Smart #3 review

Smart returns to the Irish market with the #3, a sleek-looking electric crossover majoring on interior space and solid battery range.

Pros: roomy cabin, good range, high performance

Cons: firm ride, awful infotainment

Smart #3 Design

The Smart #3 is a long, relatively low-slung crossover-coupe, and so it’s utterly different from any Smart that has gone before it. Now, Smart is on the re-invention trail and will be re-launching in Ireland in January with two models. There’s this long, low, sleek #3, and the shorter, taller, smaller #1. Think Smart can’t make cars as large as this, or maybe shouldn’t? Well, the company’s chief designer tells us that they’re still Smarts to the core, and offer the best possible interior space for their overall size.

On the outside, though, it’s a little hard to tell them apart from some other cars. The front, with its blunt, grille-less nose, is similar to that of the rival BYD Atto 3 crossover, while the rear, with its full-width light bar, is quite Cupra-like. It’s really only the roof that marks the #3 out as something different, with its distinctive sweep down to the back of the rear door. That said, for all that it’s a bit generic in its exterior styling, the #3 (yes, it’s supposed to be pronounced ‘Hashtag 3’) is more handsome in person than it is in photos, and there are some vibrant colour options — along with a choice of 19-or-20-inch wheels — which should help to lift it out from the crowd.

Smart #3 Interior

The promise to make the #3 as spacious as it possibly can be seems to have been kept, and that’s in spite of the fact that it is some 80mm lower to the ground than the (surprisingly spacious) #1.

Up front, you get a dashboard with a chunky design language, that’s — unsurprisingly —dominated by its big 12.3-inch touchscreen in the middle. Thankfully, and unlike some others which use the same basic platform, Smart has decided to fit a slim driver’s display behind the wheel, so you can check your range and speed without getting distracted by the big screen in the middle.

That screen has impressive graphics, but its menu layout can be pretty confusing at first, and our pre-production test car had a whole orchestra’s worth of bings, bongs and beeps which seemed to dominate every moment of your driving. The driver attention monitor even beeped angrily at us for merely looking at the big screen to change the cabin temperature, which kind of just confirms to us that proper, physical controls for such things are still a better choice. The navigation was also easily confused, and it all adds up to a frustrating digital experience.

Overall quality is good, and the main touch points — such as the three-spoke steering wheel — feel good to hold. There’s a tall centre console that divides the front of the cabin in two, and in that there are lots of handy storage spaces, two cupholders, a slim slot to hold a mobile phone and, underneath, a huge open storage area that’s perfect for a handbag or small backpack. The door pockets are unlined, though, so anything loose that’s put into one will rattle around all the time.

In the back, there really is good space. Kneeroom and headroom are plentiful, even if there’s a tall person sat in the front, and although the high-backed bucket seats cut off the vision for those in the back a bit, the standard big panoramic glass roof lets in plenty of light.

At 370 litres, the boot is not especially big, but move the adjustable floor out of the way, and it’s reasonably deep and square. There is a ‘frunk’ storage space in the front, but it’s really quite tiny and honestly only useful for stashing some exceedingly small valuables out of sight.

Smart #3 Performance & Drive

The #3 comes with a choice of standard rear-wheel-drive versions, using a 272hp electric motor, or a high-performance four-wheel-drive Brabus model, with two motors developing a total of 428hp. It’s the same setup as used by the Volvo EX30, and both cars are related thanks to Chinese car maker Geely, which owns Volvo, and which is running Smart in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz. The most affordable version, the Pro, comes with a 49kWh lithium-iron phosphate (LFP) battery. These are cheaper to make than lithium-ion batteries, but they don’t hold as much energy for a given size and weight. Even so, the Pro promises a useful 330km range on a full charge.

Trade up to a Pro+, Premium or 25th Anniversary model and you get a 62kWh lithium-ion battery, and a range of up to 455km. That range seems realistic based on our test drive which mixed some fast motorway driving with some tight and twisty mountain roads. Any of the rear-wheel-drive versions has plenty of power, and all can hit 100km/h in just 5.8 seconds, which really is extremely fast. There’s torque aplenty too,  and that can be used for a quick burst of acceleration when you’re cruising at motorway speeds.

The Brabus, obviously, is colossally fast, almost uncomfortably so when you use full power. All #3s are quite hefty, though, weighing at least 1,800kg, and that saps the fun out of driving. Although the rear-wheel-drive models are stable and competent, the numb steering means that there’s no enjoyment to be mined out of a challenging road. The Brabus — if driven in the special Brabus driving mode, selected on the screen — is better, with sharper, better-weighted steering, but it still falls short of being out and out fun. The likes of the Renault Megane E-Tech and, especially, the Polestar 2 deliver a more engaging all-round driving experience than you’ll get in the #3. It doesn’t help that the ride quality is really quite firm, and while that impedes on comfort, it also means that the nose can be jerked off-line by mid corner bumps at times.

Smart #3 Pricing

Smart has only just announced its official return to Ireland, and prices for the #3 are not yet set. We assume that they’ll have to be close to the €38,000 that Volvo asks for the EX30 using the same LFP battery and 272hp motor, but then again Smart’s people reckon that Volvo buyers and Smart buyers are quite different. You could imagine the #3 as being a sleek alternative to the likes of VW’s ID.5 or the Skoda Enyaq Coupe, but these are expensive cars, and they have bigger batteries and longer ranges than the Smart.

Equipment levels will be good, though. Smart says that it wants to make the paint colour the only single option for the #3, and even the basic Pro model, with the smallest battery, will come with heated seats, the big glass roof, a 360-degree parking camera and the 12.3-inch touchscreen. The range will expand up from there, and will include the Pro+ version with the larger battery, a Premium model, the high-performance four-wheel-drive Brabus and a limited-edition 25th Anniversary version.

Carzone Verdict

It’s great to have Smart back in the Irish market, and this #3 is in many ways a spot-on product — a roomy, good-looking crossover with plenty of cabin space, solid range and hopefully a competitive price tag. There are issues though — that touchscreen needs a complete re-work, and while the #3 is a decent car all-round, it’s lacking a touch of spark that would truly set it apart from the crowded crossover segment.

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