First Drive: The Smart #1 Brabus is an electric crossover that can outgun many sports cars

Smart’s new #1 arrived as a fun SUV, and now tuners Brabus have got their hands on it. Ted Welford tries it out in Lisbon.

First Drive: The Smart #1 Brabus is an electric crossover that can outgun many sports cars

What is it?

The new #1 continues Smart’s long-running partnership with Brabus. (Smart)

Unless you’re big into your Mercedes models, there’s a good chance you’ll have never heard of Brabus. This German tuner has been working with the German firm for decades and has produced some truly wild creations – an E-Class with 900bhp being a fine example.

But Brabus has also worked with Smart cars. Though giving them a slight performance boost, changes have predominantly revolved around design and the interior finish, and they’ve proved popular – especially with wealthy urban drivers. As Smart now enters a new era with its electric #1 SUV, the Brabus partnership is continuing.

What’s new?

The #1 is a very different model to Smart’s previous cars. (Smart)

The #1 is an all-new model for Smart that’s quite different to the dinky city cars we’re used to from this firm. Almost unrecognisable from its previous models, this is a compact electric SUV that arrives with a particularly clever interior and impressive levels of technology.

When Brabus gets its hands on it, the #1 gets a major power lift thanks to the fitment of a second electric motor, while getting the brand’s well-known visual styling tweaks and a more upmarket interior too.

What’s under the bonnet?

The #1’s twin motor setup delivers a staggering 422bhp. (Smart)

The powertrain on this Brabus version combines the same rear electric motor (producing 268bhp) of the #1 with a second motor at the front. Together, and when you press the ‘Brabus’ driving mode, it produces an almost ridiculous 422bhp and 543Nm of torque. That power figure, for reference, is more than double what you get in a Ford Puma ST.

But the stats continue, with this Brabus model able to sprint from 0-60mph in a dazzling 3.7 seconds, with the maximum speed being governed to 112mph.

The same 66kWh battery as the regular #1 remains, allowing for a claimed range of 248 miles – slightly down on the 273 miles you get from the regular car. It’s also equipped with 150kW DC rapid charging, enabling a 10 to 80 per cent charge in under half an hour.

What’s it like to drive?

The way the #1 gets up to speed is nothing short of ludicrous. (Smart)

Dominating this Brabus’ driving experience is the sheer performance on offer. It’s frankly wild for a car of this type to be able to accelerate as quickly as this #1 does, and you can’t help but smile at just how instantly you’re driving at speed. Does it need this much power? Of course not, but that wouldn’t be the Brabus way.

As there’s more power at the rear than the front, there’s a certain rear bias to it, which you can really feel through hard cornering, and it makes it quite entertaining for a car of this type, though the sure-footed all-wheel-drive means you never feel like you’re entering dangerous territory.

This is no sports car, but it doesn’t entirely fall apart when you reach a corner. It’s quite admiral really, and a testament to the Geely chassis (the Chinese automotive giant that co-owns Smart with Mercedes), considering the Brabus doesn’t have too many mechanical changes from the standard car.

How does it look?

The #1’s design is quite subtle for a Brabus. (Smart)

As we’ve mentioned, Brabus Smarts have always stood out with a sportier design and the #1 is no different. The styling changes perhaps aren’t quite as radical as in days gone by, but this sportier SUV gets its own set of 19-inch rims (no bigger than the standard car), an eye-catching contrasting red roof, larger spoiler and a host of exterior red detailing.

We reckon Smart could have gone a bit further, as the relatively toned-down design feels slightly at odds with the sheer aggression that comes when you put your foot down, though some buyers might prefer the more subtle look.

What’s it like inside?

Alcantara is used throughout the interior. (Smart)

Though the regular #1’s interior is already a solid place to start, the Brabus magic sees the cabin get a sportier finish. There are smart microsuede and leather seats, bright red seat belts (we’re a big fan of these) and also an Alcantara and leather steering wheel. Because of how the two materials merge, however, the latter can be quite hard to grip.

The rest of the #1’s interior is a great place to be. There’s a bright and spacious interior, helped by all versions coming with a full-length panoramic glass roof, while the material quality is rather good too – you can certainly tell the Mercedes influence in this respect. This Brabus is no less spacious than the standard SUV, which excels particularly when it comes to the amount of space in the rear. Tall adults will have no trouble sitting behind a tall driver.

What’s the spec like?

A real highlight is the new 12.8-inch touchscreen. (Smart)

With this Brabus version sitting at the top of the #1 range, it’s pretty brimmed on the equipment front. On top of the Brabus changes we’ve already mentioned, you get an excellent Beats sound system, electric and heated front seats and a large head-up display.

There’s a slim and neatly-integrated digital dial strip too, but the real highlight is the 12.8-inch touchscreen. Developed by a firm called ‘ECarX’ (Smart has been able to get the #1 to market faster thanks to partnerships, rather than developing everything itself), it offers an almost Tesla-like interface, with almost all controls included in the display. This can often be a downside, but the responsiveness and ease of use of the #1’s screen are impressive, and a huge step above Volkswagen Group displays, for example.

With the #1 not available to order until early 2023 – and deliveries starting much later in the year – Smart is yet to announce pricing. However, the UK boss is clear that ‘nothing can get close to it for the price for the performance on offer’. If Smart can get it on sale for around £45,000, it would be a stellar effort.

Verdict

The fact we’re in a day and age where compact crossovers are serving up more than 400bhp from the factory is both terrifying and hilarious in equal measure. In every logical respect, this Brabus makes no sense when the regular car is more than quick enough in its own right,

But if you sit in that very small niche that wants a stupidly quick crossover that’s capable of beating a Porsche 911 away from a set of traffic lights, yet still offering plenty of space and usability, there’s really nothing like this. It’s a true Brabus for the electric age.

  • Model as tested: Smart #1 Brabus
  • Price as tested: £N/A
  • Powertrain: Twin electric motors with 66kWh battery
  • Power: 422bhp
  • Torque: 543Nm
  • Max speed: 112mph
  • 0-60mph: 3.7 seconds
  • Range: 248 miles (WLTP)

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