Smart ForFour review
New Smart ForFour city car is improved in many ways, but it comes at a relatively high price
The Smart ForFour first went on sale in the UK in 2004, but was canned after just two years due to poor sales. However, 2015 signals the four-seat city car’s return to the small car market – alongside an all-new two-seat ForTwo.
While before, the only connection between the ForFour and its smaller sibling was its naming structure, two cars now share identical running gear. Both are based on the new Renault Twingo, and both feature a quirky rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout.
However, don’t let that fool you. Despite being set up like a lightweight sports car, the ForFour is unreservedly designed for city living. The rear-engine layout frees up space in the front, allowing a super-tight 8.65m turning circle bettered only by a London cab.
From launch, two three-cylinder petrol engines will be available. The range-topper is a 89bhp turbocharged 900cc engine, with a cheaper 69bhp 1.0-litre naturally aspirated version also offered. Smart will soon introduce an entry-level 59bhp 1.0-litre petrol, likely to be a firm favourite for city dwellers or newly-qualified drivers. In the not too distant future we can also expect to see performance-orientated Brabus and emissions-free electric versions of the ForFour to join the range, too.
The Smart ForFour is also available with a choice of gearboxes. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, while the company has ditched the old robotized manual and replaced it with the option of a six-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Three trim levels (Passion, Proxy and Prime) and a whole load of personalisation options are offered, with 40 different body colour combinations available. As you can see from the pictures, Smart offers different colours for the main body, and contrasting hues for the trident safety cell.
The Second-generation ForFour has taken on a whole new look, with the hatchback now sharing many design features with the smaller two-seat ForTwo. It does have something of a family resemblance to the old model, however.
A square headlamp design, stronger shoulder line and larger honeycomb grille result in a more premium image, with 40 different exterior colour combinations available. Nine body colours and three grille colours are offered, and the safety cell visible on the rear of the car comes in contrasting colours as well.
The interior has been thoroughly revamped, too. A new 'floating' infotainment system lifted from the Renault Twingo dominates the dashboard on top-spec Prime and Proxy models, while textured fabrics and a leather steering wheel replace the cheap-looking materials used before. The controls are nicely laid out, and the sliding air-con controls are a nice touch. The standard seats are contoured and supportive, but we found the optional leather a little slippy when driving faster roads out of town.
Three trim options are called Passion, Prime and Proxy. Even the entry-level Passion version gets a leather multifunction steering wheel, an instrument cluster with 3.5 colour display, heated seats, LED daytime driving lights, central locking, cruise control with limiter and electric windows as standard. Top spec models get things like heated seats, bigger wheels and even the option of a panoramic roof.
Behind the wheel is where the ForFour has improved the most. While it’s still no sports car, the rear mounted engine and rear-wheel drive chassis makes the Smart incredibly manoeuvrable. It feels at home in the city centre, with a tight 8.65m turning circle making navigating tight parking spaces a doddle.
The ride is more cushioned and manages changes in road surface a lot better than it did before. However, the rear-engine setup shared with the Renault Twingo means all the weight is over the rear wheels – making for very light steering at higher speeds.
We’ve driven the more powerful 89bhp 900cc turbo engine, as well as the naturally aspirated 69bhp 1.0-litre – with the former commanding a £600 premium over the latter. The five speed manual gearbox is light and crisp but it is exceptionally long-geared, hampering acceleration around town.
Power delivery arrives in one big wave and there’s little performance provided below or above a very specific area rev range. However, on the move it picks up speed and is much more refined on the motorway. The Volkswagen up! and Hyundai i10 still fell more grown up, and if you spend much time out of town, we’d recommend taking a look at these before you sign on the dotted line.
The new ForFour shares almost no relation to the previous model. New engines and chassis mean the old car’s reliability history has little impact on the latest model. Even still, the last ForFour only had one recall during its time in production and only affected 41 cars.
However, a raft of new tech and features should mean the new model performs even better. Crosswind Assist (fitted as standard) moderates braking when the car encounters a strong gust of wind, while other features including a forward collision warning and lane keeping assist are also available.
The new high-strength steel chassis has also proved to be as strong and as safe as a Mercedes C-Class in frontal collisions.
In terms of interior space, the ForFour lags behind rivals such as the Hyundai i10 but it has a range of neat features that maximize the space that is there. The 180-litre boot is a little small but the rear seats can be locked more upright which gives a nice rectangular load bay.
The good news is if you need more boot space the rear seats in the ForFour do fold completely flat, freeing up 975 litres. If you’re carrying taller or bulkier items, Smart also offers a ‘ready space’ feature for the rear seats. Reversible cushions can be turned around and lowered which creates an additional 120mm of headroom. On the UK launch, Smart demonstrated this by stuffing it full of Ikea flat-pack furniture – insisting if you do want to carry bigger items, this is the car you need. Of course, we’d never recommend a tiny city car if practicality is your prime concern.
Access to the rear is also incredibly easy thanks to rear doors that open to 85 degrees – making fitting child seats a doddle.
The new three-cylinder petrol engines make the ForFour rather cheap to run. The most efficient is the larger 1.0-litre naturally aspirated engine, able to return 68.9mpg and 93g/km of CO2. The range-topping 89bhp 900cc turbo engine is marginally worse on fuel, with figures of 67.3mpg and 97g/km - but in the real world there’ll be little between them and both are free to tax.
A smaller 59bhp engine will arrive in due course, but don’t expect this to dramatically reduce running costs. As with the other engines in the range, we expect the smallest engine to return around 70mpg.
The ForFour asks only a further £495 over the ForTwo but for that you get a car which more useable more of the time, so it’s better value. But it is around £2,000 more than the Hyundai i10 - making it an expensive choice of city car. The £995 DCT gearbox is an option on both engines and all model lines, and shouldn’t adversely affect running costs.