Remember those really small little city cars, called smart? Well, they’re back and according to Mercedes-Benz - the mother company if you will - the latest range of smart cars is going to change the small-car segment. How? They say the smart offers premium quality and technology that hasn’t been offered before. I went to the ideal place to test-drive the all-new smart fortwo and forfour… Cape Town.
The smart forfour and fortwo share many of their bits and bobs with the Renault Twingo, which is now its main rival. Other cars in the segment include the Hyundai i10 and the Volkswagen up! These are city cars, designed to get you down the back streets in style and comfort. How does the smart fare in those two departments? Let me explain…
Big on style, inside and out
It is as if someone forgot to add the self-rising flour. I will admit that its compact looks are undeniably cute. The compact proportions and clever details indicate unique functionality. They are clearly recognisable as siblings. Many design features such as the headlamps, the front air grille as well as the iconic tridion safety cell are identical. Customers can also personalise their cars with a choice of various colours and trim levels.
The four equipment lines include: Base, Passion, Prime and Proxy. Even in the entry-level version of both models they offer a comprehensive scope of safety and comfort features, which include LED daytime running lights, central locking, cruise control, an instrument cluster with monochrome LCD display and trip computer as well as electric windows in the front, to name a few.
Inside both cars, one will find that the dashboard and the door centre panels feature extensive fabric coverings in the three lines. The dashboard itself consists of two sections: an outer section and a large, concave inner section, incorporating the various functional elements. In front of the dashboard, the instrument cluster and the infotainment centre appear to hover in front of the dashboard. I do have some issues with the dashboard though and that is practicality. I found it difficult to find a place for my smart phone and when I placed bottles in the cup holders they kept bumping my hand when I changed gears. Sure, there are numerous hidden compartments for things but nothing that is convenient.
Big on entertainment
For those customers who love their gadgets, the smart has a smart multimedia system with comprehensive smartphone integration. A touchscreen navigation system is also offered as optional. I found it to be very similar to that found in some Renaults but it works well. Another optional feature for the smart is the JBL sound system, which produces an impressively full sound for all your hip tunes.
Big on practicality
The smart forfour, with its four-door configuration is actually quite practical given its size. We were given the task of loading a few items into the car and this would not have been possible were it not for the smart seating functionality. The rear seats can fold flat, as can the front passenger seat; the rear doors also open up at an 85-degree angle to make it easier to get items in and out. The fortwo on the other hand, well, it is half the size of the forfour and apart from a split tailgate set-up it’s really not ideal for anything bigger than a gym bag.
Big on safety
The interior is protected from harm by a rigid shell known as the tridion cell. A high proportion of ultra-high strength, hot-formed steels and maximum-strength multiphase steel have been used on the new smart. Mercedes-Benz has carried out numerous tests on the smart, for example, driving it into an S-Class at around 60km/h, engineers could still open the doors on the smart.
On the road
Both cars were powered by the same 999cc three-cylinder engine, which is mounted at the rear of the car. The naturally aspirated motor develops 52kW and 91Nm of torque. Both cars feature a five-speed manual gearbox and they claim a six-litre/100km fuel consumption figure. Look, you won’t be setting any lap records with this car; 0-100km/h takes about 15 seconds and you really need to work the gearbox out on the open road. In the city, however, the little car is at its prime at about 80km/h. The forfour did seem to handle the wind and bumpy roads a bit better than the fortwo, but if it’s an agile car you want, then the little fortwo is ideal. It has a turning circle of just 6.95 metres (from kerb to kerb) and 7.30 metres (from wall to wall). I bet one could turn it around in a double garage!
After driving both cars in and around the city of Cape Town, I found them to be fun little cars. Sure, there are some issues with space and the engines are not ideal for highway cruising. It’s a city car; a little run-around and should be used for that. I do fear though that the naturally aspirated engines are going to suffer up at the reef. So has smart added a sense of premium to the segment? Yes, it has, and at a starting price of around R174 900 it is competitively priced, as well.
All smart models come standard with a three-year/60 000km smart Service Plan.