2005 Smart ForFour
Smart, Mercedes-Benz's hip, minicar brand launched in 1994, has branched out from its initial, pod-like, two-seater (famous for its ability to park nose in to a curb), and added a targa-topped Roadster and the four-door ForFour; we recently had a chance to drive the latter in Spain.
All Smarts are small to American eyes, but whereas the original Smart ForTwo looks freakishly small even in Europe, the ForFour is a standard B-class car over there-one size down from a VW Golf, but six inches longer than a Mini Cooper. It's funky, multi-hued exterior is afforded by its body of flexible (and easily removeable!) plastic panels attached to an exposed, "safety cell" spaceframe-just like the other Smarts. As is typical for Europe, Smart offers an array of engine choices in the ForFour: 68-hp and 95-hp 1.5-liter diesels and a 1.1-liter (75-hp) gasoline engine, all three-cylinders; there are also fours of 1.3 liters (95 hp) and 1.5 liters (109 or 122 hp). Luckily, we drove the hot-rod of the bunch, the 122-hp four-banger.
That 122-horse engine tags our ForFour as the new Sportstyle model, which is breathed on by Mercedes tuner Brabus who supplies the special chip tuning for the engine as well as a sport suspension. We were also fortunate to get a standard five-speed stick rather than the available servo-shifted auto-manual. Our ForFour was further tricked out with seventeen-inch alloy wheels, and a giant, two-piece glass sunroof.
So, we had the hot-rodding-est ForFour you can spec. Was it a four-door Mini Cooper? Uh, no. The engine sounds decent and responds with more zest than the typical European minicar's "maana" attitude when asked for more speed, but it's nothing that's going to smoke the front tires. Smart quotes a 0-to-62 mph time of 9.5 seconds. Whereas a Mini feels small and invincible buzzing around bigger, dumber traffic in America, the ForFour felt about right on the tiny roads of Majorca. What's missing, though, is the Mini's next-snapping turn-in, although the Sportstyle's 35-series Michelin Pilot Sports save the handling with their heroic grip.
The ForFour's front seats are reasonably roomy and comfortable, and the driver's perch offers a great view out, and the interior is cheerful without the contrived merriment of a Mini. The rear seat slides forward and back several inches, allowing you to choose adult-rated legroom or reasonable luggage space-but not both at the same time.
The ForFour Sportstyle is a real car rather than a freakish European oddity, but it's not the smile-a-minute funster it probably would need to be to attract buyers in the United States. That may not matter, because Smart's future in the U.S. is uncertain. Smart suspended indefinitely development on the ForMore small SUV, the model that was supposed to bring the brand to the U.S. We didn't think another me-too small SUV was so smart anyhow.