Is this four-door, £100k M850i the new 8 Series sweet spot? Or are we wrong?
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£13,080 when new
As your disappointment Spidey-sense tingling? Last time Smart went platform-sharing in an effort to create a proper five-seat supermini, the resulting Mitsubishi-derived ForFour was a bit… limp. Eight years later, Smart’s had another go, hopping into bed with Renault this time to create this new, Twingo-derived ForFour (which, let’s not forget, also donates its underpinnings to the smaller ForTwo). The ForFour’s platform – which slings the engine down on the back axle, driving the rear wheels – is identical to its French cousin’s, as are its three-pot engines: a 71bhp, naturally aspirated 1.0-litre and a turbocharged 90bhp 898cc unit. A five-speed manual is standard, with a six-speed double-clutch transmission to follow. We tested the more powerful petrol mated to the manual gearbox, and guess what? It drives just like the Twingo. In other words, smartly enough but lacking some of the vim you might expect from such a promising rear-engined, rear-drive set-up.
Smart has worked hard to engineer out any sideways 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).
Of course, to most potential ForFour buyers, this won’t matter a jot. They’ll care more about the excellent turning circle and refinement, which is excellent for a car of this size and attitude. 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). The front passenger seat hinges right forward, too, providing loadspace, Smart asserts, for a 2.2 metre flat-pack bookcase. Waddyamean, you don’t commute every morning with a bookcase beside you? Bootspace is limited by the presence of an engine perched on the rear axle, but this remains a clever piece of packaging. You have to applaud Smart (and Renault) for thinking outside the city car box – don’t forget VW’s Up and co were initially all destined to be rear-engined. The Germans bottled it after the accountants whined too many bespoke parts would nuke the precious profit margin. Speaking of dosh, the ForFour certainly looks good value against Smart’s own smaller offering, costing just £495 more than an equivalent ForTwo. However, the ForFour is dearer than the closely related Twingo: prices start at £11,620, two grand above the basest Renault. You get more kit on your Smart as standard, but that’s a hefty chunk of cash at this end of the market.
£10,530 – £13,235
Renault has tried something different with the Twingo, and it's worked
£9,240 – £14,725
This is the one they all need to watch out for. VW has finally got serious about the city car
£11,940 – £21,520
The 500 looks tempting and fun where so many cars in this segment are drab.