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On test: Smart Forfour review (2004-2006 model)
- Bodystyle: Five-door supermini
- Engine: 1.1-litre three-cylinder
- Fuel Type: petrol
- Transmission: 5-speed manual
- Date of Test: July 2004
What is it?
The Forfour is Smart’s first car, er… for four. With the Fortwo - no prizes for guessing how many it carries - and the roadster-coupe having built up the Smart brand to date the Mercedes-owned marque now has its sights on the supermini market. It caused some confusion among many of the journalists at the launch, suggesting that Smart is a brand that’s based around two-seat city cars. However, it seems that the company itself doesn’t seem to think so, and really by the same thinking wouldn’t Ford be all about the Model T, VW the Beetle and so on? There’s no reason why smart cannot diversify into any segment it wants, and judging by how impressive the Forfour is, then we can’t wait for future models.
Where does it fit?
You’re basically looking at a supermini-sized car. Model-for-model it’ll perhaps look expensive against the ‘mainstream’ competition, but it’s got character, style and big-car specification on its side, and you can’t deny the value of branding in our label-obsessed society. It’ll provide those Fortwo buyers a Smart choice when they’ve grown out of their two-seaters while also attracting families wanting a smart as first or second car. Smart themselves see the Mini, Peugeot 206 and VW Polo as its natural rivals, claiming that the Forfour has the attributes off all these models in one package. They reckon it’s got the style and mainstream appeal of the Peugeot, the evocative branding and character of the Mini – but with more practicality – and perceived quality of the both the Mini and Polo. In all honesty, they’re not far off the mark.
Is it for you?
It’s difficult to pin down the demographic for existing Smart models. The Fortwo has sold well to everybody - Smart suggesting that the brand has appeal for individualists rather than specific age groups. The styling inside and out is certainly more striking than the mainstream norm, so you’re going to have to be happy to be the centre of attention in the Forfour, especially if you pick one of the more lairy colour combinations. Inside its neat cabin there’s plenty space (for four), while the optional ability to turn the interior into a ‘lounge’ is rather unlikely ever to be used by anybody, but does underline the cabin’s versatility. All come equipped with stability control and safety is claimed to be right up there with parent company Mercedes’ highest standards too.
What does it do well?
It’s spacious, stylish, well built and fun to drive. The interior is instantly recognisable as a Smart, which means a fabric covered dash pod-like dials and vents and neat, innovative design. Build quality and materials all feel sturdy, the controls all operating with precision. Space is excellent, even sat behind taller drivers there’s loads of legroom for rear seat passengers. The manual transmission is quick and accurate, the ‘softtouch’ six-speed automatic is the best example yet of Smart’s two-pedal manual systems being reasonably smooth and much quicker than the systems offered on other Smarts. All the engines all offer punchy performance, the 1.1-litre three-cylinder having enormous character – its engine note providing a rousing accompaniment to any drive.
What doesn’t it do well?
The styling isn’t for everybody, and that fabric covered dashboard is likely to get a bit more abuse with the extra passengers on board, so if you’re looking to carry children you might want to opt for the darker colours to hide the grubby handprints that seem to follow children around. Refinement could be better, the engines can be vocal, though in the 1.1-litre it makes such a nice noise you’ll forgive it this, but there’s also a bit of wind noise as the speed rises around the ‘b-pillars’. Despite the improvements make to the semi-auto transmission progress can still be jerky, especially around town, and the ‘paddle shifters’ behind the wheel really should come as standard.
What’s it like to live with?
Smart ownership should be painless, there’s a growing dealer network out there and customer service is very good. It’s one of only a few cars out there that has genuine character, and that alone is enough to make it an appealing day-to-day proposition. It’ll happily cope with the bustle of town driving and manages longer journeys with ease. Now with those extra seats and a decent (if still fairly small) boot you’ve got the opportunity to take along more friends and family for the ride too. A practical, stylish supermini - there’s a lot to like about the Forfour.
Would we buy it?
It might not offer the sharp drive of some rivals, the refinement of others or indeed the outright practicality a few competitors but I’d still put it at the top of my list of favourites. It’s got a great mix of practicality, charm and style that really cannot be matched in the supermini sphere. The 1.1-litre manual is all the car you could ever need, the engine proving a real gem that’s urgent and has a charismatic engine note that can’t help but make you smile. I’d certainly consider one, but at the same time can fully understand why others might be put off by it due to its rather individual looks. Recent superminis have all been rather conservative lookers, with the exception of the huge selling Peugeot 206. Perhaps Smart is onto something...
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