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Smart ForFour auto 2004 review

Of course, older motorists are not precluded from getting smart. It is just that mature drivers may feel they are giving the impression of trying to recapture their youth by dashing about in one of the brightly-coloured funabouts.

The smart car came to market as a two-seater, then a two-door roadster was added.

The two-seats concept was an attraction, allowing designers to keep the length down to a couple of strides. But it proved a handicap to those who knew they would want to carry more than one passenger.

The entrance of the four-door has done big things to the concept and the range.

The original two-door is now called the fortwo, while the four-door is the forfour.

The arrival of the forfour called for competitive pricing which, in turn, meant the fortwo coupe and cabrio had to be adjusted downward to maintain sensible separation. This resulted in prices of $19,900 and $22,900 respectively. The forfour is exceptionally well priced at $23,900 for the 70kW, 1.3-litre engined model and $25,900 for the 80kW, 1.5-litre version.

The forfour is built on the same principle as the fortwo, around a strong alloy safety cell fitted with coloured, interchangeable plastic body panels.

This allows the forfour to weigh in at less than 1000kg which, taking into account the standard features, results in a remarkable power-to-weight ratio.

So while the output of the two engines will not send a rocket to the moon, highly respectable performance is achieved. And keep an open mind about a car with plastic body panels. Independent crash testing has given smart good marks.

The smart range has been developed and engineered by Mercedes-Benz. As a result, the new brand has the benefit of spare parts from the Silver Star's inventory to curb costs.

The styling of the four-seat smart is both cute and endearing. It employs extremely short overhangs front and rear – rather like the original BMC Mini.

As a result, while the exterior dimensions are diminutive – 3.7m long and 1.7m wide – interior space is surprisingly generous.

All smart models have electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution and can be optioned with a number of audio, navigation and telecommunication items common to Mercedes models. So while prices may appear a tad high for a small car with 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre engines, the total package needs to be costed to get a true picture. And remember, smart is a niche brand of the Merc stable so take it as read that fit and finish is commensurate with a premium product.

The forfour comes with a conventional five-speed manual transmission as standard. A sequential six-speed automatic is available as an option.

The 1.3-litre engine on test ran the clutchless auto, which will suit those who like tiptronic-style gear changes.

It does have a fully automatic mode although this does not work as smoothly as a conventional auto transmission. And the race-car arrangement of pushing the selector forward to change up and backwards to change down is easy to operate. Another feature of the automatic is a kickdown function which allows the driver to change down one or two gears spontaneously using only the accelerator.

The car is not particularly quick, taking 10.8sec to accelerate from zero to 100km/h. The 1.5-litre engine does the sprint in 9.8sec. But it feels nippy and gets around town with spectacular ease. And one gets the feeling that if you can see daylight in between two cars, there is a parking space just for you.

With electronic stability control keeping everything under control, the car remains well behaved when cornering, and the 15in alloy wheels minimise impact harshness common to small cars with little wheels.

Buyers can choose between a plastic roof, a panoramic glass roof or an electric glass sunroof which comes with a two-part sun blind.

And finally, the interior is a wonderful study of new design thinking which matches the persona of the vehicle.

At a glance
A smart car is not a price challenger to the log-jam of $13,990 econocars. It is a well-specified niche model designed for young drivers looking for something different.

The models in the range are not particularly quick but they can be driven for exceptional economy. The forfour drives well and handles nicely. Visibility is good and they are a dream to park.

The underlying element when reviewing the car is that it is a baby Merc. And there is ample evidence of this in the fit and finish, quality of componentry, and standard features.

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Range and Specs

Pulse 1.5L, PULP, 6 SP SEQ AUTO $2,640 – 4,070 2004 Smart Forfour 2004 Pulse Pricing and Specs