Smart #3

‘SUV Coupes’ with swoopy rooflines typically offer the kind of passenger space that makes road testers scratch their heads (when we’re not mashing them into the roof-lining) – but the #3 isn’t the worst of them.

The car’s designers were careful precisely how they constructed the car’s lowered profile. Compared with a #1, 20mm came out of the ride height, 20mm out of the cabin floor, 20mm from a lower-mounted seat, and the final 20- from the line of the roofline itself; so you do feel like you’re sitting fairly low in this car, and there’s reasonable headroom leftover even for taller adults in both rows of seats. Legroom in the back is adult-appropriate also, while the #3’s boot is much larger than the one in its sister car.

From the driver’s seat, there’s an increasingly familiar story to tell as regards control layout: physical switchgear for secondary systems is scarce, and a great deal is controlled through the 12.8in freestanding multimedia display. 

Although the cars are related at a very basic level, we’re not quite in Volvo EX30 territory here as regards ‘digital convergence’ and usability. The Smart does have a small instrument display (and a head-up display on upper-trim models), as well as conventionally placed window and door lock controls; and the multimedia display itself also has a line of physical shortcut keys beneath it that help you to navigate it – a bit. 

But lordy, it’s complicated –  and annoyingly distracting to operate while you’re driving. More to the point, Smart gives you an awful lot of ‘driver assistance’ systems that are at once irritating and intrusive, and needlessly complex to turn off. 

Counting the ‘smart’ cruise control, there are three different systems working to keep you in your lane, and as many active or driver-selectable manual speed limit detection and alert systems. These are also various deactivated in different multimedia menus; so, even once you’re familiar with the necessary process, I reckon it takes about 30 seconds worth of prodding, swiping and scrolling to turn off all of them.

Or you can leave them on – but then have the navigation system voice prompts telling you that you’re speeding when the speed limit sign recognition system says you’re not, for example. It’s all just software, Smart says; and much of it, they assure, will be fixed ‘over the air’. Well, it’s not good enough: not accessible enough, not organised and arrayed thoughtfully enough, and not well tuned enough. 

And if it was mine, I wouldn’t be inclined to drive the car much until it had been sorted; which would soon enough become a problem for the dealer.

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