Top Gear - Smart ForFour

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Jun 4, 2004.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Smart is getting bigger, in every sense. With the fledgling company flourishing, Jason Barlow gauges its first brush with convention

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    It's my unpatriotic belief that the Germans build the best cars in the world. But when this nation of engineering geniuses decides to get 'funky', it's time to run for the hills. Only in Germany could David Hasselhoff have become a pop star. On TV, hurling a custard pie into the face of an amply-breasted woman still qualifies as high comedy. And the mullet isn't an ironic statement, it's a haircut to be proud of.

    Smart, of course, is both German and 'funky'. Its people talk a lot about 'joie de vivre' which, despite being the wrong language, is a very Smart kind of phrase. But what could have been an egg-on-face disaster is working out rather well: in 2003 the company sold 124,700 cars. Not bad for a brand that's only six years old. Now it's boldly extending its values - functionality, innovation, styling by The Simpsons - into the supermini-plus class with the Forfour. A proper car, then.

    But still a Smart. If the name suggests a certain Ronseal 'does what it says on the tin' simplicity, then here's another word to ponder on: premium. Prosperous and clever people buy Smarts, apparently, and spec their cars accordingly (especially in the UK). No surprise, then, that the New Mini is the Forfour's chief touchstone, with the Peugeot 206 and VW Polo as secondary rivals. Pricing will clearly be a crucial issue, but I'll come back to that in a bit.

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    The Forfour certainly looks distinctive, like a (newly renamed) Fortwo stretched and morphed onto a bigger platform. The deep tail-gate glass on its rear end is particularly eye-catching. Unfortunately, the visuals flatter to deceive.

    While Smart's clever bolt-on plastic panels are present and mostly correct - the shut-lines on some of our test cars were of variable quality - and the Tridion safety cell is again available in a black, silver or titanium finish, the Forfour is actually rather conventional. Remember, this is a joint venture with Mitsubishi, whose new steel-bodied Colt shares much of the Smart's componentry, including things like floorpan, rear suspension, engines and transmission.

    So while the rest of the Smart range comes on like a marauding gang of shrink-wrapped Porsche 911s, the new addition is an altogether more sober affair. Five engines will be offered when the Forfour goes on sale in the UK in September, including a 74bhp 1.1-litre three-pot, a four-cylinder 95bhp 1.3-litre, a 109bhp 1.5, and two 1.5-litre diesels with 67 and 95bhp power outputs.

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    All models are available with either a five-speed (Mitsubishi) manual or six-speed (Smart) 'Soft-touch' clutchless manual gearbox. There's a sports suspension option too, and given Smart's relentless 'lifestyle' marketing guff, a predictably enormous options list. And when you've exhausted that, you might want to try the Smart-branded espresso cups and flip-flops.

    Italy is Smart's biggest market (32,600 were sold there last year), and launching the new car in the centre of its chaotically congested capital is something of a bold move. After all, you might find yourself staring through the windscreen at the same Bernini sculpture for hours.

    Should you do so, the Forfour's thoroughly modern interior will make a welcome contrast. It's extremely robust, practical, and easy to use. The seat cushion feels a little flat, and under-thigh support is poor, but in most important areas it sets new standards for its class. Merc E-Class drivers may even recognise some of the switchgear on the stereo display. And if that's not enough for you, a variety of big car features - satnav, mobile phone and mp3 player - can be parachuted in.

    On a more mundane level, the rear bench slides forwards and backwards, increasing leg- or boot-space according to need. And a curiously-titled 'lounge' option allows the front seats to fold forward for extra, er, lounging. Something that's best done in your lounge at home, I'd have thought, unless you happen to be a Smart-owning nomad.

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    This isn't a particularly inspiring car to drive in any of its forms. The base 1.1-litre three-cylinder version is probably the most fun, its power deficit scarcely a problem given the Forfour's light weight (bang on a tonne). Its engine fizzes and parps enthusiastically, allowing you to make the most of the rather ordinary chassis.

    Ride quality is no better than average, but at least the manual gearbox is a sweet-changing thing. In other words, pleasant enough overall, but hardly revelatory. And certainly no Mini.

    The 1.3-litre is a thrashy sounding unit and what it gains in extra motive force it loses in character. The 1.5 is a much more spry affair - 0-60mph in under 10 seconds - but though there's plenty of grip, its steering is inert and the handling a little flaccid, even on the optional sport suspension. Smart's 'soft-touch' gearbox is vastly improved, though, thanks to an Audi DSG-style system, which primes the next ratio up as you work your way through the sequence.

    All of which means that price is almost certainly the deciding factor. A limited edition 'Blackbasic' entry-level model will kick things off at about £9,000, rising to about £11,500 for a Passion-spec 1.3-litre.

    Whether or not you buy into the Smart Forfour depends on how fashionably self-aware you are. I kinda liked it, but can't help feeling an opportunity has been missed. It's better than David Hasselhoff, certainly, but still some way off being David Bowie.

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    Jason Barlow

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  2. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    I think this is the model DCX is going to launch first in the US. :hs:
     
  3. neight

    neight OT Supporter

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    Wow, that thing is fugly.
     
  4. Jericho

    Jericho Active Member

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    what the hell is it?
     
  5. linuxkoder

    linuxkoder i kan kode...

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    not bad, i'd drive it :eek3:
     
  6. linuxkoder

    linuxkoder i kan kode...

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    the american version needs a LS1 :bigthumb:
     
  7. hondaluva

    hondaluva likes free hugs...

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    dosen't sound bad on paper.
     
  8. Achance007

    Achance007 Active Member

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    The 2 door is so roomy.

    (taken on my trip to frankfurt last year)

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  9. Dr. Woo

    Dr. Woo Guns don't kill people

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    :werd: Ever seen the Volkswagen Harlequin?
     
  10. KeeperOfAcheron

    KeeperOfAcheron I dub thee Sir Phobos, Knight of Mars, beater of a

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  11. Redline Racer

    Redline Racer Subaru Tecnica International

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    Nice piece of design.

    Granted it has very little relevance to the US car market unless the fuel price increases continue drastically. But in European terms its a fairly worthy competitor in the compact car sector with attractive pricing.

    That said, theres no way I'd replace my Polo with one :big grin:
     
  12. boostdemon

    boostdemon New Member

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    didnt they have some kinda sports coupe that looked like an MR2 on crack? was like a 1.0 litre using 30psi of turbo power?
     

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