1 Brabus drives, but feels an ICE is still a more thrilling experience. Of course, with an ICE you still get to bang gears, hear that engine roar, and have that feeling of making the engine react with your right foot. In fairness to the Smart, that’s just an EV thing and personal preference. I’m sure there are folks out there who think not having an engine to rev out is better!
Weird Things About The #1
Later in the video, Watson starts listing what he doesn’t like about the #1. He starts off by talking about how to change drive modes. There’s no drive mode selector button near the driver or on the wheel. Instead, changing drive mode requires you to hit a button under the infotainment screen.
Apparently, when you’re going down the road, your arm may hit the storage cubby underneath that, opening the cubby when you just want to change your driving mode.
Next, Watson moves to the vehicle’s weight. It comes in at 1,900 kilograms or about 4,188 pounds. It’s 220 pounds heavier than the single-motor non-Brabus #1, which implies that the front motor is pretty porky. Watson thinks that’s quite a lot of weight for just a second motor.
Continuing inside, Watson next takes issue with the Alcantara steering wheel. The wheel itself is fine, but the material means you’ll never want to eat inside of the car, lest you ruin the nice Alcantara. Since the #1 is pitched as a sort of family SUV, you’ll have to be super careful.
Now, Watson starts nitpicking a couple of more things. He points to the 360-degree view on the infotainment screen, which shows a regular #1. A little more attention to detail would have been small, but great there. Watson also notes that the fancy seats make farting noises when you move them.
Watson feels like the car makes up for it with a bunch of cool features. The Brabus logo on the steering wheel glows, which is neat. Watson also likes how the car loses only 10 percent of its range for 57 percent more power and that power commands only about an extra 10 percent in price, too.
Also good is the fact that, unlike the older Fortwos, the #1 is packed with technology. You get automatic cruise control with lane-keeping assist and automatic braking, a heads-up display, a giant glass roof, and a cute digital assistant fox on the central display.
As A Daily Driver
Watson wraps up his test by using the car as a daily driver. He notes that the crossover rockets past traffic and the cabin is relatively comfortable at high speeds. What wasn’t as lovely was the Brabus’ efficiency, Watson was averaging 2.9 miles/kWh. Add that up against the 66 kWh pack, and that suggests a range of about 180 miles, which isn’t great.
Still, in the end, Watson recommends the new Smart as a good buy. Watson recommends buying the standard #1, which is pretty affordable for an EV at £35,950 ($43,459). Fully loaded, you’re looking at £38,950 ($47,162), which isn’t bad. Of course, if you want the best Smart could offer, the Brabus commands £43,450 ($52,539).
The only unfortunate thing is that as of current, Smart has made no plans to return to the United States. Watson’s review seems to suggest that the #1 is a car that could work here in America, but it seems Smart doesn’t want to chance our market again. Watson calls the Brabus a no-brainer, which might be the first time anyone other than myself has ever said such a thing about a Smart. Just make sure you are gentle on the accelerator.
Come on Smart, bring it here! More EV choices are always good.
(Screenshots: carwow on YouTube)
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