The Smart ForFour looks like a grown-up version of the ForTwo and its novel layout has significant benefits in how much space there is inside and how easy it is to manoeuvre. However, it’s an expensive option.
The Smart ForFour is a very distinctive and stylish five-door city car. As the larger brother of the ForTwo, it’s an alternative to the likes of the Volkswagen Up, Skoda Citigo, Hyundai i10, Toyota Aygo and Peugeot 108.
You can’t tell it at first glance, but the Smart is actually based on the same rear-engined, rear-wheel drive building blocks as the latest Renault Twingo. However, the design of the Smart ForFour means it will stand out from any of those alternatives. It comes in a choice of 40 colours that can be paired with contrasting shades, while the high level of customisation could well ensure that no two ForFours look alike.
Inside, too, there are bold colours everywhere and, for the most part, the materials are good-quality. The gauges and displays are all intended to evoke the look you get in considerably larger models from Smart’s parent company, Mercedes, although the touchscreen is shared with the Twingo.
If you’re familiar with the previous generation of the Smart ForFour, the amount of room in this model will be a breath of fresh air. It’s still not necessarily the car that six-foot adults would choose to do a long journey in the back, but it is as good as most alternatives and noticeably less cramped than before.
It’s easy to get into the back, too, as the rear doors now open almost at right-angles – particularly handy if you’ve got to get kids into car seats.
The key to that generous interior space is the rear-engined layout, but there is a price to pay: a smaller boot than in many of the alternatives. That’s because the engine sits under the boot floor; and, as heat from the engine causes the floor to warm up a little, it’s best not to put frozen food on it.
If there’s one thing that puzzles me about the ForFour, it’s the price. It’s not much more than the smaller ForTwo – which is good – but it’s a fair bit dearer than the Renault Twingo, which is basically the same car.
However, the Smart ForFour does have one clever party trick. You can juggle the rear seats about to provide extra space or even fold flat to give you 975 litres of luggage capacity. The front passenger seat can collapse, too, giving a 2.2-metre-long, flat load bay. Last, but not least, the high boot floor is also flush to the boot lip, so you can slide long items in and out easily.
As far as keen drivers are concerned, the rear-engined, rear-wheel drive layout should translate into a sporty drive – after all, Porsche has used the same arrangement with some spectacular success over the years. However, the results aren’t quite the same in this car.
Rather than being sharp and agile, the ForFour has been set up to be safe and secure. In that respect, Smart has succeeded, but it also means the car isn’t as enjoyable to drive as, say, an Up.
However, most ForFours are likely to spend their time around town, and here the Smart is in its element. With the engine and gearbox at the back, there’s no need for a long bonnet that would make the car tricky to park. It also means that the front wheels can turn more, making the car easier to manoeuvre and able to do a U-turn in a space that’s just a little over twice its own length.
Add that to the raised driving position that gives better visibility than lower rivals, and the Smart is safer than any car its size ever should be. The drawback is that it suffers from more body lean in corners and is susceptible to crosswinds.
If you do decide to go for a For Four, you have a choice of two three-cylinder engines – a 1.0-litre unit which produces 70hp and a turbocharged 0.9-litre engine which puts out 90hp. Both return economy of just over 50mpg, but in exchange for a few hundred quid more, the more powerful unit brings some useful extra performance. It’s certainly the one to choose if you spend more time out of town and, especially, on the motorway.
The only alternative to the petrol engines is the all-electric, zero-emission EQ model, but it’s very expensive. Mind you, the whole ForFour range looks a little on the costly side – not just compared to the Twingo, but also to most of the alternatives.
At least, the car comes with plenty of equipment. Even the most basic Passion models have automatic climate control, a leather steering wheel and cruise control. Prime models bring a retracting fabric roof and black leather seats, and there are often limited edition models that are worth considering.
As long as you can live with how much it costs, the Smart ForFour is among the best city cars. It’s spacious and wonderfully easy to manoeuvre, but some of the alternatives will suit you better if you spend more of your time out of town.