The smart forfour is back. Did you even realise it had gone away? Jonathan Crouch fills you in on the details.
Ten Second Review
The smart forfour is a citycar that really does work smarter. With the engine in the back, it's astonishingly manoeuvrable and delivers excellent fuel economy from either a 1.0-litre or a 0.9-litre turbo powerplant. The interior's agreeably funky and this time round it really does look like a stretched fortwo - because that's what it is.
Some cars achieve huge success without being particularly competent. We're looking at you, Peugeot 206 and Citroen Xsara Picasso. Other cars look as if they've got all the firepower to mow down the opposition only to shoot themselves in the foot, a fair assessment of the original smart forfour. Launched to ride on the coat-tails of the ground-breaking smart citycar, the forfour ought to have done a lot better. It wasn't priced crazily, it looked good, it was built on rock-solid Mitsubishi mechanicals and it drove better than many people imagined. Especially the racy Brabus version which is well worth tracking down today. Thing is, it just never caught on and was ditched within two short years. Undeterred, smart is back once again with another crack at the forfour model. This time round the underpinnings are shared with Renault and the engine's gone from up front to out back. Will this radically different approach bear fruit?
There really wasn't a lot of mechanical commonality between the old smart fortwo and the forfour, but this time round, the forfour is essentially a stretched fortwo, in this instance sharing around 70 per cent parts commonality with the Renault Twingo. Customers get to choose between 71PS and 90PS engines, the former a normally-aspirated 1.0-litre unit and the latter an 899cc turbocharged item. Unless you knew beforehand, there is little in the forfour's handling characteristics that suggests it's rear-engined. Neither of the two engines are particularly rapid, and both will require a bit of rowing along on major roads. The 71PS car gets to 62mph in a yawnsome 16.9 seconds, while the 90PS models take a more presentable 11.9s. Smart promises better refinement at speed compared to the Twingo thanks to additional soundproofing. Another piece of good news is that the hideous semi-automatic gearbox that plagued smarts for years has been ditched and in comes a slick five-speed manual 'box with a six-speed twin-clutch automatic following on its heels. The 8.65m turning circle means you'll have no problem diving back for a parking spot and the steering has been deliberately made very light to make city manoeuvring extra simple.
Design and Build
Whereas the old forfour really had to stretch to try to carry off the smart family look, this one couldn't really be anything else. It really does look like a smart fortwo that's been Photoshopped into something longer and shares the smaller car's pug-like front end and the hallmark tridion safety cell. There's a lot of shape in the flanks, from the swage lines near the door handles to the almost Volvo-like shoulder line that's most apparent as it melds into the rear light cluster. Look down and there's a genuine concavity to the lower door panels, smart going a bit further than sticking a curved detail on there as you'd get on a Renault Clio or Captur. The cabin features as many quirky touches as you can stomach and it's good to see smart pushing the boat out a bit with colours and textures, including a technical mesh finish. At the prices charged, this should be a car that feels premium and different to the usual citycar norm. It's still not huge inside, and the boot measures a mean 180-litres. The good news is that the rear doors open to 85 degrees (which makes getting in the back simple) and the rear seats fold completely flat, offering up to 975-litres of space.
Market and Model
The entry-level passion trim opens proceedings at just over £11,500, with the prime model commanding nearly £1,000 more and the proxy version priced identically. The passion is fitted with 15" eight-spoke alloy wheels, automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a choice of either an orange/black interior or a white/black interior. The prime features 15" five-twin-spoke black alloys and gets a panoramic glass roof with sun protection, as well as black leather upholstery, heated seats and lane-keeping assist. Additional dashboard instrument pods with a cockpit clock and rev counter are a returning smart staple. Upgrade to the proxy and you'll find 16" rims and a blue and white interior with Artico and cloth upholstery. It also gets the Sports Package which includes a sports leather multifunction steering wheel, suspension lowered by 10mm, rubber studded alloy sports pedals and an exhaust finisher in chrome. Should you wish to go further, the optional Premium package will ask around £800 of you and deliver rear parking assistance, a smart media system with navigation, a height adjustable steering wheel and heated, electrically adjustable door mirrors. Premium Plus is only offered on the upper two trims and includes all of the above, as well as ambient lighting, a 'coming home' lighting function, LED headlamps with a light guide, rain and light sensors and a rear view camera. That'll set you back around £1,3000, which seems far from exorbitant.
Cost of Ownership
Choose a smart forfour with a manual gearbox and the 71PS engine, as most UK customers are expected to do, and you'll have a car which will return 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and emit just 93g/km of carbon dioxide. That's only 1.2mpg down on the two-seat fortwo and definitely redeems what we thought were slightly lacklustre numbers for the smaller car. Choose the 899cc turbo model and although it's a bit quicker, efficiency isn't dented too badly. Here you'll manage 67.3mpg and 97g/km. Where the car looks likely to score over its less charismatic rivals is in terms of resale value. The old forfour didn't set the market ablaze in this regard, but the more consistent brand identity of the latest forfour should see it home.
We're pretty impressed with the latest smart forfour. The pragmatic engineering that underpins it gives it some real advantages. No front driveshafts means that the wheels can be steered to a 45-degree angle, giving it otherworldly manoeuvrability. Packaging the engine in the back isn't a real issue for a citycar that's rarely tasked with heavy hauling duties. It's a car that looks and feels special inside but which hasn't been unrealistically priced. We'd like to get our hands on one of the dual-clutch automatics and put that through its paces, but for the time being, this smart forfour makes a convincing case for itself. If you prefer a citycar that is anything but the anonymous econobox, it's got a strong claim for your custom.