- Max Speed
Big brother to the ForTwo, first cousin to the new Renault Twingo: it's the new Smart ForFour! Sharing its hard points with Renault's rear-engined city car, and built at the French firm's Slovenian plant, the ForFour sees Smart returning to the four-seat market for the first time since the not-very-fondly-remembered Mitsubishi tie-up of the same name a decade ago.
So is this just a Twingo in German drag?
The ForFour's platform - which sees the engine slung down on the back axle, driving the rear wheels - is identical to that of the Renault, as are its engines: a 71bhp, 1.0-litre naturally aspirated three-cylinder, and a turbocharged 90bhp, 898cc unit of the same configuration. A five-speed manual is standard, with a six-speed double-clutch transmission to follow.
However, Smart says 80 per cent of the ForFour's exterior is new, while 30 per cent of the components beneath are unique. Certainly this is rather more than a badge engineering exercise: from both inside and out, the ForFour looks quite different to its Renault relation.
How does it drive?
We tested the more powerful petrol mated to the manual gearbox, in which spec the ForFour drove, perhaps unsurprisingly, rather like that Twingo.
In other words, smartly enough, and without surprises, but perhaps lacking some of the vim you might expect from a rear-engined, rear-wheel drive car. We'd have to test the Renault and the Smart back-to-back to determine any differences in handling, but suffice to say any variations should be marginal.
Smart has clearly worked hard to engineer out any surprises from the ForFour's reactions: tip into a corner too fast and you get plenty of understeer, followed by - if you keep jamming the throttle - a heavy smothering under the Smart's electronic safety blanket (and no, you can't switch the ESP off). With our road-tester hats on, it's all a touch frustrating, especially as the chassis seems strong and the turbo engine is a cheery little thing.
Of course, to most potential ForFour buyers, this won't matter a jot. They'll care more about the ForFour's excellent turning circle - such is the advantage of front wheels unencumbered by an engine or tasked with delivering power to the road - and its refinement, which is a world away from the Peugeot 108s and Fiat 500s of this world.
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On the motorway, the ForFour feels composed and grown-up. Smart says it employs 30 per cent more sound-deadening than the Twingo, and though we couldn't say for sure if it's quieter on the move than the Renault, it's certainly more than hushed enough.
Is it as practical as an especially practical thing?
It is. Smart has gone big on making the ForFour's modest interior as functional as possible: the rear seats fold flat, while their squabs can be flipped forward, leaving space for a 50-inch flatscreen telly (so we're told) where the rear passengers' legs would normally live.
The rear doors open to 85 degrees - so virtually at right angles to the car - making it easier to load children and other possessions into the back. The front passenger seat hinges right forward, too, providing load-space, Smart asserts, for a 2.2-metre flat-pack bookcase. Waddyamean, you don't commute every morning with a 2.2-metre flat-pack bookcase beside you?
Bootspace is inevitably limited by the presence of an engine perched on the rear axle, but this remains a clever piece of packaging.
So should I buy one?
Costing just £495 more than the equivalent ForTwo, this certainly looks good value against Smart's smaller offering. However, the ForFour is rather dearer than the Twingo: prices start at £11,620, just over two grand above the basest Renault. Of course, you get a bit more kit on your Smart as standard, but still, that's a hefty chunk of cash at this end of the market.
And, subjective as it may be, Top Gear doesn't feel the ForFour's styling carries off the city car joie de vivre thing with quite the same panache as the Twingo. Make your own mind up on that one: if you can get down with the styling and make the pricing work for you, the ForFour joins the Twingo at the very top of the city car class.