First Drive: Smart ForFour

PA Photo/Handout.
PA Photo/Handout.

Given that the ForTwo is Smart’s ‘really small’ car, you’d be forgiven for thinking the ForFour was practically a family wagon.

But no, it’s only the same size as a Skoda Citigo - albeit a very different sort of attack on the city car sector.

2015 Smart ForFour. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

2015 Smart ForFour. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

You get four doors, four seats and a tiny boot that can be cleverly expanded in several different ways. A rear-mounted engine takes a lot of potential boot space away, so as standard it’s smaller than a Citigo or Hyundai i10, but it has more flexible seating to create surprising space if you want it.

Even if you choose the basic model and the least colourful interior, the Smart is still a bit ‘look at me!’. You just choose how bright and funky you want it, and thanks to multiple options for the fabric-covered dashboard and trim inserts, you’re never going to be short of something to brighten your day.

It’s a unique thing to look at, with a front end by Barn Door Styling Ltd and a two-tone paint job that traces the special safety cell making both Smart cars so strong in crash situations.

While the boot is pretty miniature to start with, the two rear seats fold flat in an instant to give a flat and broad load bay. The front passenger seat folds too, to allow long, thin objects of up to 2.2 metres. Brilliant for plumbers carrying copper piping, one assumes. Or active types with surfboards or skis.

The rear seat cushions even flip and collapse to a lower position, turning the rear passenger area into a ‘boot’ big enough to take a 50-inch TV. Rear doors that open to a marvellous 85 degrees help with loading and unloading, whether the cargo is oversized electronics or undersized humans.

There are a couple of handy storage compartments squeezed into the cabin, but the glove box is all-but-useless and the cupholders ahead of the gear stick allow drinks bottles to flop around and interfere with shifts.

The big selling point is a super-tight turning circle. It’s nowhere near as hilarious as the ForTwo’s black cab-beating efforts, but it’s class-leading anyway. Parallel parking becomes a mere trifle in the daily grind of commuting.

Not even the turbocharged version is quick, so forget any delusions of grandeur, and the steering and chassis responses have been tuned for slow reactions. Better for stability and safety, Smart says, and they do technically have a point.

It rides and drives like a bigger car thanks to new suspension tech inspired by the Mercedes C-Class. There’s more suspension travel and greater control than in the old model, although the steering stays very light even at speed.

There are no two ways about it: this car is pricey. Top-spec sat-nav-equipped rivals are a couple of thousand pounds cheaper than an equivalent ForFour, which, fair enough, is better equipped than you expect thanks to climate control, cruise control, alloy wheels and a rather nice leather steering wheel. Not forgetting a handy ‘claw’ to hold your phone, which then integrates into the car’s systems and functions as a media interface via Smart’s own app.

There’s a very valid case for buying the biggest Smart, but at the increased price you really do have to want one a lot. It’s got the quirk factor, as well as solid and safe engineering under the skin. It’s a fashion statement that eclipses most of its more sober confederates and stands out in a way that plenty of people are likely to engage with.

THIS CAR SUMMED UP IN A SINGLE WORD: Clever

IF THIS CAR WAS A...: Popular DIY product, it would be a multi-tool. It’s small but surprisingly practical in loads of unexpected ways.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Smart ForFour Proxy 90, from £12,910

Engine: Turbocharged three-cylinder petrol producing 89bhp and 100lb/ft

Transmission: Five-speed manual driving the rear wheels

Performance: Top speed 103mph, 0-62mph in 11.2 seconds

Fuel economy: Approx 65mpg (TBC)

Emissions: 99g/km