By Patrick James on 2015-08-01 - The author has been a motoring writer for more than 16 years. Formerly motoring editor at the Coventry Telegraph, he now produces motoring copy, on new car launches and road tests on a freelance basis.
Smart Forfour Prime
I ALWAYS thought the original smart Forfour would sell well, being, well, smart, funky and just that little bit left field.
When it was discontinued after poor sales, the Mercedes-owned firm carried on with the Fortwo. However, the Forfour rose again last year after the parent firm clearly identified a market.
Like its predecessor, it is at the expensive end of the micro car price scale, but on the other hand, only a few hundred pounds more expensive than its two-door stablemate and features good levels of standard equipment.
The new version is even funkier and still very left field. Even the entry level includes cruise control, 15-inch alloys, automatic climate control and ISOFIX child seat mounts.
In practical terms, all models include a moveable cargo box and 50/50-split rear seats to open up the boot space from 185 litres to a very generous 975 litres. The centre console also features a pull-out tray and double cup holder.
This test model costs more than £12,300, but it is packed with standard kit, including goodies like, panoramic glass roof, reversing camera and parking sensors.
Built in collaboration with Renault and sharing much of the Twingo city car technology, it is a five-door micro mini with a surprising amount of room, which can accommodate four adults easily.
Unusually, and like the Renault, it is rear-engined and rear wheel drive. This means that the front wheels, unencumbered with drive shafts have a very tight turning circle, making it ideal for slotting into tight parking spaces and zipping around the city.
The turning circle is like a black cab. The rear door also open up to 85 degrees, easing access for even the tallest passengers, however the rear windows are opened via a latch, rather than wind-down.
There is a single, one litre three-cylinder engine with two power outputs, the 71bhp unit driven here, mated with a five-speed manual gearbox, or a 90bhp turbocharged version.
Both are economical but the less powerful engine proved surprisingly gutsy around the town, which it was designed for, but runs out of puff pretty quickly out in the open.
Work it hard and the engine is distinctly raucous despite plenty of soundproofing and it feels unsettled on motorways, particularly under heavy acceleration.
In town, it is highly manoeuvrable and handles well, thanks to the long wheelbase and short overhangs which give excellent stability. It is mostly composed, but, particularly with the larger wheels, can be unsettled and crashes about on lesser roads.
Official economy figures suggest 67.3mpg and low CO2 emissions of 97g/km, making it very cheap to run, particularly around town centres.
It is a good looking car with two-colour combination and sculpted shape. The light clusters at the front have a clear glass look with halogen lamps and LED daytime lights, while the rear features distinctive large bi-colour lights. It also has painted door handles and front grille, all crowned by the eye-catching 15-inch alloy wheels.
The interior continues the funky theme with its two tone look, and chunky controls. The binnacle has a single large dial behind a leather-trimmed, three-spoke multi-function steering wheel.
A 3.5-inch touch screen is situated in the centre of the dash which controls infotainment and Bluetooth connectivity systems. Other controls and stalks feel substantial as do the two large containers on the front doors.
The finish is tough plastic rather than soft touch, which cheapens an otherwise smart interior which has classy touches like leather upholstered seats.
Other standard kit for this model includes climate and cruise control, heated seats for driver and passenger, auto door looking, auto wash/wipe function and lane keeping assist with acoustic and visual warning. The smart Audio-System includes FM and AM tuner with connections for USB, MP3 and AUX input. and Bluetooth connectivity.
For safety there are driver and passenger front and side airbags and driver kneebag ,stability control, pedestrian impact protection front and side and tyre pressure monitoring system.
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