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First Oz drive: Smart ForFour offers more

Plenty of cheek: The ForFour has the familiar Smart multi-colour body treatment and a cheeky style.

Five-door ForFour moves Smarttoward the mainstream

29 Oct 2004

THE Smart brand moves closer to the mainstream with its new ForFour, which goes on sale in Australia this week after being previewed at the recent Australian International Motor Show in Sydney.

A joint development between DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi, the new car takes the Smart brand on an evolutionary step that will – if all goes according to plan – imprint it on the Australian psyche as a serious presence in the new-car market.

New-car shoppers are likely to be less challenged with the new Smart than they were with the rear-drive, rear-engined Fortwo roadster and, to a certain extent, the cabriolet version introduced here early in 2003.

Although it has the Smart DNA of distinctive styling, compact size and outstanding fuel economy, the ForFour, in a lot of ways, complies with familiar small-car patterns. It uses a front-drive, transverse powertrain and a conventional five-door hatchback body that is more compact than, say, a Nissan Pulsar.

The difference is in the styling, the amount of safety gear incorporated into the package and the fact it is powered by two minuscule, but quite gutsy, 1.3 and 1.5-litre four-cylinder engines.

The latest Smart also embraces safety aspects unusual at this price level, including ABS and electronic stability control as standard.

Managing director for the Mercedes-Benz Car Group of DaimlerChrysler Australia/Pacific, Horst Von Sanden, said the ForFour would add credibility to the brand, encouraging buyers to take it seriously as a presence in the small-car market.

The brand has so far proceeded quietly in Australia, with deliveries since the 2003 launch totalling 565 vehicles, 55 per cent of which were coupes, 25 per cent roadster and 20 per cent cabriolet.

Importantly, the arrival of ForFour brings a repositioning of existing Smart vehicles, with the entry level ForTwo coupe now tagged at $19,900, the cabriolet at $22,900 and the roadster at $34,900.

The ForFour is equipped at one basic level, which is a slightly enhanced version of the Pulse model sold elsewhere.

The buyer, however, gets to choose between 1.3 and 1.5-litre engines – the former tagged at $23,900 and the latter $25,900. These prices are well below what the German parent wanted and were only arrived at after serious haggling by DaimlerChrysler in Australia.

The ForFour is a close relation of the Mitsubishi Colt, although the company says there is little in common in terms of basic body design. The engines are the same, except Smart versions develop a little more power – 70kW and 125Nm for the 1.3, 80kW and 145Nm for the 1.5.

Two transmissions are also available – a conventional five-speed manual or a six-speed clutchless transmission that can be shifted via paddles on the steering wheel.

Despite its more mainstream design, the ForFour is aimed at quite a different market to that conquested by Pulsar, Corolla, Astra and Lancer. The company sees it as a classless car, with customers more likely to come from the likes of Mini and, to a certain extent, the Volkswagen Beetle.

37 center imageIt’s certainly more practical than either. Interior space is surprisingly good considering the compact body and it proves to be quite a handy luggage carrier, too – particularly if the Toyota Echo-style variable back seat adjustments are employed.

Equipment levels are essentially the same whether the 1.3 or 1.5-litre engine is specified, and includes dual front and side airbags, alloy wheels (with a space-saver spare), power front windows, air-conditioning, CD player and remote locking. The 1.5-litre version adds a little more, including a leather-rimmed steering wheel, trip computer and an upgraded sound system.

The ForFour has the familiar Smart multi-colour body treatment – if you want it – and a cheeky style that is certainly a departure from common practice even if it isn’t as radical as the Fortwo.

Like the ForTwo, it offers an almost bewildering range of colour combinations achieved by varying the shades used on various thermoplastic panels.

The company expects to sell about 300 ForFours in 2005, accompanied by 150 each of cabriolet/coupe and roadster models.

This is a mere drop in the ocean if you consider the potential 2000 annual sales anticipated when the upcoming Mercedes-Benz C-class-based SUV Smart comes in 2006.

GoAuto can help you buy a new ForFour

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