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Smart Forfour 2005 review: road test

Top of the hip hop heap from the day it hit the road, the Jazz has been dethroned as the king of cool by Smart's Forfour.

The funk factor starts with the name – Forfour – chosen because Smart's latest model is designed to carry four people.

It also works for the Fortwo, which got the brand up and running and has just been approved for two-cars-in-one-space parking in many Australian cities because it is only three metres long.

Then again, the sporty Smart is called the Roadster. Whatever.

The Forfour's youthful approach is reflected in everything from the car's polycarbonate roof to plastic doors and a fabric-covered dashboard.

The design is one of the trendiest on the road today, and turns heads all the time.

"Wow! What is this?" asks Annette at the tip when she spots the Forfour.

"This is different. I'm not sure that I like it for me, but it is definitely different," says Todd at the service station.

The Forfour is that kind of car.

It's for people who want to be seen, who want people to know they are different, and believe the baby Benz brand has something for them.

But the Forfour is not what it seems. Not entirely, anyway.

It came from a joint development program with the Mitsubishi Colt, which includes everything from the engine to the underbody, and is being bolted together at the Nedcar factory in Holland.

But we've driven the Colt, and the Smart is very different. It is more lively, more enjoyable and – no surprise for a Benz brand – more expensive.

Make that much more expensive, because the starting price is $23,900 for a Forfour with a 1.3-litre engine. It is possible to go closer to $30,000 for one with a 1.5-litre engine and some additional equipment. This is in a class in which plenty of cars are below $20,000 and even a top-line Jazz VTi-S is $21,790.

Still, the price isn't hurting sales and DaimlerChrysler says the Forfour is giving the Smart brand a big shot in showrooms.

Sales of Smarts were up 240 per cent last month, from 20 cars in January 2004 to 68 this year.

It doesn't sound much, but it shows the brand is getting closer to the critical mass it needs in Australia.

It's no good having good cars if no one sees them, but the Forfour is doing the job on both fronts.

The Australian Forfour sits closer to the fully equipped model sold in Europe and has everything from airconditioner and CD sound to 15-inch alloys and electric windows.

Smart has been surprised by the reaction to the car, particularly the popularity of the costlier 1.5-litre version, and has been forced to mount a special trip to Germany to stock up.

"Everyone is going for the larger engine," Smart spokesman Toni Andreevski says.

"We thought people would be more sensitive to the price, so we ordered more 1.3-litre cars, but the reverse is true."

He also says the Softouch Plus semi-automatic manual gearbox, which costs $1035, is also more popular than expected.

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Range and Specs

Pulse 1.5L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $2,640 – 4,070 2005 Smart Forfour 2005 Pulse Pricing and Specs