Today, it’s all grown up, and I’m relieved to say I haven’t shrunk! The era of squeezing a Smart between two cars is a thing of the past. Smart now promises a fresh breed of mobility that’s ready to venture beyond the city lights. And guess what? That’s right in line with the Roadness spirit.
While Volkswagen turned a blind eye to the savior of the Swiss watch industry, Mercedes loved the concept of an economical two-seater that could revolutionize urban mobility.
Reviving a brand is always a great opportunity to dive into its origins. Smart’s story dates back to the early ’90s when Nicolas G. Hayek, the founder of Swatch, pitched the idea of an eco-friendly micro-car to various automakers.
Business plans were drawn up, concept cars were in the works, and talks were underway for a new production site on the French-German border. However, this collaboration hit a roadblock when it became clear that Mercedes wasn’t interested in the electric powertrains Hayek had in mind. Disappointed, the Swiss withdrew from the project, while the Germans reimagined the concept in their own way.
What was supposed to be an affordable small car built with the streamlined production principles of Swatch’s watch factories turned into a costly city car produced following Stuttgart’s codes by 1998. The compact design, meant for “two passengers and as many beer crates,” was retained, but those customizable body panels hardly saw the light of day. The electric version had to wait a decade, arriving in 2009, and it took ten more years for Mercedes to offer the ForTwo exclusively as a battery-powered variant.
Not surprisingly, the sub-brand was put on the back burner for a few years, until the Chinese EV specialist Geely (known in Europe for Volvo, Polestar, and Lynk & Co) acquired 10% of Mercedes for a cool $9 billion. In 2019, these giants formed a 50/50 joint venture to resurrect Smart, a brand that now has nothing in common with Hayek’s original concept.
With a model name like #1, the German-Chinese automaker leaves no room for doubt. The new Smart has absolutely nothing to do with the original model. No reference points here.
While the logo naturally triggers some nostalgia, the shape and size of this newcomer are totally fresh, giving us a whole new perspective on the Smarts we’ve known for 25 years.
Traditions are meant to be honored, and so, the new “Hashtag One” comes with a sporty version that bears the name of the renowned Mercedes tuner – Brabus. Not AMG, mind you, but Brabus, which has been injecting extra oomph into Smart for two decades. In the case of the #1, it involves some bits and bytes that activate an additional electric motor when the driver demands it through various driving modes. This Smart Brabus becomes a simple rear-wheel drive when that’s sufficient and transforms into an all-wheel-drive when pushed, effectively harnessing its extra 156 horsepower.
With the standard version’s 272 hp, you now get 428 horses and a torque of 543 Nm in a package roughly the size of a Volkswagen Golf.
All at a reasonable price – for an EV, of course – of €47,995. Outside of the Brabus mode, this Smart #1 remains relatively calm. To unleash the full horsepower, you’ll need to deliberately switch to mode B (which, for once, doesn’t stand for Brake but Brabus). This immediately turns up the heat inside and makes the speakers sing.
Configured this way, the Brabus launches effectively off the line, hitting 100 km/h on the minimalist speedometer in just 4 seconds – quite a fiery performance for a lifestyle EV like the Smart #1. The bumpers are more pronounced, the hood gains extra slots, and red accents adorn nearly every panel. But if the performance is as zesty as it is here, we can definitely embrace the “exuberance” of this Brabus variant.
This Brabus variant is much nimbler and slightly more playful. Due to the additional 120 kg from the electric powertrain and transmission, adjustments were made to the shocks and springs, but the weight distribution is almost perfect. Naturally, the added weight requires better brakes: the front discs have grown by 23 mm and are 2 mm thicker. Furthermore, the steering response is more direct, with increased resistance, putting the 19-inch wheels to work in tandem with the non-permanent all-wheel drive.
Beats Sound Signature.
Inside, you’ll find the same seats as in the regular Smart #1, but with different colors. They provide excellent back support and even more lateral support, thanks to their suede-like covering.
The alcantara sport steering wheel allows this Brabus to pivot gracefully around its center. To find out if there’s a real drift maestro hidden within this Smart SUV, we’ll need to hit a wet track someday. But even on winding, dry roads, the rear end can be positioned well to engage the front, a unique trait for an electric vehicle.
With this driving style, the Brabus’s consumption gently rises above 20 kWh/100 km, but the driving pleasure makes up for it. Enthusiasts won’t be deterred by the fact that the real range with a heavy foot is around 300 km, not the 350 km of the standard Smart #1. After all, the 66 kWh battery can charge at up to 22 kW in AC and 150 kW in DC, minimizing the pit stops.
After an exhilarating test drive, this Smart #1 is indeed an “excellent surprise,” and the sporty version lives up to the description. A firm yet responsive suspension? Check. Sufficient power? Without a doubt. And playful handling? Absolutely.
Matrix CyberSparks LED+
Front fascia adopting a new lighting signature.
So, I can’t wait to hit the road for an epic journey with Smart. Anyway, this Brabus variant joins the most entertaining EVs out there, like the Cupra Born e-Boost and Mini Cooper Electric. The difference is, this Smart is even more potent and lets its hair down with extra flair. Because let’s face it, it’s been way too long since this category had a shot in the arm for under €50,000.