Smart #5 concept for Beijing shows how the small-car brand is thinking big

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Since it left the United States after the 2019 model year, the Smart brand has inched out of its niche toward more volume-oriented segments of the market. It just unveiled an outdoorsy concept called #5 at the 2024 Beijing auto show to preview its latest push toward the mainstream.

The design study immediately stands out with a long list of off-road-ready equipment such as a winch, a front-facing roof-mounted light bar, and a folding rear step that lets users access the roof rack. Look beyond the off-roading parts and the more futuristic design cues (like the headlights and the complete lack of exterior door handles) and you've got a pretty standard crossover that's nearly ready for production.

Smart says the #5 concept is its most spacious vehicle to date. Put another way: It's the biggest Smart to date, though its dimensions haven't been published yet. Inside, there's space for four passengers on individual seats separated by a massive center console, portable speakers, and a pair of OLED screens integrated into the dashboard. The concept also illustrates how the brand — which is jointly owned by Daimler and Geely — could add artificial intelligence (AI) to its cars in the coming years. AI-powered software "enables the passengers to engage the virtual in-car assistant in entertaining conversations," which sounds like a good idea if you'd rather not talk with the folks you're traveling with.

Technical details are vague. All we know is that the all-wheel-drive #5 is electric, built on a lithium-ion battery pack with a capacity of over 100 kilowatt-hours, and fitted with an 800-volt electrical system for quicker charging. It theoretically offers over 340 miles of range and lets the driver choose from five drive modes. While this is pure speculation, the Geely connection suggests the #5 is built on an existing platform.

We don't need to guess to figure out what's next. Smart says the production version of the #5 will make its debut during the second half of 2024. It will likely be made in China (the old Smart factory in France now builds the Ineos Grenadier) and it likely won't be sold in the U.S.

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