The original smart city – now smart fortwo – was and still is only available with a sequential manual transmission and the same goes for the roadster and roadster-coupe introduced last year.
It is only now as smart begins its drive into the mainstream that it has decided to offer a standard manual with an automated alternative as an option. But we felt this was one of the aspects of the smart forfour that made it less ‘smart’ – the manual transmission is one of the components developed with input from Mitsubishi while the Softouch auto is part of the smart makeup. Which is why we have compared a range of two-pedal superminis against the smart forfour and taken a closer look at the passion specification.
Smart’s push into the mainstream has been helped by a shared component set with European versions of the new Mitsubishi Colt and next year’s Mercedes-Benz A-class.
Like the smart fortwo, the ‘pulse’ line offers a range of sporty features, while ‘passion’ specification – like our test car – aims to provide more comfort and includes air conditioning, leather steering wheel, alloy wheels and fog lamps as standard. Other features include traction control, ABS with electronic brake force distribution and emergency braking assistance, lane-change indicators (that flash three times when you gently tap the stalk) and electric front windows.
The interior quality feels higher than average for a supermini, helped by the many Mercedes-Benz-style switches and controls on the dashboard.
Two seats are standard in the rear, but an upgrade to three seats is a cheeky £80 and the base of the seat adjusts to optimise either passenger space or luggage capacity.
Driving the smart forfour is good fun once you get used to the transmission. It’s true that in automatic mode it can be more economical than using a conventional manual, but you have to anticipate the upchanges and ease off the throttle pedal for the smoothest changes.
Those used to a traditional automatic will notice the difference and the fact that you don’t have to co-ordinate pushing in the clutch with your left foot and changing gear with your right hand means you are just sitting there waiting for it to happen.
It’s something drivers will get used to and when they do, they will have fun changing gears using the paddles behind the steering wheel as well as the gearstick. The forfour handles tidily too, with plenty of grip and very little body roll. The steering turns in crisply and precisely, but the electric power steering set-up lacks the feedback to give drivers confidence on a twisty road.
So smart’s first ‘mainstream’ model has character and charm and is also a well-rounded car that merits judgment alongside the best in the supermini sector.
smart forfour passion 1.3 auto
Delivered price, standard car (P11d value): £11,595
CO2 emissions (g/km): 133
BIK % of P11d in 2004: 15%
Graduated VED rate: £105
Insurance group: 2
Combined mpg: 53.8
CAP Monitor residual value: £3,825/33%
Depreciation 12.47 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,482
Maintenance 2.04 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,224
Fuel 7.43 pence per mile x 60,000: £4,458
Wholelife cost 21.94 pence per mile x 60,000: £13,164
Typical contract hire rate: £261
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
THE smart forfour on test is well equipped for the price and, considering it has a more powerful engine than any of the rivals listed, it puts its second-highest P11d value into perspective. However, all four are relatively close on P11d with less than £800 separating them. The Volkswagen Polo – the only one here with a conventional automatic transmission – is the most expensive at the front end, but we expect it to claw some of that back with lower depreciation.
KEEPING a small car on the road must be cheap and all of these cars fulfil expectations in this area. The smart works out £54 more expensive than the Vauxhall Corsa over three years/60,000 miles at £1,224 but with perhaps twice as many visits to the dealer than the Corsa with 9,000-mile service intervals, against up to 20,000 for the Vauxhall. The Citroen C3 would set a fleet operator back a further £24 than the smart, while the Volkswagen Polo is still in touch at £1,350.
WITH a fuel consumption figure of 53.8mpg on the combined cycle, the smart’s performance is remarkable for a 95bhp car. Sequential manual transmissions are typically more economical than conventional manual cars when they run in automatic mode and the Corsa also scores well, just £42 more than the smart’s £4,458. The Citroen would cost £5,094 over 60,000 miles based on its combined fuel consumption of 47.1mpg. The Polo’s conventional automatic transmission is inefficient by comparison and would cost £6,450.
IT’S no surprise to see the Volkswagen at the top of this table as the Polo has an impressive record for depreciation. But while the smart might be at the bottom of the table, it is only £234 behind the Polo. It loses out to the Corsa by just £60 over three years/60,000 miles and to the Citroen C3 by £108. However, both Citroen and Vauxhall are likely to offer greater discounts than Volkswagen and smart to reach these figures.
ADDING up the figures, the Vauxhall Corsa seems to snatch victory from the smart forfour by stealth, coming top only in the SMR table, and then only by £54. In the end, the margin of its victory over the new smart is £72, which is hardly decisive. By contrast, the smart’s lead over the Citroen C3 is £552, while the thirsty Polo is £1,884 adrift. It proves the point that fitting a conventional automatic to a small car has a greater impact on running costs than an automated manual.
EMISSIONS AND BIK TAX RATES
THE smart and Vauxhall have lower CO2 emissions than the Citroen, but its lower P11d value results in lower tax bills. A 22% taxpayer in the Citroen would pay less than £31 a month for the foreseeable future as there is no guidance on future CO2 thresholds below 140g/km. It’s the same story with the smart and Vauxhall, with monthly bills of £32 and £31 respectively. The Polo’s higher emissions bring a monthly bill of £48 for the rest of the financial year, rising to £50 from April 2005.
ALTHOUGH the smart finishes just behind the Vauxhall Corsa in running costs, it is more powerful, more distinctive and trendier. It will have more appeal for younger drivers, user-choosers and companies that want a distinctive car to advertise the business while staff are on the road. However, it might not be an ideal vehicle for a larger fleet and that’s where Corsa proves a frugal and capable alternative.
WINNER: smart forfour 1.3 passion Softouch auto
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