The tiny plastic-bodied cars are omnipresent in busy town and city centres, but are they up for the challenges of a tough three-year life on a company fleet? That’s the question we wanted an answer to when we took delivery of our forfour 1.5 CDI passion back in February.
KY54 WOB certainly stood out in our car park, thanks to its two-tone silver and metallic blue paint scheme (a £275 option) and four-spoke alloy wheels – part of a £475 package which also includes leather steering wheel and gear knob and blue tinted glass.
We also opted for the higher-powered diesel engine in 95bhp tune (a 68bhp version is also available for £2,500 less).
And we’re glad we did, because the smart spent much of its time with us pounding up and down motorways – ranging from business trips to London to visiting family and friends in Chester – a good 300-mile round trip from our neck of the woods in Peterborough.
Everyone who drove the smart on a long distance trip came back with the same expression of surprise: ‘I thought it would be a nightmare but actually, it’s comfortable and copes with motorway work well.’
Two things helped the smart in this area – well-padded seats and the low revving nature of its diesel engine. With maximum torque available from just 1,800rpm, the forfour never needed to be revved to the red line to make decent progress.
So it’s a little surprising that we never got anywhere near smart’s claimed combined fuel economy figure of 61.4mpg, even with lots of motorway miles where the car sat cruising at 70mph at low revs.
Our best attempt resulted in an average of 48.2mpg. During the car’s six-month stay it averaged 45.9mpg, which makes it difficult for a fleet manager when trying to estimate fuel costs using a manufacturer’s claimed figure as a benchmark.
Other niggles which came to light included sun visors which were far too small to shield your face from the sun, the lack of a parcel shelf over the boot which meant leaving shopping on show, and the fabric dashboard which attracted dust easily and proved difficult to keep clean.
There was also some concern about build quality, thanks to some large gaps between the panels, especially between the driver’s door and the B-pillar.
But these concerns were generally outweighed by the sheer cheeky fun the smart offers. It stands out in the company car park, stands out on the road from the mass of Eurobox superminis and thanks to its emissions offers drivers lower tax bills.
One of our testers likened the forfour to smart’s ‘difficult second album’. He was right, but the forfour has successfully broadened the marque’s appeal. For user-choosers wanting an economical way to stand out, it’s a good choice. Kate Batchelor
What the team thought
THE forfour has proved a worthy competitor in the mainstream small car market, with quirky styling mixed with practicality and performance. There was plenty of head and legroom for the driver and front seat passenger, visibility was good and the engine offered gusty acceleration without having to empty your pockets on diesel bills. The build quality was a little disappointing, though – the gap between the edge of the front doors to the B-pillar was alarming.
THE smart is one of my all-time long-term favourites and the ‘Fs’ in forfour should definitely stand for ‘fantastic fun’. Its funky exterior is replicated inside with novel pod instruments which glow red at night, and the fun doesn’t stop with cosmetics. It handles brilliantly and is backed up by a punchy 95bhp 1.5 cdi engine.
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 a month
Insurance group: 7
Combined mpg: 61.4
Test mpg: 45.9
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,175/34%
HSBC contract hire rate: £282
Total expenditure: Nil