Introduction and model history
First, let’s deal with the elephants in the room. Yes, Smart used to be all about tiny, clever city cars – and the #3 is neither of those things. And hashtag three is a daft name for a car.
If you can get your head around those, you might find that the reinvented Smart is really very good.
It’s the big brother to the recently-launched #1 in Smart’s new range, and is 4,400mm long – that’s about the same length a Mercedes A-Class. Actually, the styling looks a bit like a shrunken Mercedes SUV and the interior has the quality of a Mercedes. And it’s designed and engineered by, er Mercedes.
But it’s made in China by a company called Geely, which also use many of the bits in this to make the Volvo EX30. And will be used in future Polestars and brands like Zeekr. Confused? Me too. But such is the way of the global car business.
But the result of all this reinvention and cross breeding is a car which, if it had great big star on the front grille, no one would complain. But it’s not a Mercedes price. The #3 with the bigger battery costs just under £37,000 – which is £12,000 less than the cost of the cheapest Mercedes EQA and puts the Smart up against everything from A Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen ID.3 to a Tesla Model 3.
If you can cope with a smaller range, the entry-level #3 costs under £33,000 - that's less than most Vauxhall Corsa Electrics.
Battery range and charging
As you might expect, the cheapest model gets a smaller battery. It’s called the Pro and has an LFP battery which uses fewer precious metals than the Lithium Ion cells you find in most other electric cars. It’s also cheaper to make, to the tune of about £4,000 according to the Smart boffins I spoke to.
The downside is that it has a smaller capacity and therefore less range – it’s a 49kWh battery and gives an official range of 202 miles. Charging on an AC feed is at a maximum of 7.4kW, which is below the average in this class but won’t matter to most drivers who just use a home wallbox. DC rapid charging is at a maximum of 130kW.
Move up to the Pro+ - which is nothing to do with caffeine tablets used to get students through exam revision – and you’re treated to a 66kWh battery giving 270 miles. AC charging is still 7.4kW, but the DC maximum gets upgraded to 150kW.
The top Premium version gets a heat pump and a more efficient motor which increases the range to 283 miles. The AC inverter also gets an upgrade so it can take 22kW – useful if you have access to three-phase power supplies.
Practicality and boot space
The #3 is 30cm longer than the #1, and most of this extra has gone into space for the passengers are their luggage. It is a lower car – to give a sportier feel – but this has little impact on the comfort inside.
In the front there is plenty of room and adjustment for the driver. The panoramic roof which is standard on all models gives a light and airy feel but also increases the headroom.
The big sweeping centre console section gives very different feel to the open space you’d get in a car like the Nissan Ariya, but it gives you plenty of space to put stuff, including a nice spot for handbags underneath the spine. There’s also a wireless charging pad cubby and a chilled container for your drinks and Maltesers.
In the back, you’d think that swoopy roofline means it’s going to be tight on headroom, but there is plenty. The extra length over the #1 means there’s loads of kneeroom too.
Round to the boot – and there is a nice feature which will make you smile, but you’ll also have to explain it whenever you give someone a lift to the station and they need to get their bag out of the boot.
To open it, you press the centre of the ‘a’ in the Smart badge. That reveals a 370 litres of space, although a lot of that is under a shelf, and is a weird shape.
That’s big enough for a pushchair and few suitcases, but slightly smaller than a Cupra Born or ID.3. Fold them down and again its not the biggest at 1160. The opening isn’t huge either and a high lip will make loading a bike or wardrobe tricky.
At least you don’t have to slam the hatch yourself – a powered tailgate is standard across the range.
Interior, design and technology
You get some nice stuff even on the cheapest version, including the big 12.8 inch screen in the centre of the facia. There’s also a smaller screen in front of the driver and a head-up display. You’re not going to go short of information.
A 360 degree camera and eight parking sensors are fitted across the range too, which makes up for the lack of rear visibility through the small back window. There’s a rear wiper though – something which isn’t guaranteed these days.
CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, which is just as well as the standard navigation and media screens are a bit baffling. Smart has done away with a lot of the buttons too, instead thinking you’ll be happy to talk to a cartoon cheetah and ask it to do things for you via voice activation.
Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I do feel I bit of a numpty talking to the car. And you have to pause your podcast or missing end of the news to do it. If you prefer music, then a 13 speaker, Beats branded hi-fi system is standard on the Premium and above.
Oddly, the wheels used on the range topping Premium look a bit like cheap plastic wheel covers from a distance. I don’t mind them though - they are different and certainly aerodynamic.
There’s a feeling of Mercedes quality inside. The round vents could’ve been nicked straight out of a C-Class, but it’s got a more fun feel with the colours and materials.
But everywhere you touch feels nice. There are a couple of areas where the trim is a little scratchy, but it will make Volkswagen ID owners feel very short changed. It’s better than a Tesla too, I’d say.
As is required these days, there is a full suite of safety systems to try and prevent you bumping into things. These are often overly nannying, but Smart has got the balance about right. There are very few beeps and bongs, with the lane assist using a gentle nudge through the steering wheel to keep you on track. It’s be nice if the speed warning was a bit more accurate though – I experienced situations where the dashboard was telling me one limit, the signs on the road another and the voice warning was saying something different to them both.
One other grumble – which I know will make Mercedes owners scoff – is that the right stalk does the gear selection and the left side one does EVERYTHING else. Well almost. It means you need to be good at puzzles to turn on the wipers, but I guess you get used to it.
Motors, performance and handling
All the #3s except for the bonkers Brabus use one motor powering the rear wheels. It’s surprisingly powerful too, with 268bhp. That’s quite a step up from the 200 you’d get from most of the VW models and Korean rivals. Best not mention the poor Vauxhall Astra which has to make do with 154bhp. Only the 280bhp Tesla Model 3 beats it.
That results in a 0-62 time for the Smart of 5.8 seconds, which is pretty astonishing for a family car at this price level. Not even the rear-drive Tesla can get close.
Heading out on the road, there’s no start/stop button in the Smart, you just sit in the seat, press the brake and select ‘D’ on the stalk.
The other controls are simple too, with the car selecting the same modes and settings you last used or saved to your profile. That includes the regen level, which can either be normal or ‘strong’. Even the latter is not true one pedal braking though, and I found it to have an oddly aggressive calibration on the road.
You’re also able to select the steering assistance, or just leave it in ‘Automatic’ and let the car choose. The calibration needs some work though – the feel is the nicest in ‘Normal’ with well-judged weighting for more situations, but there is a dead feel when you are on a straight road which means you need to keep doing micro corrections to keep on the right line.
While the engineers are at it, perhaps they could look at the throttle pedal settings too. The springing is overly heavy which makes traffic and bendy roads wearying on your right foot. Even a long stint on the motorway will have you looking for the cruise control button. It’s difficult to temper the motor’s enthusiasm too, even in Normal and Eco modes. The pedal is overly sensitive in the top inch or so of travel, making it tricky to drive smoothly.
It's entirely possible that these settings will all be fixed by a software update though. Smart have already fixed some bits of the #1 using over the air updates.
The ride is generally very composed though and the car has Mercedes-like levels of refinement. Push into a corner too fast and there are no nasty surprises and the #3 feels balanced and grippy.
Running costs and pricing
The cheapest model is called the Pro and has an LFP power pack which uses fewer precious metals than the Lithium Ion cells you find in most other electric cars. So it’s cheaper to make. The downside is that it has a small capacity and therefore less range. It’s £32,950 price puts it up against top versions of the MG4, the Citroen e-C4 and superminis like the Corsa Electric and MINI.
Spend £36,950 and you’ll get the Pro+ - which is nothing to do with caffeine tablets I used to get me through exam revision when I was a student. The extra cash means you’re treated to a 66kWh battery giving 270 miles of range.
The top Premium version – at £39,950 - gets a heat pump and a more efficient motor which increases the range to 283 miles. That price puts it up against a Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen ID.3, Cupra and (crucially) a Tesla Model 3. You’d also be looking at cars like the Nissan Ariya and Korean rivals such as the Kia EV6.
That’s some tough competition, but the Smart can hold its own.
In terms of efficiency, the Premium with its extra efficient motor and heat pump will stretch your watts furthest, with an official figure of 4.6 miles/kWh. We can believe that’s pretty accurate too – in my test it averaged 3.9 with a lot of motorway work and constant stopping and turning around for the cameraman.
I really like this car. Which came as a bit of a surprise, but I guess I didn’t really know what to expect from a brand which used to make city cars and now builds SUV coupe hatch things with silly names.
But it feels like a sort of fun Mercedes – with a lower price tag. Think sort of like SEAT was to VW. Or MINI to BMW.
It’s got as much practicality as a small family would need, great quality and a surprising – and perhaps unnecessary – amount of power.
The prices are keen too, meaning the Smart people can give themselves a pat on the back. Except those in the naming department, obviously.