Fleet News

smart forfour

Smart

Review

Fleet buyers will account for more than 20% of the registrations that are expected to be won by DaimlerChrysler's first competitor in the market segment dominated by the Mini, Volkswagen Polo and Peugeot 206.

Due to be launched later this year, the giant German-US corporation's radical smart forfour model is poised to blend aggressive pricing with class-leading performance and packaging.

But the family hatchback from the company that turned the humble city car into a motoring icon is already getting the hard-sell treatment from the Mercedes Car Group's corporate sales team.

Even though supplies will not be available before September, 34 key account managers at the Milton Keynes-based Mercedes-Benz and smart marketing operation have launched a special campaign to make sure business motorists are made aware of the new car.

Smart UK chief Jeremy Simpson said: 'Sales executives who have contacts with Mercedes-Benz customers are working to establish the potential of smart in the business community. Our reckoning is that a high proportion of customers run B-segment cars alongside their Mercedes-Benz C and E-class models and we want them to know all about smart.

'The 57 dealers in our network will be encouraged to operate five or six demonstrators and we plan to support these with a large head office fleet. My aim is for potential fleet customers to use the cars for periods of at least two weeks so they can fully appreciate the values that make our brand unique.'

In an interview at the international media launch of the range in Italy, Simpson said he was confident the forfour line-up would be well received.

He said: 'With prices that will range from about £10,000 to around £12,500, we expect this range to perform well against its volume rivals and win wide acceptance.'

Built in Holland and sharing power units, transmissions and axle components with Mitsubishi's new Colt supermini, the five-door smart has attracted considerable interest since its unveiling last year. More than 150,000 potential buyers, including 3,000 in Britain, have registered an interest via the company website and smart is processing around 450 firm orders per day in Germany, where deliveries will start in April.

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Bolstered by roadster and coupe versions, smart sales topped 10,000 last year to make Britain the company's third largest market. Simpson estimates that 4,500 examples of the 'grown-up' smart will go on to UK roads this year and thinks annual volume will reach around 15,000.

He said: 'Winning conquest sales is never easy, but I'm quietly confident. We might be the new boys in an extremely competitive market segment, but we do have a tremendous heritage despite being only five years old.'

Continuing the distinctive visual appearance of the original runabout, the family-sized forfour also uses tridion cell construction to protect occupants, a combination of alloy and plastic for its bodywork and a dual-tone paint finish.

But an array of advanced features allow this wide and low-slung car to stand out in the B-segment for reasons other than a distinctive appearance. With disc brakes all round, electronic stability control, electric power steering and a multifunctional steering wheel standard across most of the range, this is a small car with a specification list rather longer than usual.

Other niceties such as automatic central locking when the car moves away from rest, indicators with the latest 'lanechanger' function and headlamps that automatically illuminate the driveway at the end of a journey also hint at a premium pedigree.

The car will come with a wide choice of engines, with 1.1, 1.3 and 1.5-litre petrol units offering outputs of 75bhp, 95bhp and 109bhp and two 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel motors developing 67bhp and 94bhp.

Smart will mark the introduction of its new compact car range with a special version costing £1,000 less than usual. Called blackbasic and with a high level of equipment fitted as standard, the cut-price forfour is described as a 'welcome' addition by Simpson.

He said: 'We have looked at transaction prices and we know where we can be in the B-segment, but the blackbasic will help us position our new range with retail buyers.'

A production run of only 3,000 examples has been planned for the entry-level 1.1-litre car, which will cost under £9,000 on-the-road.

Air conditioning will be the only option available on the model, which has an all-black finish and a grey interior.

Like the rest of the range, it will have all-disc braking with anti-lock and electronic stability systems, front and side airbags and 'smart' electronics that provide automatic door locking and 'see you home' lighting.

Behind the wheel

Some critics might accuse smart of betraying its core values by producing a car that conforms with established practice and occupies the same amount of road space as its rivals.

But any doubts over the viability of the biggest smart so far are soon dispelled behind the wheel.

Despite being significantly larger than the diminutive original car, the latest product from one of the motor industry's most innovative companies still manages to inject fun into the most mundane journey.

Built to have the same power-to-weight ratio as the cheeky smart roadster – an impressive 101bhp per tonne – this is lively transport indeed both in and out of town. I was convinced our 1.3-litre test car had a 1.5-litre engine under its bonnet and the more powerful version felt like a 2.0-litre when we left the bustling city traffic of Rome and headed north on the motorway.

But the engine of the lead-in car provided the biggest surprise. Mated with manual transmission rather than the usual semi-automatic arrangement favoured by smart, the 1.1-litre unit was powerful, eager to spin to an effortless 6,000 revs and proved capable of cruising with the minimum of fuss or noise at 80mph on the Italian autostrada.

Maneouvrability would be improved by a slightly tighter turning circle, but this model is a good all-rounder that handles well and has an entertaining personality.

Driving verdict

Like its predecessors, the forfour will polarise opinions. I like it a lot and think it has all the ingredients to be a cult car that's spot-on for business users looking for practicality, individuality and good value.

Some critics might accuse smart of betraying its core values by producing a car that conforms with established practice and occupies the same amount of road space as its rivals.

But any doubts over the viability of the biggest smart so far are soon dispelled behind the wheel.

Despite being significantly larger than the diminutive original car, the latest product from one of the motor industry's most innovative companies still manages to inject fun into the most mundane journey.

Built to have the same power-to-weight ratio as the cheeky smart roadster – an impressive 101bhp per tonne – this is lively transport indeed both in and out of town.

I was convinced our 1.3-litre test car had a 1.5-litre engine under its bonnet and the more powerful version felt like a 2.0-litre when we left the bustling city traffic of Rome and headed north on the motorway.

But the engine of the lead-in car provided the biggest surprise. Mated with manual transmission rather than the usual semi-automatic arrangement favoured by smart, the 1.1-litre unit was powerful, eager to spin to an effortless 6,000 revs and proved capable of cruising with the minimum of fuss or noise at 80mph on the Italian autostrada.

Maneouvrability would be improved by a slightly tighter turning circle, but this model is a good all-rounder that handles well and has an entertaining personality.

Driving verdict

Like its predecessors, the forfour will polarise opinions. I like it a lot and think it has all the ingredients to be a cult car that's spot-on for business users looking for practicality, individuality and good value.

Fact file
Model 1.1 1.3 1.5
Engine (cc): 1,124 1,332 1,499
Max power (bhp/rpm): 75/6,000 95/6,000 109/6,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 73.76/3,500 92.2/4,000 106.9/4,000
Max speed (mph): 103 112 118
0-62mph (sec): 13.4 10.8 9.8
Fuel consumption (mpg): 51.4 48.7 (50.4 auto) 47.9 (48.7)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 130 138 (133) 140 (138)
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 47/10.5
Transmission: 5-sp man/6-sp auto
On sale: September

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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