Being Smart on four wheels is anything but boring, and can indeed be a very joyous affair. This we experienced behind the wheel of a very smart looking Smart forfour with the very willing 66 kW or 90 HP version of the iconic 898 cc three cylinder engine, this time coupled to the long awaited automatic gearbox, which proved well worth the patience...
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Smarter than ever with a transformed transmission...
Indeed, this time the Smart engineers got everything "just right." The 6 speed DCT-Twinamatic transmission is now an example of smoothness, efficiency, alertness, in short, everything you ever wanted an automatic transmission to be.
Gone is the jerkiness, the abruptness of the power drops when changing gears, the long gear change intervals. Instead you are treated to an uninterrupted power flow, with utter smoothness, changing gears almost imperceptibly. Needless to say that it is now a complete joy to move this Smart through bends and over winding roads with verve, or zip with it through dense urban traffic.
The gearchange behavior of the unit is ideally mated to the torque characteristics of the engine. Make no mistake, this 898 cc three cylinder is a true thoroughbred unit which likes to be revved when asked to deliver power, and torque is of course helped by the effective turbo, but stays rather modest with 135 Nm over a rather wide rev range however.
So even when pottering long in the "eco" mode, the box will readily change down a gear of two when vivid acceleration is required; otherwise, the box will maintain the small engine in the very economic rev range between 1500 and 2500 rpm, and this of course delivers in its turn very good consumption figures.
Frugal, when driven with restraint...
In the world of physics, there are simply no miracles, and when one drives the Smart in a rather spirited manner, using the very responsive engine and gearbox together with the wonderful agility of its chassis, your consumption will invariably reflect this, and will hover around the 6,5 and 7 litre mark for 100 km. This is even accentuated in the "S" mode, where the gearbox will keep the engine revs up even at constant (city) speeds between 30 and 50 kmh.
One has indeed to dampen his initial enthusiasm and really concentrate on accelerating and decelerating with anticipation, and keeping constant speeds wherever possible.
Also in these conditions the gearbox is very clever in maintaining very low revs, and consumption drops rather markedly to around 4,9 to 5,5 litres, even in city traffic, and that is no small feat.
The engine remains completely docile and untemperamental in this low rev exercise, and it is also a pleasure to drive the "Smart" in this "Zen" manner, and, literally, enjoy the music. Indeed, the audio system pumps out a delicate sound, and the car is by all means quiet enough, even at speed on the open road, to enjoy all the classical music you would like.
Needless to say that the Smart delivers undistilled sporting pleasure when you put it into "S" mode and put it through its paces. The staccato of the three cylinder revving high is a delight for your car loving ears, the handling of the car, neutral and predictable up to very high speeds, the precision of the steering, all this combines to deliver genuine driving pleasure. This 66 kW Smart delivers quite entertaining performance, sprinting from 0 to 100 kmh in merely 10,4 seconds, top speed being 165 kmh.
Cruising at legal speeds is completely effortless, with little engine, wind or road noise, and of course, with the engine in the back, completely vibrationless.
Of course, there is a vintage touch to Smart driving, which drivers of Beetles, (early) Porsches know all too well, and that is crosswind sensitivity. It has to be said however, that it needs a hefty stormy crosswind to move the Smart a few inches off its course, so it is easily handled even by the inexperienced driver.
The Prime version we tested sported a leather interior and a double glass roof... for that airy feeling!
Remains the overall lightness of the controls, levers and handles, which are ergonomically placed. The good overall visibility and compactness of the car, its magnificently short turning circle, all this makes it a delight to move in city traffic. Add to this the excellent comfort, a suspension which is also coping at low speeds with nasty city potholes and pavés.
The four doors make the Smart a practical people mover, offering adequate seating comfort for four, but this forfour version is also very useful when you have to move babies and small children; they find an easily accessible individual seat in the back, with enough place for their isofix-safe baby seat(s) there, and on top of that (just) enough space for a foldable baby pram in the boot.
We already praised in previous tests the easy to use navigation, infotainment, audio and radio, everything is indeed rather intuitive.
The Smart forfour is more convincing than ever. We were already impressed by its ride, comfort and handling, its exemplary urban behavior and the practicality and ergonomics, just read our previous test reports. But now there is even (much) more, which puts in our opinion the icing on the cake: the state of the art, smooth and alert automatic, which mates seamlessly with the thoroughbred engine, and warrants tons of pure driving pleasure and ease of (urban) use.
It completes the picture, and indeed makes it completely smart...
Hans Knol ten Bensel