The Car sector like many other sectors is interestingly dynamic. Manufacturers are constantly trying to innovate and reposition themselves all the time. Those who are ahead of the curve are always trying to innovate to ensure they stay ahead. Those who follow behind, work tirelessly to close the gap between themselves and those ahead. Interestingly, those who are perceivably ahead are not always ahead in all segments. Some great luxury players find it hard to make an impact on other segments. Mercedes Benz has worked hard to crack the small hatch segment with the smart marquee but has lagged behind the likes of Toyota, Kia and Hyundai in this arena. Criticism of Merc’s offering in this segment, the smart, has largely been that it’s not practical and affordable. Merc responded by overhauling the smart line up to try address some of these issues, and recently we got to test the smart forfour passion.
Let’s be honest the smart forfour is a city car, yes you can tackle the N3 to Durban from Johannesburg but you are more likely to enjoy the full benefits of the smart forfour in the city. Being based in the hustle and bustle of the city of gold like I am, you need a small practical car that can manoeuvre in the busy city streets, squeeze into tight parking spaces, and avoid (read to go toe to toe with) the mini-bus taxis. The smart forfour ticks all these boxes so it was at home in the Johannesburg CBD.
The smart forfour is based on the same a platform as the Renault Twingo. The similarities do not end there and can be seen in the retro dials that you swipe left or right to control the aircon. The tachometer and the clock mounted on the dash give the smart forfour a bit of an edge over the Twingo however. Staying inside the smart forfour, the dash is overall aesthetically pleasing and is built with quality materials. The leather steering wheel feels good and the gloss finish on the stereo give the smart a chic look. On the tech front, the smart fofour comes standard with a USB port and is Bluetooth compatible.
True to its name, the smart forfour only takes four passengers including the driver. The smart forfour can be forgiven for this as in truth you can barely accommodate three adults at the back of most super-mini hatches.
The smart forfour has a tiny boot. There’s just about enough boot space a laptop and a small travel bag. Yes, this is a city car and that is probably sufficient for travel in the city and in between meetings, but the fact of the matter is that small hatches are just more than that. They are usually the cars of most customers and as such get to do more than just city driving. A slightly bigger boot than what the smart forfour offers is usually needed. The smart does try to solve this issue by allowing for the back seats to be folded down so boot space can be extended.
The smart forfour is fitted with a 1.0 litre engine that drives smoothly in the city. It must be mentioned that the smar forfour is not the Mercedes C63 we all like to think our cars are and so the overtakintg on the highways or open road requires a regular change down to lower gears and a bit of patience. The city driving is a thing of beauty though. Let’s just say the smart forfour helps improve your driving experience. The manual box is configured in such a way that when you engage the first gear and lift the foot off the clutch, the car just drives along without you having to engage the accelerator. You only need to engage the accelerator when you want to give the car some vooma. The magic continues as you select higher gears. This means in hectic traffic situations, you need to only worry about the brakes and the clutch.
On test, we had the 52kW smart forfour passion which retails for R199,400. Although the car comes loaded with technology you will not find in other small hatches, that is a lot to ask for in the segment and that’s where smart losesout against the likes of the VW Polo Vivo, Toyota Etios or the Hyundai Grand i10. These cars are cheaper and more spacious than the smart forfour. The quick retort is that the smart forfour does not aim to compete with these cars is positioned as a premium offering in the segment. That may have been achieved by Mercedes Benz in the design of the smart but the issue is that most buyers in this segment are not looking for something premium but rather something that is spacious and affordable. There is a lot to be said about the customer that is looking for something premium in the segment but they seem to be hard to find for Merc.
This is the pricelist for the smart forfour range:
Passion: R 199,400
The smart forfour comes with a standard 3-year service plan.
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