Smart ForFour review
The Smart ForFour is like the ForTwo but with two extra doors and seats - is it worth choosing over city car rivals?
The original 2004 Smart ForFour wasn't a great success. Pitched as a bigger, roomier supermini sibling to the ForTwo and based on a Mitsubishi Colt underneath, it struggled to convince buyers and lasted just two years in the UK before Smart axed it from the range.
Now, though, the ForFour is back - sharing parts and a platform with the latest Renault Twingo - and it's a more interesting proposition than the old car.
The ForFour shares the Twingo's rear-engine, rear wheel-drive platform. Don’t think this is because Smart has developed the ForFour as some sort of sports car for the city, though. Rather, pushing the engine to the back means more room in the cabin and better manoeuvrability, 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 bettered by a London black cab. On top of this, there's more legroom for front-seat passengers as there’s no engine in the way, and a much smaller front overhang.
Just like the Renault 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 petrol engine putting out 89bhp.
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City dwellers could be interested in the smooth silence and zero tailpipe emissions of the Smart Electric Drive, while at the other end of the range there's a more powerful and racier Brabus-tuned ForFour with a 108bhp 0.9-litre petrol.
The core engine range comes with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, or you can opt for a six-speed dual-clutch automatic known as Twinamic. The Brabus has that as standard, while the Electric Drive is a single-speed powertrain like most EVs.
Traditionally, buyers have always been able to personalise their Smart car, and the new ForFour is no different. Four trim levels are available – Pure, Passion, Prime and Prime Sport Premium – with up to 40 different colour combinations available for the ForFour’s main bodywork and the car’s Tridion safety cell. A special edition 'Disturbing London' model is currently available, while a Brabus Xclusive model tops out the range. The ForFour Electric Drive is only offered as a single model.
The downside to the ForFour is its price, which is considerably higher than that of its mainstream competitors. Though Smart has positioned itself as a manufacturer of different, unique city cars, rival five-door models such as the Volkswagen up!, the Hyundai i10 and the Renault Twingo all start around the £9,000 mark, which makes the entry-level ForFour’s £10,490 starting price look quite expensive.
In fact, virtually every other five-door city car is cheaper to buy – the Skoda Citigo, Kia Picanto, Toyota Aygo and Peugeot 108 all cost less, as does the platform-sharing Renault Twingo. Its saving grace is that it comes with a good level of standard equipment – but it’s still pricey in comparison.
Fans of the Smart ForTwo who couldn't quite live with just two seats should rejoice at the ForFour - It's a five-door version, adding a bit of extra external footprint but a whole lot of extra versatility.
It retains the hallmarks of previous Smarts such as the rear-mounted engine, a visible external safety shell that’s painted a different colour from the body (known as Tridion) and an extremely tight turning circle, which makes it great for city driving.
The ForFour has the same pair of three-cylinder petrol engines as the ForTwo – a conventional 1.0-litre unit and a turbocharged 0.9. The size of the engines means that running costs are low but the Smart’s high price counts against it. It's a similar story with the costly all-electric ED version.
It's also not as composed or refined to drive as the cheaper VW up!, while the boot remains pretty small and the rear seats are more for occasional use. Still, there are few easier and nimbler ways of driving four across a city.
Engines, performance and drive
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 make the Smart incredibly manoeuvrable. It feels at home in the city centre, with its tight 8.65m turning circle making it easy to park in tight spaces and to nip in and out of busy urban traffic.
Light steering – in part due to the Smart’s rear-engined layout – means the front end can feel a little 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 reasonably well, offering a more cushioned ride than Smarts of old. However, the VW-Group trio of city cars (the Skoda Citigo, SEAT Mii and VW up!) all handle with more composure and ride more fluidly.
The five-speed manual gearbox is slick but you’ll need to work it a bit in and out of town due to the Smart’s small, revvy engines. The Twinamic six-speed automatic gearbox is also surprisingly smooth – much more so than the previous ForTwo’s terribly jerky auto. It costs £995 so it’s worth considering to make town driving that bit easier.
Town dwellers should also check out the new Electric Drive. The electric motor means it's wonderfully nippy, silent and smooth - and in town driving you're unlikely to notice the extra weight of the batteries. 0-37mph takes just 5.5 seconds from standstill, and it's just as easy to manoeuvre as its petrol siblings.
The Brabus ForFour is underwhelming, however. It's only a bit faster than the standard turbo, and while it handles with a bit more agility it's nowhere near as fun and involving as the hot hatchbacks it's priced to compete with. The ride is also compromised by the stiffer suspension and big wheels - the lighter and more nimble ForTwo Brabus is a better buy.
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 narrow rev band, although the extra torque from the tiny turbo does mean it picks up speed well and is more refined than the non-turbo version.
You have to rev the 1.0-litre engine much harder to make progress and work the gearbox to extract the most from it. This means it’s much less refined when cruising, but it should prove more economical around town.
Both engines represent a big improvement over the units in the old ForFour, with the car feeling safer and more capable. The improvements aren’t such that it’s great on the motorway though – both engines are strained and rather noisy at higher speeds, so the Smart is definitely out of its league away from the city.
The ForFour Brabus uses the 0.9 litre turbo with an additional 18bhp and 35Nm of torque. It feels pokier as a result, but the six-speed automatic gearbox saps the sense of fun and it's nowhere near as fast as a proper hot hatch. Despite the sports exhaust, it's not particularly thrilling in the noise department either.
The ForFour Electric Drive uses an 81bhp electric motor and packs 160Nm of torque, so it feels quick off the line and is fun to dart around city streets in. It quickly runs out of puff beyond 40mph though, taking 12.7 seconds to reach 60mph and topping out at 80mph, so it's hardly a car you can use on fast roads. A tiny 96 mile range - nearer 65 miles in real world conditions - and a lack of quick charge support mean that it's a car you'd be brave to venture beyond city limits in too.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
The new three-cylinder petrol engines make the ForFour very cheap to run. The most efficient of the two is the larger 1.0-litre naturally aspirated engine, which returns an average of 67.3mpg, according to Smart. CO2 emissions of 94g/km is good news for both private and company car owners in terms of tax.
The more powerful 89bhp 900cc turbocharged engine is not quite as good on fuel but there’s little in it: the manual version returns 65.7mpg and emits 99g/km of CO2.
The automatic gearbox actually improves the official economy figures slightly when it’s fitted to the 0.9-litre turbo engine – models with this configuration match the 1.0-litre model’s 67.3mpg and emissions drop by 1g/km to 98g/km.
The ForFour Brabus gives a slight (but not outrageous) economy penalty for the extra performance: It manages a claimed 61.4mpg combined and emits 104g/km. Of course, the new Electric Drive uses no fuel in its propulsion and produces no (local) emissions, with its 17.6kWh lithium-ion battery producing a claimed range of 96 miles. That's more like 65 miles in the real-world, however.
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, and makes the Smart an expensive choice of city car. The £995 automatic gearbox is an option on both engines and all model lines.
Small proportions and engines mean the Smart is very cheap to insure. It starts at the bottom of the scale in group two and goes no higher than group three, so it doesn’t get much lower than that.
Smart is owned by Mercedes so it’s considered a premium brand, which generally helps residual values, while small, low cost cars have less money to lose in the first place. However, the ForFour’s comparatively high price next to just about every other city car on sale means there’s more money to lose in the first place, which somewhat counteracts good resale values.
Interior, design and technology
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 and compact proportions.
A square headlamp design, stronger shoulder line and larger honeycomb grille are all new, This gives the ForFour 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 Tridion safety cell visible on the rear of the car comes in contrasting colours as well. Smart claims there are more than 40 different colour combinations on offer and other personalisation options include coloured fabric interior trim and a portable branded cool bag.
The ForFour Brabus features a number of styling upgrades to beef up its image: these include bigger wheels, twin exhaust pipes and chunkier bumpers. It's not over-the-top, and with the Brabus badging gives the ForFour a decent sense of occasion. The ForFour Electric Drive is largely identical in look, save for new badges, extra exterior colour combinations, a different grille and a range/electric power meter instead of the traditional rev counter.
The interior has been thoroughly revamped. A new 'floating' touchscreen infotainment system lifted from the Renault Twingo dominates the dashboard on top-spec models, while textured fabrics and a leather steering wheel replace the cheap-looking materials used before. The different textures and materials helps liven it up, although the layout isn't that intuitive to use.
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 slippery when driving faster roads out of town.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The entry-level Pure model version is fairly well equipped with the likes of a 3.5-inch colour instrument panel display, LED daytime running lights, climate control, USB and aux connections, Bluetooth, cruise control with a speed limiter, stop-start and electric windows fitted as standard.
Top-spec models get heated seats, bigger wheels and even the option of a panoramic roof. The infotainment system is fitted as standard on Prime Sport Premium cars and up, plus the all-electric ED model.
Sat-nav is available as part of the £795 Premium equipment pack, which also includes rear parking sensors and a system called Mirrorlink that replicates your smartphone’s display on the car’s seven-inch colour infotainment screen. The navigation system is from TomTom so it’s common and easy to use and you get a three-year subscription to the company’s Live GPS services.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The ForFour is obviously a small car that’s limited in the way of practicality but it makes good use of the space it has. It’s also worth remembering that it’s the only current model in the Smart range with four doors and back seats, as the smaller ForTwo is a three-door, two-seater only.
The compact proportions mean storage space in the front of the cabin is limited, so the glovebox and door bins are quite small. There is a smartphone cradle though and a reasonably sized storage area underneath the centre console. Impressively, the ForFour Electric Drive's practicality is unaffected by the switch to battery power.
The dinky ForFour is 3,495mm long, 1,665mm wide and 1,554mm tall. It’s shorter than the majority of other city cars, including the Renault Twingo, Hyundai i10 and the Volkswagen up! and its sister cars (the Skoda Citigo and the SEAT Mii).
The exception is the Toyota Aygo, which is 3,455mm long, and though they’re not exactly the same length as the Toyota, its sister models – the Peugeot 108 and the Citroen C1 – are also slightly shorter than the Smart.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Access to the rear of the ForFour is incredibly easy due to rear doors that open to 85 degrees, which makes fitting child seats a doddle. While entry and exit is easy for adults, there’s not much room in the rear in any sense, so the back seats are best left to children.
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 maximise the available space. The 185-litre boot is small but the rear seats can be locked into a more upright position, which creates a handy rectangular load bay.
If you need more luggage room, the good news is that the rear seats in the ForFour fold completely flat, which frees 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, creating an additional 120mm of headroom, plus the front passenger seat folds fully flat, allowing loads up to 2.2m long.
Reliability and Safety
The new ForFour shares almost no relation with the previous model. New engines and other mechanical parts mean the old car’s reliability history has little impact on the latest model, but it’s too new to have appeared in our Driver Power customer satisfaction survey.
Smart as a brand has not performed well in the past. It did not appear in the 2015 Driver Power survey but recent years have seen it either near or right at the bottom of the chart. Hopefully the new ForFour and ForTwo will improve matters.
A raft of new technology and features should mean the new model performs well for safety. Crosswind Assist (fitted as standard) moderates braking when the car encounters a strong gust of wind, which is a great improvement over the last ForFour that often felt unstable on blustery days, particularly at higher speeds. Other features including a forward collision warning and lane keeping assist are also available.
In EuroNCAP’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. However, a full five stars is the norm these days and the majority of other city cars have been awarded top marks by Euro NCAP. That’s not to say the Smart is a death trap but it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s a bit behind the rest of the pack when it comes to safety ratings.
Smart previously had a two-year warranty, which is the minimum legal amount a manufacturer could offer and the poorest on the market. However, the company has woken up to this and has been selling its cars with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty since January 2015, which is a huge step in the right direction.
That’s better than the industry standard three-year/60,000-mile package, but rival city cars such as the Hyundai i10 and Toyota Aygo come with five-year/unlimited-mileage warranties, while the Kia Picanto has a market leading seven years/100,000 miles of cover.
Smart recommends an annual minor service and a major service for the ForFour every two years. It offers a flexible service plan from £15 a month for two services in two years, which rises on a sliding scale to £60 a month for four services in one year for high mileage drivers.