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Smart ForFour manual 2005 review

That was, a guide who spoke Italian and English.

The second smart thing I did was borrow a car economical enough for Rome's $2.50 a litre petrol wallop, and small enough to squeeze through the traffic yet big enough, so I'm visible to the smoke-belching trucks and erratically zig-zagging scooters.

That clever option was a Smart.

Built in France and the child of a fractured marriage between Swiss watchmaker Swatch and Mercedes-Benz, the Smart forfour, that is, for four people, is the biggest of the maker's four-car range.

Smart is probably best known for its diminutive fortwo – you guessed it, for two people – that in Perth can share a single car bay with another fortwo.

The forfour is a different animal because it uses mechanical components shared with the new Mitsubishi Colt. It also has four doors and excellent interior room. Which is all good.

The road to the Pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, sits high on the hill with its fortress-like stance overlooking a lake.

From Rome the road is incredibly busy, but the Smart forfour picked its line well through the metallic weave.

Surprisingly, the Smart drove more like a zippy sports car than a family chariot.

It was upset by the rough cobblestone roads, especially at low speeds, though enjoyed a rev on the open highways.

I knocked repeatedly on the wooden doors of Castel Gandolfo in the hope that the owner was home but was told, curtly, that he wasn't and to go away.

So I did. All the way to Perth where I had a chance to drive the Smart forfour in Australian trim.

The four-door is sold here with two engines, the 1.3-litre as tested and a 1.5, and two transmissions and a harlequin of body colours.

With a conventional five-speed manual, the cheapest model was also the most fun to drive.

Unlike the Euro-spec forfour, the Aussie car had excellent ride characteristics at all speeds.

The engine may be small but it's willing, revving cleanly to give spirited performance while being pleasantly economical.

While it will get excellent fuel economy around town and even better in the country, the engine is a bit weak on torque and requires lots of gearshifts to keep the performance on tap.

It also starts to fall away when you have more than two people aboard so if you're a regular children's taxi driver, the bigger 1.5-litre engine is advised.

But it is clear that the Smart 1.3 was made for someone who enjoys driving. Take it for a blast and you immediately notice the taut chassis.

It was so much fun and such a delight to drive that it was one of the hardest cars to return after the test.

Like the other Smarts, the fortwo, cabrio and roadster, the car has fresh styling that, though a bit tacky and plasticy, is extremely appealing.

The cloth-covered dash has goggle-eyed vents, ancillary gauges sprouting from stalks, a cute, little steering wheel and an underdash tray with glovebox.

The CD sound system is clean and simple, as is most switchgear.

Visibility is excellent and there's plenty of adjustment in the seats and steering wheel.

The rear seat slides on runners to boost boot space. With leg and headroom for a 1.8m backseat passenger, the boot space is minimal though with kiddies on board it deepens to hold lots of shopping.

The basic 1.3-litre Pulse as tested has airconditioning, electric front windows, central locking, two airbags, alloy wheels and a CD player.

The electric sunroof is a $1620 option, though you can have a full-length fixed smoked-glass roof for about $800.

It's a superb little car and if you're in the market for a small four-door hatch, this must at least be seen.

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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