Smart ForFour review
New city car is improved in many ways, but the price is still too high
After an eight-year absence the Smart ForFour has returned to the UK - and it’s almost unrecognisable. The original model arrived back in 2004 and lasted a measly two years in production before it was axed due to poor sales. Whereas before, the only connecting factor between the ForTwo and ForFour was a naming strategy, this time both models share identical running gear.
Previously, the ForFour shared much of its mechanics with the Mitsubishi Colt. However, this second-generation model has been co-developed with the Renault Twingo, with up to 70 per cent of components shared with the French city car.
Like the Twingo, the engine in the ForFour sits the beneath the boot floor and drives the rear wheels. Surprisingly, despite being set up like a sports car, having a rear-mounted engine makes the ForFour a more maneuverable and practical hatchback. The 185-litre boot is rather small but for darting around city centres it's great: the 8.65m turning circle is only fractionally larger than a London cab.
From launch, two three-cylinder petrol engines will be available. The range-topper is a 90bhp 900cc engine, with a cheaper 70bhp 1.0-litre version also offered. Smart will soon introduce an entry-level 59bhp 1.0-litre petrol. Better still, Smart has ditched the old robotized manual and replaced it with the option of a five-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Three trim levels and a whole load of personalisation options are offered, with 40 different body colour combinations available. 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 Second-generation ForFour has taken on a whole new look, with the hatchback now sharing design features with the smaller 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 shell 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, textured fabrics on the dash and a leather steering wheel replace the cheap-looking materials used before. The seats are contoured and supportive, while the design of the controls and dials make it far easier to use.
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.
Behind the wheel is where the ForFour has improved the most. The rear mounted engine and rear-wheel drive chassis makes the ForFour incredibly maneuverable. It feels at home in the city centre, with a tight 8.65m turning circle so navigating tight parking spaces is a doddle.
The ride is more cushioned and manages changes in road surface a lot better than it did before. This time around the chassis has been shared with the Renault Twingo – a shortened version is also used for the ForTwo.
We’ve driven the more powerful 90bhp 900cc turbo engine, which commands a £600 premium over the basic 70bhp 1.0-litre powertrain. The five speed manual gearbox is light and crisp but it is exceptionally long-geared, hampering acceleraion.
Power delivery arrives in one big wave and there’s little performance provided below or above a very specific area rev range. It is more refined at higher speed than the Twingo though, as sound deadening has been added.
Outside of the city the ForFour isn’t as impressive. The skinny tyres lose grip rather easily and the steering has clearly been setup for life in the city rather than the open road. Both a Hyundai i10 and Skoda Citigo are more capable and composed at covering long distances.
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 when overtaking, 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 which 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. Access to the rear is also incredibly easy thanks to rear doors that open to 85 degrees. 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.
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.
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.