Are you in the market for a small practical city car? You’re lucky, because today’s choice is bigger and better than ever. These cars cost very little to buy, many cost nothing to tax and none have serious drinking problems, all the while retaining excellent residuals. The now familiar smart ForTwo is about as compact as cars can get, but it’s still capable of venturing out of town and onto the motorway. The main issue with the ForTwo, and the reason we had to sell our beloved car, was because it only offers two seats; if you needed something for 3-4 people, a smart car simply wasn’t an option. That’s not the case in 2015 … smart now produces a ForFour; yes, you guessed it, it can carry four people.
smart Car History
smart launched the very compact and futuristic looking ForTwo back in 1998, and after a couple of years they struggled to supply demand for European cities like Paris and Milan. The Brits weren’t originally convinced though and we didn’t see many around London until the much improved Mk 2 version went on sale in 2007. It’s not the brand’s first attempt to build a larger model — in 2004 they launched the original ForFour which looked nothing like the two seat car, it wasn’t just longer but had grown in every dimension, priced too high for a brand that most people weren’t familiar with, putting it into the firing line of several mainstream manufacturers. It really struggled to sell, its short two year production cycle reflected this! This new ForFour is a much better concept, modelled on the brand new Mk 3 ForTwo, and you can clearly see similarities. In fact, the front halves of both models are near-on identical, the “Four” has a longer wheelbase with an extra set of doors and rear seats, but retaining the same width and height. The rear mounted engine enables all four wheels to be mounted right at each corner of the car, minimum overhang with maximum use of space within the dimensions of the car.
The four seater smart starts at £11,265, going up to just under £15k for the all singing, all dancing model. There are two 3 cylinder engine options, a 1 litre 71bhp and a 900cc turbocharged 90bhp unit costing an extra £595. With three trim levels to chose from: the base Passion comes standard with cruise control, climate control, bluetooth connect, audio streaming for IOS or Android mobiles and a lovely TFT display within the speedo binnacle. The Prime & Proxy models cost an extra £695: the Prime adds a premium leather interior, heated front seats, front & rear (non opening) glass roof panels, a lane departure warning system and a smart set of 15″ alloy wheels. The Proxy is aimed at a sportier/younger audience, coming with a funky white and blue interior, the same non-opening glass roof, larger 16″ alloys, lowered suspension (by 10 mm) and a chrome exhaust tip. A five speed manual is currently the only option on this model — although a twin clutch auto is imminent, the auto will probably add around £1000 to the price. As with smarts in the past you have endless amounts of exterior paint options: the “safety cell” (A pillars, roof and bum) can be finished in a contrasting standard black, white or optional metallic silver. Finally, there are some individual options to chose from, the main ones being: the £295 comfort package that give you height-adjustable seat and steering wheel along with electric and heated door mirrors which, in my opinion, should all be standard fitment on cars these days. The £795 Premium package includes the comfort pack, adding rear park assist and the Smart media system which includes a 7″ 3D touch screen Satnav, voice control, bluetooth music streaming and a better sound system. The £1295 Premium Plus package includes the comfort and premium features adding interior ambient lighting, LED daylight running lights & improved headlight units, fog lamps, auto lights with rain sensors and a reversing camera.
Our test car was a Prime 71bhp model. It was optioned with the Premium Plus package, DAB radio, forward collision warning system and black to yellow metallic paint. This car would retail at £14,295. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the colour but it certainly helped attract attention and slowly grew on me over the week, I did like the black leather with white dash interior though. As a previous smart (ForTwo) owner, I found climbing on board fairly familiar, although this time far more upmarket and somehow retaining the all important fun & funky feel.
One of my concerns with smart cars of the past was their standard fitment (only option) dim-witted automated manual gearbox. Changing gear was painfully slow and jerky which almost completely ruined the driving experience for me. Seeing a manual stick in this car immediately put a smile on my face – I wasn’t disappointed either. Aside from it being slightly notchy, the super light city friendly clutch was a joy to use, its 5 (forward) ratios spaced well. The small drivers footwell was an issue though as the clutch pedal was located right up against the centre console, leaving nowhere for your left foot to rest. I put this down to them physically running out of space – a narrow chassis and incredible turning circle doesn’t leave much room for your feet to live. This wouldn’t be an issue on the two pedal automatic version.
Gone is the ultra firm and unsettled ride. I was amazed at how plush the new car was, especially considering it has small 15″ wheels. Less body roll and accurate steering make this a car that enjoys to be hustled. The previous smart car suffered from severe understeer at times when pushing on; it would just dangerously continue straight on regardless of steering input. Not the case anymore – this one actually gives you decent feedback too. The safety aids are always keeping an eye on proceedings of course and will kick in when they sense real danger. I found the brakes worked really well too, even four up, although slightly surprised to see drum brakes at the rear. The steering lock on this car is comical – this four seater car will spin around in a fraction over 8 meters, that’s London taxi league and leaves its rivals for dead – see my video below.
The engine does what it says on the tin – it would be ample for getting around town, but I found it soon ran out of steam once the roads got bigger. It had no problems sitting at the national speed limit but did struggle on slight/medium inclines and usually needed a change back to fourth. It certainly couldn’t match our 70bhp VW UP off the line or indeed anywhere in terms of straight-line performance, partly because the UP weighs around 60 kg less, and the VW 3 cylinder engine feels like it has more torque too. The flip side with the Smart is you can tick the turbo engine box that offers another 20bhp and a bucketload more torque, but I didn’t get the chance to try this model and I can imagine it would make all the difference and would be worth every penny of the £595. It would also return similar MPG and would still benefit from not having to pay road tax. The imminent 6 speed twin clutch automatic will improve both performance & economy slightly. Hill start assist is a standard feature across the range too.
All of the cars toys worked really well and the sound system was great, easily linking up with music on our phones. The SatNav (that looks very TomTom) was most effective and benefited from the all important live traffic updates. The aircon kept four of us cool on a freak 23 degree April day.
smart have always managed to make their cabins feel larger & more airy than even the tallest of people could imagine – the new ForFour is no exception. Aside from the tight footwell mentioned earlier, the front cab is a great place to be. Loads of space, controls clear & where you want them. I personally loved the design layout & use of contrasting colours. Plenty of storage and drink holders, hidden draws for valuables, all very “smart”. As with all cars in this category it’s the rear occupants that ultimately suffer from lack of space, leg room is very tight. The rear windows won’t go down, they will only hinge out – this is what VW offers on its 5dr UP too. It has a very small 180 litre boot, but with a couple of clicks the rear seats fold flat freeing up a total of almost 1000 litres. These seats also have a neat little trick up their sleeve: if you flip the bases around on their hinges, they basically fold flat into the floor, then pull the rear removable centre console out (again with one click) and you end up with a massive load area. You could literally slide a book case between the rear doors now, only hampered by the size of the door frame! There’s more: the front passenger seat will fold totally flat too, and opens up 2.2 meters. As you can imagine this small car will find a way of swallowing many awkward shapes and sizes. Lastly, all four doors open to almost 90 degrees which gives you maximum possible access & helps utilise that clever rear load area.
smart cars have always been extremely solid for their size. This new model adds to that with the introduction of many modern safety features usually found on much more expensive machinery. Along with the usual ABS, ESP & multiple airbags, this car is fitted with a crosswind correction device as standard. It basically feathers individual brakes, keeping the car arrow straight when sidewinds pick up at motorway speeds, a handy feature on something weighing less than a ton! It also scores the same NCAP crash test score as the Mercedes C class for frontal collisions – very impressive indeed! Our car was also fitted with the optional forward collision warning system that sounded an alarm if it sensed me approaching slower or stationary traffic too fast – it was effective and didn’t annoy me as with other systems I’ve tried. It also had a lane departure and flat tyre monitoring system.
The “City car” segment is a tough one these days, with VW’s brilliant UP & Hyundai’s i10 currently leading the way. The more expensive ForFour doesn’t knock them off the top step; it does however join them as genuine alternative. smart have addressed all of the old car’s issues and added this four seat car to their line up. If most of your driving is around town, the cheaper 70bhp engine would be fine; if you’re buying this car to use everywhere, I would seriously consider the 90bhp unit and be more thrifty with optional toys. The ultimate city car needs to be compact, nippy, practical, safe & fun. The ForFour ticks all of these boxes. But of course you don’t need to take my word for it … pop down to your local smart/Mercedes dealership for a test drive.
Performance & Economy 6/10
Value for Money 8/10
Overall TLE score 22/30
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