A city car is best when used as cheap utilitarian transport to bounce around congested cities in, reversing into Transits and lamposts and being used as a lean-to by cyclists. But would you want this life for your new, remarkably expensive, Smart ForFour?
Isn’t the Smart ForFour basically the same as the new Renault Twingo?
Sharing engines, architecture and back office systems with the Renault Twingo, the Smart does have seats that fold a little bit flatter (although makers’ claims of total luggage capacity put the Frenchman ahead by five litres at 980 maximum), and has wider opening rear doors. There is also more standard kit and it feels more upmarket and refined thanks to increased sound insulation.
The interior’s more plush than the Renault, with a fabric covering for the dash in a range of entertainingly garish colours and a glossier surface for the switchgear. Base-spec Passion models get 15-inch alloys (all but the top Twingos have kerb-friendly plastic hubcaps), cruise control, automatic climate control and a button-spattered leather steering wheel. There’s also the addition of a removable cargo box between the flatter-folding rear seats.
Like the Twingo, there’s a choice of two petrol engines: a 69bhp naturally aspirated 1.0-litre, which needs flogging to make progress, or a 90bhp 0.9-litre turbo which is faster but marred by a nothing…nothing…everything power delivery.
So is the Smart ForFour the better buy?
It has the same adventurous rear-engine packaging and is pleasant enough to drive, although the 50kg extra heft over the Twingo makes it both less sparky yet better riding, while it is just as good at turning in a ludicrously tight circle and parking in small spots.
Nevertheless, all the rather try-hard Shoreditch hipster styling and more squidgy interior plastics cannot hide the fact that this is a car that costs, at base model level alone, £2125 more than the Renault. I’m sorry, but even if the gearstick is made from swan necks and the leather seats from the softly cocoa-buttered skins of leftover Brazilian catwalk models, that seems quite a premium.
So as good as it is, with Smart positioning itself as a pre-eminent brand in this sort of thing, the Smart ForFour is a product for city car badge snobs. Does such a person exist?