Nice to see you, to see you nice !
It’s hard to believe that the smart forfour launched back in 2004, will be remembered by many, only staying in the UK market for two years before being axed in 2006. I drove it & I liked it’s funky looks as well as it’s small on the outside big on the inside philosophy. Unfortunately for Mercedes Benz, the forfour was ahead of it’s time, with a rather noisy but frugal engine finding the British car buying public immune to it’s charms because in 2004 petrol was priced at £1 a litre & car emissions linked to BIK was still in it’s infancy. The forfour fared better in Europe where the prevalence of running small petrol city run around’s, particularly in France, Spain & Italy, led to more forfour sales. Manufactured in Holland alongside the Mitsubishi Colt, it didn’t have the build quality or sex appeal of the BMW MINI, the market Daimler wanted to tap into. It’s smaller sibling though, the fortwo sold much better here, becoming a familiar site across the UK particularly in large cities where it’s roller-skate looks & teeny dimensions found favour with estate agents & property letting companies.
Fast forward to 2015 & the second generation forfour was launched here in the UK at the minimalist Baltic gallery in Gateshead, with Mercedes taking advantage of the the exhibition space there to artfully promote it to the assembled journalists. Having previously driven the Mk1 forfour, it was interesting to see how it had changed, for change it has with this second-generation model now co-developed with Renault & it’s Twingo, with up to 70 per cent of components shared with the French city car. Whereas the Twingo resembles in many ways the 3-door Fiat 500, the designers behind the forfour have somehow managed to squeeze four doors & a lot more practicality into their new model with the aim of the forfour finding favour within the larger 4/5-door car buying sector.
Having recently considered the logic behind down sizing one’s company car from a Golf sized car to a Polo sized car or even to an up! sized car, what’s interesting about the forfour is that the manufacturer has cleverly coupled twenty first century technology with good old fashioned practicality, to produce an extremely attractive car which will seat four adults & appeal to’ Generation Y’ at the same time.
Like the Twingo, the engine in the forfour sits the beneath the boot floor and drives the rear wheels. Having a rear-mounted engine makes the ForFour a more maneuverable & 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 & an emissions-free electric version of the ForFour will eventually join the range, too. Three trim options are offered. Passion, Prime and Proxy. Even the entry-level Passion version with prices starting at £11565, gets a 3-spoke leather multi-function steering wheel, an instrument cluster with 3.5 TFT colour display, ESP with Crosswind Assist, automatic climate control, electric windows, cruise control with limiter, 5 airbags & 15″ 8 spoke alloys.
With over 40 different exterior colour combinations available; nine body & three grille colour’s are offered, so you can customise yours to your hearts content. The interior has been cleverly designed too. A new ‘floating’ infotainment system, textured fabrics on the dash, a choice of seat colour combos, funky air vents, a cute clock & a rev counter resembling Monsters Inc’s Mike Wazowski, located on the right of the dashboard adding to the sense of fun.
The forfour is practical as well.It has a range of features which maximize the space the 180-litre boot, which on it’s own is a little small. But, the rear seats can be locked more upright which leaves a nice rectangular load bay. They also fold completely flat, enabling you an an impressive 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 launch in Gateshead preceded a test drive from Newcastle to the North York Moors. This enabled me to drive it on motorway, A & B roads as well as over some snow lined hills south of Teesside. My test car was the mid-range forfour Passion, which added black leather upholstery, heated front seats, the cockpit clock & rev counter, lane keeping assist & a panoramic glass roof with sun protection to the already useful spec. It was powered by the smaller 71hp engine with automatic start/stop. Leaving Gateshead & heading past Sunderland on the A19, the 71hp unit performed admirably, with the cruise control function allowing one to relax behind the wheel. Inside it’s noisy though, with a combination of wind & road noise penetrating the cabin at speeds in excess of 65 mph. The 5-speed gear box is nicely set up & the gear change nice & true. Once I hit the hills the fun began, as the the forfour really shone on the windy roads around Helmsley. Steeper inclines meant a change down but this is all part of the fun, although with four adults this could become extremely tiresome. Thanks to the rear engine, road holding was excellent.
Setting up & using the info-tainment system was a doddle, with my i-phone connecting via Bluetooth in seconds. The touchscreen was extremely user friendly & clad in white it did have the appearance of having been designed in California rather than the far East. There’s even a removable sub-woofer available if you need your sounds to be louder.The Passion also featured an on board computer, FM/AM/DAB tuner,USB connection, an AUX connection, audio streaming & telephone connection via Bluetooth & a multi-function steering wheel.
The 3 cylinder 999 cc engine is slow to reach 62 mph, taking 15.9 seconds, but as the majority of it’s use is intended to be in & around cities this should not be too big a problem. Of more interest are the impressive fuel economy figures of 67.3 mpg on the combined cycle & CO2 emissions of 97g/km meaning zero vehicle excise duty. Throw in a 3 year unlimited warranty, service intervals of 1 year or 12,500 miles & an insurance rating of 2E & SMART has all the makings of making this new forfour a success, even into the fleet market, where I see it appealing to public sector employees, any city centre based business & to ‘kidults’ everywhere.
Some colleagues have pointed out that the forfour is quite expensive versus the opposition. That may appear to be the case, but when you delve a little deeper & compare the forfour to the Hyundai i10, Volkswagen Groups up!/Mii/Citigo & the Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 108/Citroen C1 combos, it has far greater appeal being far more ‘Apple’ in it’s concept than these competitors & judging by how shallow the world has become in recent years, will soon be seen in the new series of Made in Chelsea.
As you may have guessed, I liked the forfour. For those of us who live mainly in the suburbs of or the centre of a large UK town or city the forfour will do just fine thank you. Regular long distance driving is not it’s forte, but from Manchester to Leeds & back or even London to Bristol & back it will do just fine. If you require a four seat super-mini then the forfour is definitely a car to be considered. I hate to use another cliche, but it does have the potential to appeal to both a ‘Saturday night’ TV audience as well as to ‘Hipsters.’ This time around smart has got the forfour if not it’s timing, spot on. The city car sector is an extremely fast growing & competitive market & the opposition has a decent head start. I feel that the forfour does offer something that the others don’t & that is it’s a proper 4-door car that stands on it’s own merit with the added bonus of being right on trend.
A Bruce Forsyth 4/5