IN crowded European cities, a car such as the Smart ForTwo seems to make good sense, on paper at least. The fact that the little two-seater hasn’t sold as well as expected probably has more to do with its comparatively high price than a public rejection of the idea of a city car per se.

So, where does that leave the ForFour, a supermini-sized fivedoor hatch carrying the Smart nameplate and many of the brand’s styling cues? Like the soon-to-be-discontinued Smart Roadster twins, it represents a change in philosophy from the original “two into one parking space” city car concept. But it’s also a departure from the original Smart idea of a modular car, assembled by various component suppliers who add on their bits as the vehicle moves down the assembly line. The ForFour, as regular CAR readers will know, is actually a Mitsubishi Colt, “Smartened” up by giving it similar styling and interior features to the ForTwo.

Part of the makeover consists of replacing the outer skins of items such as doors, hatch, bonnet, fenders and roof with colour-impregnated high-density polymer plastic panels. But the unit construction body, engine and drivetrain are pure Mitsubishi. And the ForFour is not built at the original Smart plant in Hambach, France, but rolls off the line – alongside examples of the new Colt – at Mitsubishi’s Nedcar plant in Born, in the Netherlands.

All that said, the manual transmission 1,3 Pulse supplied for this test is arguably the most userfriendly Smart driven by the CAR team to date, mainly because of its slick-shifting Japanese-standard five-speed gearbox and smooth, willing engine. The four-cylinder Mitsubishi power-plant is a state-of-the-art 16-valver. It displaces 1 332 cm3 and has peak outputs of 70 kW at 6 000 r/min and 125 N.m at 4 000. It is transversely mounted up front, and drives the front wheels, a complete turnaround of the ForTwo’s rear-engine, rearwheel drive layout.

The car’s underpinnings are identical to the Colt’s. At the front, suspension is by MacPherson struts, and a torsion beam-axle is employed at the rear. Brakes are discs all round (ventilated up front), and ABS and ESP are standard. Wheels on the test car were neat 15-inch alloys, wrapped in 195/50 Bridgestone Turanza tyres.

The rubber fills the flared wheelarches nicely, providing a purposeful-looking stance. And the proud-standing plastic panels are in a contrasting colour to the Mitsubishi-donated “Tridion” (pressed steel to you and me) safety cell. Chunky plastic handles are integrated into the doors. The spotlight-style quad headlights are recessed into the nose in oval surrounds, and the rear lights are teardrop units housed in black panels on either side of the rear window, recalling those of the ForTwo. In fact, the entire makeover from Colt to Smart gives the ForFour some serious youthful attitude. Just the accessory to go with (or should that be to contrast with?) that Dolce and Gabbana outfit…

Inside, there’s more of the same, with large pods for the instruments, and even smaller pods, sticking out from the large pods like multiple ears, to house an array of idiot lights. There’s a cloth-covered facia and stylish seats, finished in a matching textile. What’s more, apart from the Tupperware-look steering wheel, it all looks and feels to be of good quality… though we wonder how long the fabric on the facia will last in the bright southern sun.

The interior has plenty of stash space, the most usable slots being the deepish bins in the front doors and a wide shelf on the passenger side of the facia. Despite the funky detailing, all the major controls are conventional and fall easily to hand and foot.

Standard features on the Pulse version include electric windows in front, air-conditioning, remote alarm/central locking, a radio/CD unit, four airbags and an ISO child seat mounting system. But the exterior mirrors are manually adjusted by means of stalks protruding into the interior. If you want electrically adjustable units, you have to invest in the 1,5-litre-engined Passion version…

Though there’s no height adjustment, the front seats have a fair range of travel, but the front chairs are a touch narrow for drivers with larger frames. The rear seats can be moved forward to provide extra luggage space, or backwards to increase rear compartment legroom. The split seatback sections fold forward in usual hatchback fashion, and the whole unit can be tumbled forward, station wagon style, to increase capacity further.

On the road, the manual Pulse is fluid and easy to drive, much like most modern Japanese compacts. The engine is willing, the assisted steering is light and precise, ride is comfy and welldamped, and the handling failsafe, without encouraging a sporty driving style.

Out on the test strip, the car recorded typical 1,3-litre acceleration times, though it would havbeen quicker had the (non-switchable) traction control not tended to bog things down on take-off. Top speed, at a true 180 km/h, was impressive. So was stopping ability, the four-wheel discs pulling up the car in an average time of 2,96 seconds in our 10-stop 100-to-zero emergency braking routine. The CAR fuel index (our estimate of overall consumption in “enthusiastic” driving) works out at a class-leading 7,13 litres/ 100 km, which equates to a range of 659 km on the 47-litre tank.

Test summary

The most usable Smart of all, the ForFour represents a complete departure from the original city car concept. The manual mirrors apart, it provides all of the features you’d expect in a R130 000-plus modern boutique hatch, but you’re still paying a premium for the Smart name and, presumably, its association with Mercedes- Benz. Economy is excellent, but dynamics and space utilisation are average rather than class-leading. And the quirky styling speaks of niche, rather than mass appeal.

Original article from Car