But its limitations are obvious, which is supposedly where the four-seat forfour comes in. Pitched as a small car with space and practicality that also cuts more of a dash than its competitors, does it have enough ‘smart-ness’ – that combination of funky individuality and ingenuity – that should set it apart?
Its two-tone exterior and tridion safety cell gives it a unique look but it’s actually just a standard small hatchback dressed in fancy clothes.
There’s none of the groundbreaking lateral thinking of the fortwo here and the fact that it shares its underpinnings with the Mitsubishi Colt, a usefully spacious supermini, is apparent once the plastic veil has been lifted.
Inside, some of the pod-like themes of the other smarts are apparent. Quality of materials is decent and it’s well put together, while the optional ‘lounge concept’ – where the backrests of the front seats fold down to create a large, padded surface – smacks of tokenism. It’s almost as if smart shoehorned in some folding seats to try and create the impression that this is more than just a standard supermini.
But the car is playing second fiddle to boardroom politics at the moment. Last autumn, after revealing massive losses for the brand, DaimlerChrsyler boss Jurgen Schrempp said there was no chance smart would be closed, but it seems the situation has not improved and all options are open to the giant corporation, including winding it up.
This uncertainty makes it hard for fleets to plan ahead and when fleets can’t plan ahead with a vehicle, they tend not to buy it.
Also, part of smart’s problem is that it is sold in Mercedes-Benz dealerships and it is apparent that these dealers, used to high-end customers with lots of money, just don’t understand or want cheap plastic cars in their showrooms.
An industry insider told Fleet NewsNet: ‘A lot of them are used to buyers turning up and ticking all the boxes for what they want in a Mercedes, while smart customers are looking for value and a different kind of service.’
It’s a shame because the forfour passion is a good car and comes decently specced with a panoramic sunroof, CD player, leather steering wheel, alloy wheels and fog lights.
The multimedia navigation system, a £1,395 option, allows sat-nav, phone, radio and CD all to be operated from the steering wheel and is a feature normally reserved for more expensive cars.
The 109bhp 1.5-litre engine is peppy, with low emissions and good fuel economy, while the accurate manual transmission is a better option than the slurring auto that bedevils all smarts. So, a decent car but not a groundbreaking one. The question is, should fleets be allowing it on choice lists at the moment, while its future is in doubt?
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
THESE are all superminis that offer a bit more interior space than average for the sector. Compared spec for spec, they are all very similar, with the important bases covered – air conditioning, CD player, electric front windows. In this context, the smart looks expensive at the front end, especially when you consider it is effectively the same car as the Colt, with the same engine and underpinnings.
SERVICE, maintenance and repair costs are close for all four cars in this test. The dearest, the Colt, would cost only £1,446 over three-years/60,000-miles. However, if you’ve got a smart, the nearest official servicing agent could be a fair trek, as not all Mercedes-Benz dealers do smart. And from personal experience, smart drivers have to get used to being treated like second-class citizens in the dealership.
THE forfour is fantastic on fuel, as is the Colt. One of the reasons for this is that they are both very light, at 975kgs and 990kgs respectively. The forfour has a combined fuel economy figure of 51.1mpg, which is good for a 1.5-litre petrol engine. The Modus and Mazda are heavier and have slightly bigger 1.6-litre engines, which means higher fuel costs. The smart would end up with a fuel bill after 60,000 miles of under £5,000, while the Modus, which is the least fuel-efficient, would have a bill of nearly £800 more over the same distance.
BECAUSE of its high front end price, the smart has the worst depreciation costs by some distance, while the other three lose very similar amounts. After three years/60,000 miles, all four will be worth about £4,000, which means that the smart loses more than £8,000 while the best, the Mazda2 and the Colt lose around £6,700. That is quite a difference for such small cars and suggests that the smart is a little over-priced at the front end, and used buyers don’t find the forfour’s unique looks such a turn-on.
WELL-contained costs in all areas make the Mitsubishi Colt the lowest car for wholelife costs. There’s no area of weakness and when you consider that the smart is effectively the same car, but is more expensive, the Colt does very well and is more than £800 cheaper. That’s a lot for some funky plastic panels. All the cars are still pretty cheap to run at and, while the Modus is the most expensive, costing more than £14,200 over three years/60,000 miles, these are benchmark costs and don’t take into account individual discount deals.
EMISSIONS AND BIK TAX RATES
THE Colt is again the best, this time for tax, thanks to low emissions and a very low P11D price. It would cost a 22% taxpayer £32 a month. Since the Mazda2 range was realigned last year, it is a lot cheaper and this reflects in BIK tax costs, where it is a close second. The Modus has fairly high emissions, making it the most expensive, but it’s still only £37. The smart’s low emissions mitigate the highest P11D value.
THE Mitsubishi Colt is something of a shock winner here. It has the best wholelife costs and the lowest tax while still delivering much of what the smart does. In other words, it’s a smart forfour without having to pay for the fancy cladding. The smart delivers in a number of areas, especially fuel consumption, space and style, but a high front-end price hampers it in fleet terms.
WINNER: Mitsubishi Colt 1.5 Sport
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £12,220
CO2 emissions (g/km): 145
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 16%
Graduated VED rate: £105
Insurance group: 2
Combined mpg: 51.1
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,075/33%
Depreciation 13.57 pence per mile x 60,000: £8,142 M
Maintenance 2.20 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,320
Fuel 7.82 pence per mile x 60,000: £4,692
Wholelife cost 23.59 pence per mile x 60,000: £14,154
Typical contract hire rate: £276
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