The rapidly expanding Smart range will move further away from its micro-car roots when this secret new off-roader hits UK showrooms within two years.
Called Formore, in line with Smart’s new naming policy that has already spawned the Fortwo (previously the City Coupé) and the Forfour (the supermini co-developed with Mitsubishi), the new 4x4 will be aimed at the Toyota RAV4, Land Rover Freelander and Honda CR-V, making it the biggest Smart yet.
Smart’s soft-roader will go on sale in 2006 to spearhead the brand’s launch in the US. Right-hand-drive production will be delayed, but officials are confident it will reach UK showrooms by the end of 2006, priced from around £16,000.
It is the first time a Smart has been developed alongside a Mercedes – in this instance, the new X-class. Autocar revealed the first details of Merc’s junior SUV earlier this month – it will go on sale a year after the Smart, in 2007.
The two cars will share much of their mechanical package and will be built at the same DaimlerChrysler factory that builds American-market C-class models. Maximum capacity for the Juiz de Fora plant in Brazil, is 60,000 cars a year and half of those will go straight to the SUV-hungry US market.
‘The Formore will be a distinctive vehicle, unique in the market,’ said Smart president Andreas Renschler. ‘It will provide a driving experience loaded with adrenaline, off road as well as on, expressive design and a high utility value. It is the ideal model to launch the Smart brand in the US market.’
Unlike the new breed of faux SUVs, like the front-wheel-drive Rover Streetwise and Citroën C3 XTR, the Formore will have proper four-wheel-drive technology, borrowing mechanicals from the C-class 4Matic.
Suspension is via conventional MacPherson struts (front) and multi-links (rear) and design sketches seen by Autocar show that it will have a suitably raised ride height. However, it will be heavily biased towards on-road comfort rather than serious mud-plugging ability.
Engines will be harvested from elsewhere in the DaimlerChrysler family, so expect units borrowed from the Forfour with a 1.5-litre petrol and turbodiesel, as well as bigger capacity engines on more expensive models derived from Mercedes’ line-up. However, the new Smart will stick with four-cylinder powerplants.
As you’d expect with a Smart, the Formore will be immediately identifiable. Brightly coloured plastic body panels will be fitted and the Tridion safety cell will continue as a major design feature, spiced up by a new, tougher flavour with exaggerated wheelarches and protective cladding.
The news of the first four-wheel-drive Smart comes as confirmation that the small-car specialist brand is expanding apace. Since launch in 1998, worldwide sales have grown every year, rising sixfold to 124,000 cars last year.
In the UK, too, sales have continued to rise every year, from a miniscule 956 in 2000 (the first year of official sales) to a more respectable 10,000 in 2003. Although it remains a small brand – at 30th in the UK top sellers’ chart – it sells more cars here than Subaru or Lexus.
‘The Smart brand is very adaptable and growing very fast,’ said Jeremy Simpson, head of Smart in the UK. ‘We have complemented the small car with the Roadster, Roadster Coupé, Forfour and Crossblade – and the SUV is on the way.’
Smart’s innovative designs and urban convenience helped it overcome the stability fears that threatened to spoil its launch back in 1998. Like the Mercedes A-class, it toppled over in several high-profile accidents but, unlike Merc, Smart wasn’t forced into an expensive recall programme.