The new Smart ForFour is funky, fun, easy to drive and well-equipped (for its price), but can it match the traditional subcompact frontrunners?The new Smart ForFour is funky, fun, easy to drive and well-equipped (for its price), but can it match the traditional subcompact frontrunners?
Officially unveiled at the Auto Africa Expo in October, the Smart subcompact is currently being marketed via the “ForFour Experience” campaign and CARtoday.com recently drove the new models in Cape Town.
At R139 000 for the 1,3-litre Pulse, and R159 000 for the 1,5-litre Passion versions, the ForFour is the latest entrant to the fiercely-competitive subcompact market in South Africa.
One can immediately recognize this car… It is something clearly out of the ordinary, sporty and compact with five doors, very short overhangs and easily-replaceable body panels to deal with those niggly parking lot dings. As is the case with the rest of the Smart range, this model uses the visible Tridiron safety cell and two-tone colour concept with a wide range of colours to choose from.
On the inside, its relation to the Mercedes-Benz car range is obvious. Many elements on the centre console - the dials and radio/CD changer especially - are transferred straight from Mercedes-Benz.
The Pulse specification level (available on the 1,3-litre version) offers the most basic equipment. This includes air conditioning, power steering and high levels of safety equipment.
A multifunction leather steering wheel with controls for the audio system, telephone, vehicle information and optional navigation system, alloy wheels and power mirrors are just some features on the 1,5-litre with Passion trim level. The big 1,4 m2 panoramic roof is tinted, but has a sliding shade to block out unwanted glare. An optional electric glass sunroof is available on both versions.
Of the two derivatives, the 1,3-litre engine produces 70 kW and the frisky 1,5-litre produces 80 kW. While the 1,3-litre cannot be described as lazy, the 1,5-litre is definitely the better option, if only for its smooth power delivery.
The cars are capable of 180 and 190 km/h top speeds respectively and accelerate to 100 km/h in 10,8 and 9,8 seconds. Both engines are said to consume less than six litres of fuel per 100 km on the combined cycle.
The five-speed manual transmission is very slick, though it initially felt somewhat soggier on the 1,3-litre. A six-speed "softouch plus" automatic transmission is offered as an option on the 1,5-litre only.
Shift paddles for manual gear changes are located on either side behind the steering wheel - the right hand side when accelerating, and the left hand side to gear down.
All models are fitted with ESP and ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Hydraulic Brake Assist and differential lock. The front axle, anti-roll bar design and damper struts offer a high level of safety, but also ensure an absorbing ride with fluid dynamics.
Three-point seat belts and four airbags at the front and side complete the safety gear.
With high equipment levels, engaging ride quality and gorgeous looks (compared with the box-like ForTwo and unconventional Roadster, that is), the ForFour is lots of fun to drive and be seen in. However, whether it will have a major impact on the market remains to be seen.