Urban living is amongst us, one only has to look at the rapid development of our megacities, all over the world, to be convinced.
European inner cities are also all the rage, and living in them is made more attractive than ever. Of course, world car manufacturers like Daimler and Renault focus in on the trend, and have clever ideas about future urban mobility. Their joint efforts have produced nothing short of genius, the new generation of Smart automobiles.
We already drove the Renault Twingo, and sat recently behind the wheel of the Smart version of this ingenious four seater. It brought us refinement, and endearing, sophisticated urban transport, wich held also very well its own on the open road...
Hans Knol ten Bensel
The Smart generation of cars has been extensively reworked, and the Smart forfour is actually a totally new car. It excels in excellent usage of the available space, and above all is remarkably comfortable. One totally forgets the choppy ride here of the previous generation.
Suspension tuned for comfort
It is not surprising therefore that the front suspension actually uses elements of the front axle of the previous C class (!). Suspension travel has increased markedly for all four wheels, and the rear suspension actually consists of a sophisticated De Dion rar axle layout. The tyres have also higher side walls, and this indeed makes a quite comfortable car.
We also noticed this especially when driving for our photo shoot on a potholed country road and when pottering around on the famous cobble stoned streets in the old port area of Antwerp.
The excellent seats, the good seating position and easy to use and ergonomically placed controls makes this Smart also a very relaxing car to drive around in.
The Smart Forfour also offers refinement, not least thanks to the rear engine layout. Indeed, the fact that a state-of-the art three cylinder engine is discreetly doing its work at the back of the car, results in no vibrations whatsoever filtering through the steering wheel, gearlever or pedals, and this results in decidedly upper class refinement.
Also the engine noise itself is very effectively dampened and insulated, so it is quite possible to enjoy the silent passages of Mahler or Liszt even when cruising at a speed between 120 and 130 kmh. Also when accelerating full throttle and revving the engine into higher rev zones, the engine emits only a sporting but turbine smooth throb, which is very pleasant but never obtrusive...
Pleasant long legged performance
The five speed gearbox is ideally geared and very well adapted to the torque and power curve of the three cylinder unit, which sports a four valve cylinder head and a very "intelligent" turbo charger.
The standard 999 cc petrol engine delivers a healthy 52 kW/71 HP at not less than 6000 rpm, and yes, you have understood, it likes very much to be revved when called to deliver sporting performance. The forfour will accelerate from 0 to 100 kmh in a good 16,9 seconds, and one finds oneself using the available engine power rather frequently when adopting a dynamic driving style.
Consumption does not suffer from this, and indeed even under these circumstances we stayed between 5 and 5,5 litres on average per 100 km. The manufacturer quotes an average cycle consumption of 4,2 litres/100 km. It just takes anticipative driving and use of the lower rev ranges to achieve a consumption well below 5 litres/100 km.
The unit develops its maximum torque of 91 Nm at 2850 rpm, and therefore the engine has enough pulling power in the lower rev ranges to allow the good use of higher gearing. Therefore the first and second gears are pleasantly long, and this allows quite brisk and uninterrupted accelerations up to 70 km, as one can stay in second gear with the engine revving up to a nice staccato.
Voice control and excellent cruise control are very useful items on the Smart forfour...
The gearbox changes very smoothly and the clutch is light and progressive, so using the gearbox with verve is a true pleasure.
Of course we are anxious to test the newly developed twinamic dual clutch transmission. This unit is built as a 3-shaft dual clutch manual transmission and has six forward gears...
Delightful handling, both in town and on the open road...
The Smart has a very short turning circle, because there is no engine in the way between the front wheels. So it was possible to make the steering angle of the two smart models exceptionally large at 51 degrees.
The forfour is therefore extremely manoeuvrable and its turning circle of 8.65 metres from kerb to kerb is only slightly larger than that of the previous fortwo!
Thanks also to the Direct-Steer system with variable ratio and electric power assistance as standard, it is a delight to steer the Smart through dense urban traffic and narrow inner city passages. But also on the open road, the Smart guarantees driving pleasure.
The new smarts have essentially been configured for gently understeering handling characteristics. The different tyre sizes at front and rear have therefore been retained. ABS, ASR and ESP® are ready to intervene when the handling gets critical. Not that we ever needed it. The car stays stable even at quite high cornering speeds.
We liked the hill hold function and brake assist, which are integrated in the brake system. Thanks to crosswind assist as a standard feature, the latest generation ESP®assists the driver in windy conditions. However, this front end lightness takes some getting used to, as we all are driving front wheel drive cars, most of the time. But having said this, it is very well controlled, even when cruising at high(er) speeds.
Premium finish level...
The materials used both inside and out clearly show that this is a premium brand car. The glossy white finish on the audio and airco/ventilation system, the instrument clusters, the door panelling, the handy centre console between the rear seats which offers much needed extra storage space in the interior, we liked all this very much.
A word of praise also for the excellent sound system, installed in the "passion" version we tested, where we liked also the black and white colour scheme.
The audio system incorporates a radio, digital playback options and comprehensive smart phone integration. The Audio-System also includes a USB and AUX port for external audio devices such as a USB stick or an MP3 player.
Audio streaming allows music tracks stored on a smartphone to be played back via a Bluetooth® connection, but you can also do this through the USB connection of course. The wireless connection has the advantage that it also allows a hands-free kit to be used.
Our test car was also equipped with the large folding sun roof, which was a pleasure to use on the first sunny days of spring...
This Smart is a very clever, quality built urban four seater, with excellent cruising abilities. It's a true delight to use in city traffic, thanks to it's light, sensitive steering, its magnificent turning circle, its smooth gearbox, its willing engine.
It has quite original and attractive colour schemes, and this wins over many hearts. The black and white finish of our test car certainly won ours...
The Smart has excellent and well thought out controls, a very good audio and infotainment system, smartphone compatibility, so you feel well at home in its pleasant cabin, making it a delightful daily companion in your busy (urban) life, and what's more, the sympathy for this Smart forfour still increases with use, and that's maybe the biggest compliment we can make this Smart...
Hans Knol ten Bensel