Smart ForFour review
New five-door Smart ForFour city car adds practicality, but it comes at a relatively high price
The original 2004 Smart ForFour city car wasn’t a great sales success. It lasted just two years in the UK before Smart axed it from its range. This year, however, the four-seat Smart urban runabout is making a comeback in the form of this, the new 2015 Smart ForFour.
It’s basically a bigger, roomier version of its smaller sibling, the Smart ForTwo. The old ForFour was based on a Mitsubishi Colt and not the innovative two-door original. However, the new car shares the latest ForTwo’s mechanicals, meaning this 2015 ForFour model (both are actually based on the Renault Twingo city car) also boasts a quirky rear-engined, rear-wheel drive layout.
Don’t think that this is because Smart has developed this as some sort of sports car for the city, though. Instead, pushing the engine to the back means improved cabin room and manoeuvrability so Smart claims – both qualities any good city car should have in spades.
In fact, the ForFour’s super-tight turning circle of just 8.65m means it’s only better by a London black cab. On top of this, there should be more legroom for front-seat passengers, as there’s no engine in the way.
Just like the Twingo and the ForTwo, there’s a pair of three-cylinder petrol engines to choose from: the first is a 69bhp non-turbo 1.0-litre unit, while the second is a turbocharged 0.9-litre turbocharged engine putting out 89bhp.
There’ll also be a range-opening 59bhp 1.0 along soon, which will likely be the pick of the range for inner city drivers, and like the old Smart, we’re expecting a more powerful Brabus version and a zero emissions, all-electric Smart EV in the future.
Engines are mated to either a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, or you can opt for a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Traditionally, buyers have always been able to personalise their Smart car, and the new ForFour is no different. Three trim levels are available (Passion, Proxy and Prime) with up to 40 different colour combinations available for the ForFour’s main bodywork and the car’s ‘Tridion’ safety cell.
Our Choice: Smart ForFour 1.0 Prime
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, thanks to its two-tone bodywork.
A square headlamp design, stronger shoulder line and larger honeycomb grille are all new and result in a more premium image, with neat design touches for the headlights and tail lamps. There are nine body colours and three grille colours on offer, 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' touchscreen 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. However, with a mix of textures on the dashboard and doors, some plastics do still feel hard and bargain basement.
Despite this, the ForFour adds a premium touch with slick controls that are nicely laid out, and the sliding temperature selector for the air-con is a nice feature. The standard seats are contoured and supportive and provide a surprising amount of comfort on longer journeys, but we did find the optional leather a little slippy when driving faster roads out of town.
Even the entry-level Passion version is fairly well equipped, getting a leather multifunction steering wheel, an instrument cluster with 3.5 colour display, LED daytime driving lights, central locking, cruise control with limiter, stop-start and electric windows fitted as standard. Top-spec models get gadgets 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 its tight 8.65m turning circle meaning parking in tight spaces and nipping in and out of busy urban traffic is simple.
Light steering – in part due to the Smart’s rear-engined layout – means the front end can feel a touch vague at higher speeds, but the benefit it brings in the city is worth it. On top of this, the ForFour’s suspension soaks up big bumps from manhole and drain covers, offering a nice, cushioned ride.
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 £595 premium over the latter.
Power in the turbo model is delivered in one big wave, with little performance either side of a very specific rev range, although the extra torque from the tiny turbo does mean it picks up speed well on the motorway and is much more refined than the non-turbo version.
You have to rev the less powerful engine much harder to make progress and work the gearbox to extract the most from the engine. This means it’s much less refined on the cruise, although the five-speed manual gearbox is light and crisp. However, it feels fairly long-geared, hampering acceleration around town.
By comparison, the ForFour’s closest rivals, the Volkswagen up! and Hyundai i10, still feel more grown up, and if you spend much time out of town or driving on the motorway, 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 an all-new chassis mean the old car’s reliability history has little impact on the latest model, but Smart as a brand has a respectable if not stunning overall reliability record.
A raft of new tech and features should mean the new model performs well for safety, too. 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.
In Euro NCAP’s crash tests the ForFour scored four stars overall, with the new high-strength steel chassis also proving 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 does have a range of neat touches that maximize what 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 luggage room the rear seats in the ForFour do fold completely flat, freeing up a maximum of 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, plus the front passenger seat folds fully flat allowing loads up to 2.2m long.
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. While entry and exit is easy for adults, there’s not much room in the rear.
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, which returns up to 68.9mpg, according to Smart. CO2 emissions of 93g/km mean free road tax and a strong 11 per cent BiK rate for company car drivers. 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, as the more powerful car is still free to tax.
As we mentioned, there’ll be a smaller 59bhp engine joining the range in due course, but don’t expect this to dramatically reduce running costs. As with the other engines on offer, we expect the least powerful engine to return around 70mpg.
The ForFour costs an extra £495 over the ForTwo, but for only a small amount more you get a car that is more useable, more of the time, so we think it’s better value. But it is around £2,000 more than the Hyundai i10, which has more space and is better to drive, making it an expensive choice of city car. The £995 automatic gearbox is an option on both engines and all model lines, and shouldn’t adversely affect running costs, but will add a hefty chunk to the purchase price.