Smart ForFour Prime

71hp

Smart ForFour, front
Smart ForFour, front
Smart ForFour, front
Smart ForFour, front
Smart ForFour, rear
Smart ForFour, interior
Smart ForFour, interior
Smart ForFour, interior
Smart ForFour, interior

THE landscape has changed considerably since the smart car first hit the road in 1998.

Back then it was virtually the only choice if you were after a stylish city car and its environmentally friendly credentials were a big hit with the green brigade.

The diminutive two-seater quickly gained a cult following from fashion conscious urbanites who loved its individuality as well as those with a desire to save the planet.

That was back then, though. Now virtually every major car manufacturer on the planet has a small car that can match the fuel efficiency of the smart - and many of them are much cheaper.

Still, the smart has its quirky looks going for it, right?

Well, sort of. The third generation of the Mercedes-owned marque has undergone a design overhaul that, to my mind, makes it less of a stand-out motor - especially in the four-seat, four-door forfour format I drove.

Proof of the point came when my next door neighbour, used to various cars coming and going on our driveway, enquired: "What's that you're driving this week? Is it a Renault?"

Little did he know that the forfour and the smaller new smart fortwo share much of their architecture with the jointly-developed Renault Twingo.

They have the same rear-engine, rear-wheel drive format that has always been a smart trademark but they also look more ‘normal' than previous smarts.

The front end now has a bonnet-shaped nose rather than the sheer slope of old while there is now a pronounced shoulder line.

The smart grille and badge are familiar but larger while the trademark two-tone paint job still separates the tridion cell, a smart's reinforced steel frame, from the rest of the body.

It's a look which is more grown up and sporty than previous models but also retains enough of the brand's identity.

And though the previous design had many fans it was also a bit like Marmite, you loved it or hated it.

The new look is likely to broaden the appeal of smart cars, particularly this four-door which is arguably the first genuine four-seater smart. The previous forfour, which lasted just two years from 2004-06, was based on the Mitsubishi Colt and bore little relation to the fortwo.

This time round we have a car which is clearly related to its smaller sibling and, therefore, retains some of a smart's best features, such as a slightly elevated driving position offering good all-round views and tardis-like internal space.

Mercedes has made the third generation smart wider and pushed the wheels even further out into the corners which aids stability and handling but also maximises space for passengers, so here four adults will be able to get comfortable.

But there is no third seat in the back as smart shunned a rear bench in favour of separate seats. They are versatile and practical though.

Not only do the backrests fold flat to increase the boot from a modest 185 litres up to 975 but the bases can be flipped and lowered for taller items to be stowed and the front passenger seat folds down to create a load length of more than two metres.

Power, as you'd expect, comes from a range of frugal three cylinder petrol engines aimed at maximising efficiency over performance.

The 1.0-litre 71hp unit in this car offers 67.3 miles per gallon on average and road tax-exempt carbon emissions of 97g/km but is, nevertheless, nippy enough around town - where the forfour's diminutive frame, light steering and tight turning circle make manoeuvring simple.

The ride is surprisingly comfortable for such a small car but engine noise is a little intrusive in the cabin.

That apart, the new look interior is a two-tone delight which, like the exterior, manages to feel much more stylish and up-to-date while retaining the Smart character.

Twiddly air vents, a protruding rev counter and a sliding temperature adjuster are just some of the nice touches while this mid-range Prime model also gets a panoramic glass roof.

Standard equipment for this trim level also includes alloy wheels, rear spoiler, climate control, leather upholstery and Bluetooth while the £1,295 optional premium plus package adds enhanced stereo with sat nav, touchscreen interface, ambient lighting, front fog lamps and a rear view camera.

FAST FACTS

Smart ForFour Prime 71hp

Price: £12,315

Mechanical: 71hp, 999cc, 3cyl petrol engine driving rear wheels via 5-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed: 94mph

0-62mph: 15.9 seconds

Combined MPG: 67.3

Insurance Group: 2

C02 emissions: 97g/km

Bik rating: 14%

Warranty: 2yrs/100,000 miles

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