Test Drive: smart forfour 1.0 71hp prime start/stop image

There’s a reason you might want to choose your brand identity without capital letters – either you’re very small or very unconventional – or there’s one company that has them both.

That would be Daimler’s smart brand – a part of Mercedes Benz Cars. While the urban brand is both, there’s one thing they lack – financial prowess. Without getting into the troubled history – which started back in 1998 with the first smart fortwo – suffice to say that smart cars have reached their third generation and have big plans to satisfy their German executives in terms of sales and profits. We opted to have both versions currently available tested by different editors – we’re going to be subjective anyways, but having one talk about both would have been too much. First off, the larger forfour. You don’t remember it? That’s because just like many other variants the predecessor model was short-lived, only marketed in Europe and Australia as a five-seat, five-door hatchback that shared its platform with the current generation of Mitsubishi Colt.

The new forfour, based on the third generation smart platform has underlying components shared with Renault’s third generation Twingo. We’re sure you’ll see the corners that were cut to meet savings goals later on, but overall at the end of the test drive we welcome Renault’s implication in the project – the Twingo has been from the very first generation an excellent overall microcar and you can still see the love numerous owners have for the Mk I. The same can be said about the smart owners, with lots of them gazing in admiration at our test drive car with every chance. Overall, the smart brand has remained youthful oriented and the forfour model looks apt to fill a slot that can bring even more customers to the brand – especially first time buyers that wanted a little extra room than the fortwo model could provide.

Design, Interior and Gadgets
Unlike the previous fortwo and forfour installments the design is utterly comprehensive – the latter feels like an extended version of the first, keeping every single design element the same for both cars. That’s great for brand recognition – with older variants, the fortwo, Roadster, forfour and others all having a disparate styling. We’re in agreement that buying a smart model remains very much a statement – it’s a personal choice more than a rational one, with the model remaining pricier than most options in the segment. With numerous color choices – the dual nuance remains a big selling incentive even though the initial desire was to highlight the Tridion safety cell – the smart will be chosen by younger audiences, with women remaining a big segment. Also, we welcome the big generational jump in terms of styling, something that was missing between the MkI and MKII fortwos.

The exterior is hip and entertaining and the feeling for the most part carries inside – we still have unconventional gauge placement and the general desire to stand out of the crowd. Fortunately, as the years have passed, the interior ergonomics has continued to improve and we have a compelling dashboard with all knobs and switches at hand. Functionality is at its best if you also have the touchscreen infotainment system, which can allow access to applications – a make it or break it feature for the younger generation of car shoppers nowadays. We can even see inside some Mercedes-Benz hints, such as the three-arm star shaped air vents, but ultimately the feeling of hip, upscale offering is ruined by the Renault elements. Door levers, ignition key, steering wheel knobs, mirror knob, electric window switches and the gearbox shifter are all taken directly from Renault vehicles. We might overlook the vast majority of them, but the latter is the same as the one used by Dacia branded models – Renault’s utterly affordable subsidiary. Fortunately, the prime version we drove had another small-scale Mercedes reminder – the design of the seats resembles the latest one encountered in models such as the GLA compact crossover.

While tailored for the decidedly limited dimensions of the car, the front seats proved comfortable even on the long haul – for those occasional out of town trips. The driver’s position isn’t great – though the same can be said about any other car of the size and segment – and the pedals are another reminder that you sit an a car that’s only 3495 mm long, 1665 mm large and 1554 mm tall. The 2494 mm wheelbase is enough to provide the necessary space for four medium sized adults front and back. The sensation of roominess is boosted by the presence of two glass sunroofs, though they’re fixed. In the back smart has opted for an arrangement of two separate seats, with a clever and easy mechanism to swivel the lower portion and have more room for cargo. The backrest folds but it won’t stand very low due to the added height of the trunk floor – there’s a small engine beneath but it still needs some space. Functionality is great inside, with clever positions for storage spaces, such as beneath the central transmission tunnel in front (a drawer for the front passenger). When it comes to gadgets the smart brand has all the needed features to take on larger competitors, with the possibility to use the infotainment system to gain access to app store applications for iOS and Android.

 

Engine, Transmission and Handling
With the powertrain shared between the third Twingo and the fortwo/forfour duet, the latter has chosen Renault’s small displacement engines as well, with a choice of three power figures depending on the market: a 999 cc three-cylinder with 61hp or 71hp and the very modern 900 cc turbo with 90hp. We had the intermediate option, with the three cylinder delivering 71hp and 91 Nm of torque. That’s enough to jump to 100 km/h in 16,9 seconds and reach a top speed of 151 km/h. While it’s definitely a city dweller, the forfour by its nature can also engage in out of town trips – though we don’t recommend any long motorway hauls. We took a trip on one just to see how it handles, but catching the first part of a winter storm with some rather powerful lateral winds swiftly showed us the car’s limits. Equipped with a five speed manual transmission, the forfour doesn’t feel at home at highway speeds, with the engine working hard to reach them and the transmission showing closely held gear ratios – naturally engine noise will not invite you to stay there longer. Also, the 71 hp engine is working hard if you’re on an interstate route with three adults on board and some luggage – so the smart forfour should remain just an optional car when going out of town.

Inside the confined urban areas though, the forfour is in its element and when it comes to tight parking jobs the only other rival will be its fortwo brethren. The light steering invites you to slalom in traffic and tight U-turns are possible since the wheels sit in the four extremities of the car. Text book consumption is unachievable – especially during winter conditions – so you should take the automaker’s official figures as a general guideline. There’s one big advantage though – all smart variants come with a start/stop system – which can seriously limit consumption in urban traffic. While on the motorway the strong lateral winds quickly got the better of it and forced us to interstate speeds, the forfour is actually very stable when pushed close to its limits despite the rear wheel drive and engine positioning. You won’t be winning any time attack events in your forfour, but if you live in an area where tight and twisty roads are a standard, the pocket-sized car will shame some larger competitors. We can only imagine the 90hp engine being even more feisty and prone to dynamic driving – thanks to the turbo oomph and the added power.

Likes/Dislikes
Pro: lighthearted design, rear access, ample space for the four persons inside, overall dynamic stability.
Against: cheap-looking components, rear windows have button-opening, price and the necessity to add optional features for a compelling package.

Price
Starting price – smart forfour – 11,470 EUR / smart forfour 71 hp prime – 14,281 EUR

Engine: 999 cc gasoline, indirect injection, 3 cylinder
Power: 71 HP (141 kW) at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 91 Nm at 2,850 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual

Dimensions: length – 3,495 mm, width – 1,665 mm, height – 1,554 mm, wheelbase – 2,494 mm
Weight: 975 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 28L
Trunk Capacity: 190L / 975L

0 – 100 km/h: 16,9s
Top Speed: 151 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 4,8L/100 km, highway – 3,8L/100 km, average – 4,2L/100 km

Rating:
3.6 / 5