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Smart City Coupe 2004 review

The question is just how smart the latest derivative from the makers of Europe's favourite inner-city car is for Australia.

When Mercedes-Benz, under whose umbrella the smart brand operates, bit the bullet and launched the original smart, the diminutive fortwo, into Australia last year there was a quiet confidence that its stand-alone looks and quirky functionality would find favour with a niche market.

While sales haven't exactly been brisk, they have been running close to the 25 a month Mercedes predicted.

Whether the forfour will add significantly to volume for smart is debatable.

What is not in question is that the little car that grew is certainly more practical.

The external styling is less eye-catching and in many way less attractive than either the fortwo or roadster.

The stretching of the car to accommodate the 1.3- and 1.5-litre engines – a variation on the engines used in Mitsubishi's Colt – and rear seats changes the proportions significantly.

The 15-inch alloys help keep the car from looking like a toy and also assist in ride quality. However, the longer wheelbase is the forfour's greatest friend.

Gone is the choppy, dinky-car feel from the fortwo. Still present is the harshness over sharply broken surfaces.

The forfour certainly feels significantly better planted on the road and for many potential buyers the more "usual" feel of the car will be confidence-inspiring.

That confidence is well placed as the standard electronic stability program is enough to control all but the most gross excesses. For a light car – tipping the scales just under 1000kg – the all-round disc brakes with ABS, brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution provides a sure and stable set of anchors.

Inside the cabin the forfour is every bit as style-driven as its siblings.

The colours are bright and fresh, the style engaging and the use of innovative materials – woven cloth on the dash – is refreshing.

The seats are comfortable and supportive, – if a little narrow for larger passengers – but head room is good and rear space surprisingly so. The rear seats can be slid forward and backwards to accommodate additional leg room or extra boot space.

There is airconditioning, a CD player and electric front windows as standard. The manual wing mirrors make adjustment difficult. Dynamically the forfour is the equal of the majority of cars in the light segment, although certainly not class-leading.

The steering is direct, if a tad light, and the forfour follows input well. The 1.3-litre engine, as tested, is a willing unit which applies its limited 70kW output well.

Torque through the mid-range is goodwith 125Nm on tap at and around 4000rpm. All good so far. Then we come to the six-speed automatic box – a $1035 option. Driven as a full automatic you can fall out of love with this thing within a kilometre.

Every up-shift is accompanied by a distinct pause and jolt. Choose the sequential manual option and things do get better.

The gears hold well towards redline and the shifts are far less intrusive. It can all become a little messy on the way down when a delayed shift could find the rather agressive override shifting a gear when you don't want it. With a five-speed manual as an option you'd need a compelling reason to spend extra on the auto.

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Range and Specs

(base) 0.7L, PULP, 6 SP SEQ AUTO $2,640 – 4,070 2004 Smart City Coupe 2004 (base) Pricing and Specs
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