Driving smart #1 Almost 400km to Penang – Viable, But Not Ideal (Yet)
February 5, 2024 Andrew Cheng

Driving an EV over long distances is not quite the same as doing the same with conventional ICE cars, for obvious reasons. Not only do you have to pay attention to charging stations that are available on your route – each with different charging speeds, to boot – you also have to take into account how long you have to wait for the EV to have enough charge to reach your destination.

That is not to say going on a road trip with an EV isn’t viable, of course. Recently, smart Malaysia held a media drive that involves driving the smart #1 from Subang Jaya, Selangor to Teluk Bahang on Penang Island. For the most part, it was a pleasant drive, especially with a premium EV like the #1. However, we did encounter some hiccups throughout the drive, though none of them were issues with the car itself.

After some driving activities with the smart #1 at Pinnacle Kart in Subang Jaya, we began our journey to Teluk Bahang in the Premium variant of the EV. With about 85% battery left, we don’t quite have enough range to reach our destination without stopping to charge. With that in mind, the smart Malaysia team recommended us to charge our EV at Petronas Sungai Perak R&R (Northbound).

Throughout the drive, we were driving quite sedately…mostly because smart Malaysia set up a contest to reward the most energy efficient drivers. However, while we wanted to win, we didn’t go to extreme lengths. We were mostly just cruising at the national speed limit (110kmph) with some overtaking when there are slower cars on the right lane.

The result? We use up about 15.5kWh/100km, which is reasonably efficient, even if we didn’t win the efficiency contest. The Premium variant of the smart #1 has a quoted range of up to 440km on the WLTP cycle out of its 66kWh battery, so if we were driving just a bit more efficient, we can definitely achieve this quoted figure.

As we were driving along the North-South Expressway, we were really impressed by the smart #1’s ADAS. The electric crossover is said to feature level 2+ semi-autonomous driving, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, traffic jam assist, highway assist, and even lane change assist.

Compared to other ADAS I’ve tested on more affordable cars, the #1’s adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist definitely feel like a step above. Not only can it keep the EV centred in the lane in various speeds – even in crawling traffic – it can negotiate bends very competently too with minimal steering input from myself. The ADAS’ braking also feels very natural without any abrupt stops.

That being said, the #1’s ADAS keeps its distance from the lead car a tad too much for my liking. Given that some Malaysian drivers can be a bit…impatient, this leaves more than enough gap for other cars to cut into the lane. To be fair, most ADAS does leave a conservative distance from the lead car for safety reasons.

Anyway, it wasn’t long until we got to the Gentari charging station at the Sungai Perak R&R, which is installed at a Petronas station. This particular DC charger can output up to 180kW with two charging points, so without a doubt this is a fast charger. The only problem? Well, we had some trouble activating the charger.

We used the Hello smart app to activate the Gentari charger thanks to the roaming network, but unfortunately enough, there was an issue to get the app to communicate with the charger. Thankfully, we managed to solve the issue after some time, and we only had to wait about 24 minutes to charge up the battery from 30% to 80%. It’s worth noting that the #1 can draw up to 150kW of power when it’s connected to a DC charger.

Needless to say, our remaining journey to Teluk Bahang with the smart #1 was a breeze with minimal range anxiety. We only needed to cover about 200km of distance to reach our destination from that point on, and the #1 is more than capable of this much range at 80% state of charge, even with some spirited driving.

On the next day, for our trip back to Subang Jaya from Teluk Bahang, we switched to the much more powerful #1 Brabus, and we absolutely did not hold back on the road (while abiding by traffic regulations, of course). Compared to the Premium trim, the Brabus model is much quicker, thanks to its dual motor AWD powertrain that delivers 428PS and 543Nm of torque.

As a point of comparison, the Premium model has a single rear motor setup that does 272PS and 343Nm of torque instead. Still very respectable, of course, but there’s no denying that the Brabus version offers even more power. In fact, it can do the century sprint in merely 3.9 seconds.

But the higher-powered #1 Brabus also gets slightly less range as a result. Though it features the same 66kWh battery as the Premium model, it has a lower range of up to 400km on the WLTP cycle compared to 440km on the aforementioned Premium trim.

Nonetheless, it’s a worthy tradeoff in my opinion, given just how much power you’re getting for only RM30,000 price difference between the Brabus and Premium models. To recap, the #1 Brabus is priced at RM249,000, while the Premium trim goes for RM219,000.

Okay, performance and pricing aside, it wasn’t long until we needed to charge up the #1 Brabus after leaving Teluk Bahang. This time around, we went to X Park Sunway City Ipoh, Perak for another Gentari DC charger. As usual, it has two charging points, albeit with a lower 100kW output.

Unfortunately, both charging points at the Gentari station were occupied by other EVs, so we had to wait for either one of them to be done before we can charge up. While we were waiting, we decided to use the 30kW DC charger that is nearby, which was…well, quite slow.

On top of that, it was also raining quite a bit while we were trying to get our EV charged, and both charging stations did not have any roof installed. Needless to say, all that waiting and adverse weather condition didn’t make for the most pleasant charging experience.

Long story short, we spent about an hour or so just to get the #1 Brabus charged up to 80% before we can make our way back to Subang Jaya from Ipoh. While we were quite flustered by the charging situation, getting back on the road with the powerful #1 Brabus quickly put a smile back on our faces.

All in all, it is definitely viable to drive long distances with an EV like the smart #1, especially on the North-South Expressway where there is a (relatively) robust network of charging stations. However, while the #1 itself is absolutely fantastic, our local charging infrastructure still has some ways to go.

Between the limited amount of charging points and different speeds that are offered at each station, these pain points have to be addressed in anticipation of wider EV adoption. After all, these issues will only be further amplified once there are more EVs on the road, and at this moment, EV ownership (in our opinion) is still not quite ideal just yet.

But, again, we have to reiterate that the smart #1 is an incredibly refined premium EV. It’s just our local charging infrastructure that needs to be further improved.