On the road

The Smart Forfour's comparative conventionality brings it into competition with dozens of its ilk.

by Richard Bremner
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Does your car have a face? With headlights for eyes and a grille for a mouth, many cars can vaguely resemble a visage, but Mercedes-Benz, creator of the Smart, has gone further and shaped the city car's radiator grille as a faint smile. On the original Smart it suits the car's comical silhouette, and it works pretty well on the dinky Smart Roadster and Coupe too. Now we have the Forfour - geddit? - which does indeed seat four, being a five-door hatchback. And it wears the same grin, although it is the most conventional Smart yet.

But the Forfour does stand out from the hundreds of other small, five-door hatchbacks. The cabin's frame is picked out in black, with the rest of the bodywork in a contrasting colour. Some design details are a little different too, like the sextet of circular tail-lights stacked up the rear pillars, the matt black plastic roof and the chunky door handles. There's a similar freshness of approach inside: the instruments, white-faced and housed in lacquer-black casings, could double as ornaments in a modernist flat, while the upper half of the dashboard is fabric-covered.

The Forfour offers an assortment of engines, including a 1.1 litre petrol three-cylinder (£8,995) that's effective despite its small size. I sampled the economical 1.5 turbodiesel, three-cylinder and capable of 60 mpg, which isn't bad, especially as the Forfour's performance is on the edge of sporting; 60 mph is possible in a brisk 10.3 seconds. It's free-revving too, though some may find its faint shake at idle, the corollary of its three-cylinder layout, disconcerting.

The Forfour is an easy drive, not least because of its light steering, though keener drivers probably won't like its rather artificial feel.

The ride is occasionally lumpy, though never enough to annoy, and on a twisty road it's agile, settling into bends with reassuring confidence, even if it isn't quite the barrel of laughs that its grin suggests. Unlike its Smart siblings, the Forfour comes with a conventional five-speed manual gearchange rather than a semi-automatic gearbox. It's a relatively subdued cruiser, so motorway journeys shouldn't turn too tiresome, and the engine, though clearly audible, isn't unsatisfying when you work it through the gears.

There is reasonably plentiful room upfront. In the rear, you can improve legroom by sliding the seat back. This steals bootspace, so if you're transporting luggage, there isn't room for very much. And, with the back bench moved forward, the boot is no better than adequate. Overall, though, the Forfour is as sensible as it is stylish.

So, will it make you smile if you buy? Yes, but the grin might not stretch from ear to ear. The Forfour's problem is that its conventionality brings it into competition with dozens of others of its ilk, and there are better buys available, such as the petrol-engined Honda Jazz, the Mitsubishi Colt and the Fiat Idea. But if you particularly like Smart's friendly style, you won't be disappointed.

SPECIFICATION

Price: £10,995 (Forfour 1.5CDI Pulse)

Max power: 94 bhp

Max torque: 155 lb ft

Max speed: 112 mph

0-62 mph: 10.3 sec

Fuel consumption: 61.4 mpg

CO2 emissions: 121 g/km

RIVALS

Honda Jazz 1.4i-DSI SE £10,500

A more cleverly configured cabin than the Forfour's provides more room,

but no diesel option.

Fiat Idea 1.3 Multijet Dynamic £12,145

Good looks, an attractive interior and an excellent diesel; pricy and

not as versatile as the Jazz.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Efficient chickens, less stuff, more optimism: The real way to address climate change ...

What is dematerialisation, and why does it matter?

The 5 behaviours of charismatic leaders

How to become more inspirational (without having a personality transplant).

When should you step down as CEO?

Bob Iger's departure poses an unpopular question for bosses.

The death and resurrection of the premium customer

Top-end service is no longer at the discretion of the management.

What HS2 can teach you about project failure

And how you can prevent projects going astray.