Take Marmite, for example. Millions like and dislike the tar-like savoury spread in equal measure.
It’s the same with the smart. With its radical two-tone styling, there are few models on the road to resemble the new forfour. Comments from fellow passengers so far fall into the love it or hate it category.
I sit in the former camp and have been singing the car’s praises since getting my hands on the keys a couple of months ago. I was concerned that this latest supermini could turn out to be more style than substance, but I was wrong – it has a couple of imperfections, but so does David Beckham and it doesn’t stop him from being generally loved by the British public.
Our long-termer is the 1.5 cdi passion and it’s the first time smart has launched a five-door, diesel engine and manual five-speed transmission in the UK (it is also available as automated six-speed transmission).
The cdi unit meets Euro IV emissions standards, which scores points with fleets, as it is exempt from the 3% diesel surcharge on benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax bills until 2008. It’s a punchy little number too with 95bhp, a top speed of 112mph and 0-60mph time of 10.5 seconds.
Smart does offer cheaper alternatives. For two and a half grand less (£9,995 rather than £12,370) there is the 1.5 cdi with 68bhp, a top speed of 100mph and 0-60mph in 13.9 seconds.
It doesn’t stop there either, for £7,995 smart’s entry-level 1.1-litre petrol version offers 75bhp – a worthy alternative for user-choosers with less cash to spend.
Smart’s funky design doesn’t stop on the outside – its interior is just as quirky with pod-like dials which glow red at night, giving the cabin the appearance of a driving simulator. The interior fabric is tasteful and high quality, it doesn’t look like it will wear out in a few years’ time and has slight undertones of the Mercedes-Benz A-class.
It’s also surprisingly comfortable. The forfour has been on quite a few three-hour jaunts visiting my family in Chester and I arrived stress-free, sprightly and without a hint of backache.
More often than not I have also arrived with a huge grin on my face as the forfour is so much fun to drive. It handles fantastically, making B-roads great fun and thanks to its dinky down-turned nose, there’s a great view of the road ahead. The forfour shares its platform with Mitsubishi’s Colt, but after recently driving the Colt, the forfour wins hands down of the two in my view. It handles better, has a firmer ride and with its unusual styling is way ahead in the design stakes.
Forfour is available in two trims – pulse and passion. Pulse offers a range of sporty features, while passion aims to provide more comfort and includes air conditioning and fog lamps as standard.
Other features include traction control, ABS with electronic brake force distribution and emergency braking assistance and electric front windows. Even though the smart has won my heart, it is not 100% faultless.
The diesel engine is on the raucous side, the door mirrors are not electric and the car is a bit pricey.
Then there’s the frugality of the forfour. On the combined cycle, smart reckons consumption should be 61.4mpg for the manual, although I am failing to reach this – averaging a much worse figure of 46mpg.
Usually on test cars I manage to fall short of the manufacturers’ combined figure by a couple of mpg, but 15mpg short is considerable. Despite its faults, 46mpg is respectable and wouldn’t stop me opting for the forfour if I was a user-chooser.
Model: smart forfour 1.5 cdi passion
Price (OTR): £12,370
CO2 emissions (g/km): 121
Company car tax bill (2005/6) 22% tax-payer: £33 per month
Insurance group: 7
Combined mpg: 61.4
Test mpg: 46.1
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,075/33%
HSBC contract hire rate: £282
Expenditure to date: Nil
Options on test car:
What Fleet News expects
OUR long termer has clocked up more than 2,000 miles since arriving at Fleet News and is running perfectly.
With its original styling, punchy 1.5 cdi diesel engine and thrifty fuel consumption, we expect it to be a good city car, but also to hold its own on the motorway.
THE smart forfour, the first smart with four seats and four doors, makes sound The financial sense for corporate customers who want a practical and stylish car.
It offers a high degree of practicality and illustrates the core brand values of innovation, functionality and joie de vivre. The full range of audio, navigation and telecommunication technology available and the numerous comfort and safety functions make it an ideal choice for fleet buyers.
With around 1,000 vehicles sold since its launch in September 2004, the forfour helped to boost UK smart sales to more than 11,500 in 2004.
Jeremy Simpson, Head of smart UK