First Drive: 2024 Smart #1 Premium & Brabus - Trendy and stylish but does it put up a strong fight?


First Drive: 2024 Smart #1 Premium & Brabus - Trendy and stylish but does it put up a strong fight?

We sampled the all-new Smart #1 Premium and more expensive - not to mention quicker and more powerful - Brabus version over an overnight trip to Penang and back. Here’s what we learned:

The first day began at a location uncommon for these sorts of events: a go-kart track at 8.30am. The itinerary showed we were only to depart to our ultimate destination, Batu Ferringhi, closer to noon.

In between, there would be opportunities to experience the #1 on a closed course, sandwiched between the usual technical briefings and photo opportunities. Interestingly, the cars we’d be abusing (safely, on track) were same ones we’d be driving long distance later on, leaving us a little wary about pushing it too hard. Range anxiety is real!

These ‘media drives’, especially ones with domestic destinations, are a pretty routine affair - even  curated. Show up to a certain spot and take the cars, usually shared between multiple other media representatives, so it’s interesting to observe their opinions form in real time alongside yours.

Smart #1 - Exterior - “Does This Make Me Look Big?”

It arrives fully imported from China, built upon Geely’s SEA platform and tech with styling clearly, and proudly made known, done by Mercedes-Benz. I’ve heard it resembles an even trendier, more sculpted GLB, and I can definitely see why.

The GLB, like the #1, is an SUV/Crossover, though it has very distinct hatchback cues that successfully hides its size at a distance. It sure is a far cry from the truly tiny ForTwo or even the more normally proportioned ForFour from decades past.

As an object, there’s no doubt it’s a good looking one, especially the Brabus and its more aggressive cosmetic touches. More than that, it has a clear aesthetic consistency that’s quite rare in brand new cars. The designers knew the brief, clearly.

Smart #1 - Interior - Minimal But Far From Boring

Stepping into the #1, that consistency and cohesion with the exterior comes through loud and clear regardless if you chose the iPod-like lighter tone of the Pro/Premium or the more shadowy vibes of the Brabus.

Ample space is found inside and that glass roof only serves to multiply its perceived cabin airiness - just be sure to close that shade on those cloudless days. Boot space, at just 273-litres, is just plain disappointing for something with the #1’s dimensions.

There’s a clever (smart?) mix of materials within the cabin. Build quality, too, is rather high, all coming together as a car that feels more European (not quite German…) than Chinese in origin.

Like mostly all EVs, much of the tactile controls are replaced by touchscreen (12.8-inch, centrally mounted) in an otherwise buttonless expanse. The interface is slick and decently intuitive once you get used to the convoluted animated homescreen globe-thing and its often-confused voice assistant.

Unexpectedly, it’s the apparently sportier Brabus that’s has the more refined and comfortable cabin thanks to its liberal use of leather and suede (or faux leather and synthetic suede?). Speaking of which….

Smart #1 Brabus - Worthy of that name?

A typical Brabus-tuned Mercedes-Benz is, put simply, a faster and more powerful interpretation of that factory car. In that sense, the #1 Brabus is just that, minus the boutique engineering and performance appeal that so defined its brand.

However, the #1’s Brabus credentials feels more than a little more hollow. Without the cosmetic touches on the exterior and cabin - which are very well done, by the way - the car just comes off as the ‘dual-motor’ variant.

Acceleration is very rapid at 3.9 seconds (428PS and 543Nm on tap instantly tends to do that), but at no time during our drive, which included some twisty roads on the northwest side of Penang island, did it manage to establish itself as any more talented or engaging behind the wheel.

Though steering is direct and the chassis does seem to display some good EV-like agility (low centre of gravity from that big lump of floor-mounted battery), it still feels rather inert. Is it worth the extra cost (RM30,000) over the Premium?

Yes, it is. It looks significantly more desirable than the other variants and those red/black accents and material upgrades within the interior really does make the car feels extra….well, Premium. Also, that supercar-like point and squirt performance is always good for a few chuckles and is still exploitable in daily driving.

If your budget can stretch that far, the Brabus is definitely the better buy.

Smart #1 Premium - Can it go the distance?

The biggest upgrade between the Smart #1 Pro and Premium is its upsized battery (49kWh vs 66kWh), meaning the latter can go a longer distance with its shared single electric rear motor that produces 272PS and 343Nm of torque.

Officially, it’s advertised with having a WLTP rated range of 440km on a single charge as opposed to the Brabus’ 400km. And therein lies the problem.

We were designated the Premium variant on our return journey to KL, so we were fairly confident that it could manage the 360km journey from our starting point in Georgetown to Proton’s Centre of Excellence, even if we didn’t hypermile. We started our drive at around 2pm with the battery at 90%.

A few hours later, shortly after breaching the Selangor border we found ourselves with an EV indicating just 9% of available juice and an estimated range less than the 82km necessary to reach our destination.

The traffic picking up over the evening rush hour only increased our chances of ending up at the side of the road, so we pulled into the Ulu Bernam R&R to use the DC fast charger at the Petronas station. The charging experience was thankfully very straightforward, provided you’ve got the right app and the payment set up.

About 20 minutes later we got the car up to around 50% and felt secure enough in our power reserves to rejoin the highway. Thanks to the aforementioned evening traffic as we approached the Klang Valley and some less than great weather, we arrived just after 8pm, about 6 hours after we set off.

Smart #1 - Is It The EV To Get?

Overall it is a very impressive EV, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

There seems to be a clear through-line between how the car was conceived, designed, and built that sets it apart from many options in the EV that themselves are trying very hard to capture the public’s attention.

Its pricing clearly puts it up against the likes of the Model Y, against which it might take a few stumbles in an on-paper comparison, but I’d argue the #1 offers a certain style and trendsetting vibe that makes the Tesla appear about as flavourful as white bread in contrast.

As proven, even the longest-legged Premium it can’t quite manage a medium-length road trip without stopping for a charge, but this is a knock I can probably apply to a lot of EVs out there that similarly fall short of their advertised/rated range.

Upon accepting this reality of a nationwide charging infrastructure that still has a ways to go in Malaysia, the #1 really should excel as either a secondary or daily drive vehicle for the urban dweller. This is especially true if you have home access to wallbox that makes full use of its 22kW AC charging rate (double that of the Model Y), needing just 3 hours to go from 10% to 80%.

Jim Kem

Jim Kem

Content Producer

There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.