£11,620 - £19,985 Price range
61 - 67 MPG
With the Volkswagen Up, Skoda Citgo, SEAT Mii, Hyundai i10, Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108 all competing for customers in the city-car sector, you would be forgiven for thinking the segment couldn’t get tougher – but it can. Put your hands together for the new Smart ForFour – a car thats clever design could well mean it has what it takes to oust the establishment.
The ForFour uses the same rear-engined underpinnings as the new Renault Twingo. That’s the engine layout that usually has enthusiasts salivating uncontrollably, but in the ForFour it’s used for packaging reasons only.
With the engine hidden under the boot floor, there’s no need for a long bonnet that would make the Smart ForFour trickier to park. The lack of an engine at the front gives the front wheels more steering lock (for tighter manoeuvring) and means the car’s nose acts as one big energy-absorbing crumple zone. The latter point makes the Smart safer than any car its size ever should be.
The Smart ForFour sits in a longer version of the Smart ForTwo’s chassis and the cars share the same engines. At the bottom of the range is a 1.0-litre petrol with 59 or 70hp. The 0.9-litre engine is smaller, but boosted by a turbocharger to produce 90hp. Diesel and electric versions will follow later in the model’s life.
A high level of customisation aims to make the ForFour appeal to younger buyers and it will be offered with 40 colours that can be decked out with contrasting shades. There are three trim levels – Passion, Prime and Proxy and a trio of option packs.
All models come with Smart’s Direct-Steer system, which gives the car a turning circle to rival a black cab, climate control, remote central locking, cruise control, a trip computer, and electric windows.
If this sounds like the perfect car for you, check out all the available paint options using our complete Smart ForFour colours guide.
Smart has a reputation to keep as a more premium brand in the city car class and on the face of it measures up. There’re bold colours everywhere and some good quality materials at first poke. The gauges and displays are all intended to evoke a the look you’ll get in considerably larger Mercedes offerings from the same family – even if the touchscreen itself is shared with the Renault Twingo.
There is an odd mix of materials though and you’ll readily find some cheaper plastics here and there – the rev counter that sprouts from the dashboard feels particularly nasty. Additional sound deadening over the Renault Twingo makes for a slightly quieter interior at speed.
The controls and dials are well weighted and feel like quality parts in operation – somewhat removed from the cheaper and clunkier versions you’ll find elsewhere on the market – while the seats are nicely supportive, too.
If you’ve come from the previous generation of Smart ForFour – based on the Mitsubishi Colt –the room in the new model will be a breath of fresh air. The body is 100mm wider than the old car and this makes for plenty of extra space. It’s still not necessarily the car of choice for rear-seat adults on a long journey, but it is noticably less cramped than before. Accessing the interior is improved too, as the rear doors now open almost at right-angles – particularly useful if you’ve got to get kids into car seats.
Boot space and storage
With the engine sitting underneath the boot floor, there’s something of a compromise here. 185 litres is not the roomiest in the class (the Hyundai i10 offers 252 litres, while the VW Up’s boot is just one litre behind it). Heat from the Smart’s engine means that frozen groceries are best kept off the boot floor.
The ForFour also throws up a party piece – it has trick rear seats which you can juggle about merrily to provide extra space or even fold flat to the deck to liberate 975 litres of luggage capacity. The front passenger seat can collapse too, giving a 2.2-metre-long, flat load bay. The high boot floor is also flush to the boot lip, so you can slide long items in and out with ease and wave goodbye to nipped fingers!
Though the powertrain layout is one to get the car nuts salivating – rear-engine and rear-wheel drive, just like a Porsche 911 – most critics agree that it doesn’t quite translate into a peerless driving experience.
The brakes and especially the steering attract particular comment as numb and inert and while reviewers report that the ForFour holds the road just fine and offers no nasty surprises, it’s a bit joyless and safe. The Smart’s raised driving position offers improved visibility over lower rivals, but also means it suffers from more body lean in corners and is susceptible to crosswinds. This may sound like we’re nit picking, but the VW Up manages to be both fun to drive in corners and relaxing on long cruises, so it’s a shame the same can’t be said about the ForFour.
Around town though it’s advantage Smart. Having the engine and gearbox at the back means no mechanical intrusion at the front, giving the steering extra lock. As a result, the Smart can do a U-turn in a space that’s just a little over twice its own length – making it super manoeuvrable.
Right now buyers can choose from a pair of three-cylinder petrol engines. There’s a larger 1.0-litre unit which produces 70hp and, counterintuitively, a smaller 0.9-litre engine which, with the help of a turbocharger, puts out more power at 90hp.
On paper, it doesn’t look like the less powerful engine offers anything but a £595 purchase price saving over the more powerful one. Both return fuel economy of just over 65mpg, qualifying each for free road tax, while the 90hp option is well over five seconds quicker from 0-62mph – 16.9 seconds to the 1.0-litre’s 11.2 second time.
Reviews report that the 0.9-litre’s power delivery is a little lumpy – all arriving in a narrow part of the engine’s rev range – but it does at least deliver some power. It’s also a more refined unit making it a better choice if you plan to do a lot of motorway driving.
Other engines will be coming later in the car’s life – a less powerful version of the petrol, while diesel and hybrid models are also expected.
The ForFour was tested late in 2014 under the new and more stringent scoring system. It returned a solid four star performance, just on the cusp of the fifth star.
Smart completes its own in-house acid test, too, putting the Smart ForTwo (which has the same structure as the ForFour) in a head on collision with the much larger Mercedes S-Class. The Smart performs better than you’d expect, with the passenger cell seemingly undamaged in the impact.
The ForFour stretch marks itself out from the Twingo for safety though, as it carries an extra airbag as standard – five in total – though none are in the back. Stability control and crosswind assist are standard, while there’s optional lane-keeping assist (£295) and collision detection warning systems (£195) but, surprisingly, no emergency braking system available.
There’s two schools of thought on how much value the ForFour presents and it really depends on what you’re looking for. On the one hand it’s barely any more expensive than the ForTwo – it costs just £600 more – but it’s considerably more spacious and practical.
In isolation however, it’s a very expensive car indeed. It’s about £2,000 more than the Twingo even on a broadly like-for-like basis and tips well into the price range of mid-range models from the class above.
It’s very well kitted out though and comes with some neat options. The entry level Passion cars have automatic climate control, leather steering wheel with infotainment controls and cruise control. Prime models bring a retracting fabric roof and black leather seats – heated up front. Proxy gets the sportiest looks in the range courtesy of 16-inch black alloy wheels, lowered sports suspension, a chrome exhaust pipe and a sports steering wheel, inside.
Buyers now get the option of special edition white and black models. These are based on the existing prime trim but add desirable extras including heated leather seats and sat nav.
There’re plenty of opportunities to customise, too. The Comfort Pack (£295) adds a height-adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel, which should make it easier to get a comfortable driving position, while the pack’s electrically adjustable mirrors are heated to stop fogging. The £795 Premium Pack includes all those features and adds rear-parking sensors and sat-nav, to make the Smart ForFour one of the most accomplished city cars on the market. Premium Plus (£1,295) is the final option on the list and – thanks to fibre optic mood lightening – gives the Smart a premium feel thats unique to the range. It gets all the Toys available in the Premium Pack, but adds further luxuries including auto lights and wipers, a rear view camera, and fog lights.
The previous ForFour was so ordinary next to the unusual ForTwo that it was practically a disappointment before you got anywhere near it. This time round it’s just like a bigger version of the iconic car and worth much more serious consideration.
The Smart has significant benefits, particularly when it comes to urban driving – the tight turning circle is a boon, as is the short nose. The fact that the engine occupies a chunk of the boot isn’t that dramatic a problem and it offers an intelligently shaped space – but it is down on the class leaders for outright load space.
Can it break the stranglehold of the dominant cars in the sector? The reviews seem to suggest that, on the whole, it’s at their level, with only the significant matter of price limiting its appeal.