City car cheekiness at a premium price
- Practical features
- Easy to manoeuvre
- Low running costs
- Premium chic appeal
- Expensive to buy
- Rivals are quicker
- Not the most efficient
- Electric Drive has limited range
If the name seems familiar, that’s because this is the second-generation Smart Forfour. The first one – based on the same underpinnings as the 2004-13 Mitsubishi Colt – didn’t sell particularly well, with most buyers opting for the smaller Smart Fortwo instead.
This time around it’s all change. It’s built alongside – and was developed in conjunction with – the Renault Twingo, sharing much of its technology including engines and transmissions. With the Smart Fortwo effectively a shortened version of the same package, this Forfour is effectively a more practical four-seater version (hence the name ‘for four’), and is the brand’s most popular model in the UK.
As well as the Twingo, the diminutive Forfour competes against various other models in the competitive city car segment, but given the Smart’s premium pricing, the Fiat 500 and the Volkswagen Up are its most obvious rivals.
Small yet expensive
Mercedes-Benz-owned Smart needed to put a premium slant on things for its city car, so the Forfour gets 40kg of extra sound deadening over the Twingo to help dull the sound of the engine under the boot floor in an effort to make it more refined, justifying the higher price tag.
A variety of styling and interior trim finishes add further embellishments to the Forfour’s appeal with a raft of two-tone colour schemes inside and out.
Buy into Smart’s Tailor Made service through the Brabus tuning division and a world of seemingly limitless hues and trim materials is opened up to you. Just be aware that personalisation to this degree isn’t remotely cheap – and there’s the possibility you could be lumbered with a car that’s difficult to sell on afterwards.
Petrol and electric power
Mainstream Smart Forfours have a choice of two Renault-sourced petrol engines: a non-turbo 1.0-litre unit producing a modest 71hp and a turbocharged 0.9-litre motor serving up 90hp. Each has a claimed fuel efficiency of over 65mpg.
Both send power exclusively to the rear wheels with a choice of a five-speed manual gearbox or an optional six-speed twinamic dual-clutch automatic.
Those who desire something with more oomph should hunt out the Brabus models, available from September 2016. The smaller turbo engine has been uprated to 109hp; enough to propel the Forfour to 111mph and allow it to dash from 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds. Brabus Forfours only come with a Twinamic automatic ‘box.
The Electric Drive model joined the range in 2017, with a 17.6Kwh battery pack and distinctive green bodywork. Powered by an 82hp motor producing 160Nm of torque, it responds with alacrity up to 40mph and has a range of 96 miles. By design it’s an automatic, achieving 62mph in 12.7 seconds.
Six standard trim levels
Opt for either of the two lower-powered engines from the mainstream Smart Forfour range and you’ve a choice of three trim levels: Pure, Passion, Prime and Prime Sport Premium.
Even at the lowest level you get 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, Isofix child seat mounts in the rear and cruise control. The removable cargo box and 50:50-split rear seats are also standard across the range.
Moving to higher-spec Forfours can garner features such as a panoramic glass sunroof, leather seating, sports suspension and larger 16-inch wheels. There’s more information in the Features section.
The sportier Forfours come in two guises – Prime Sport Premium and Brabus Xclusive. Brabus models feature leather sports seats and a similarly trimmed dashboard with clock and rev counter, JBL sound system, a sports bodykit with a rear diffuser, 17-inch alloy wheels and LED lighting upgrades.
Electric Drive models come in in Prime Premium trim, featuring leather seats and a panoramic glass roof, plus the Smart media system with sat-nav. Detail changes include using the large colour display in the speedometer for range and charge performance, and radar-assisted regenerative braking to recharge the battery.
Excellent urban manoeuvrability
The beauty about the way the Smart drives is that its engine sits in the rear, between the back wheels and beneath the boot floor. This allows the front wheels loads of room to move, and hence the Forfour’s turning circle is absolutely tiny, making it perfect for inner-city driving.
On more open expanses of road the Forfour feels stable and balanced but doesn’t deliver huge amounts of fun for enthusiastic drivers, although the Brabus editions make a better fist of things.
Rural and city drivers may find much to love in the Electric Drive, as it effortlessly deals with the short journeys that are the least appealing for internal combustion engines.
The Parkers Verdict
There’s no single Smart Forfour that defines the range; the Brabus and Electric Drive models have entirely different characters and abilities. Each one excels in a different use case, and all are united by one practical benefit – the diminutive size.
In the real world, this is an advantage in extremis – parking spaces are designed to accommodate larger cars, as are roads, and unlike a Fortwo you can’t park nose-in or grab the half-space left by inattentive parkers or lazy town planners. As a smaller alternative to a supermini the Brabus is the one that makes the most sense – it’s entertaining, well equipped and justifies the price premium.
Going electric in a Smart is a different matter – it’s one of the cheapest options on the market with four seats, and in the right scenario is surprisingly stress free. It could be the perfect solution for city dwellers with access to renewable energy – and affordable hire cars for longer trips.