27 January 2005

Smart’s new 4x4, the Formore, has been caught testing near Smart’s HQ in Stuttgart, along with the next Fortwo city car. And while it’s certain that the Fortwo will go into production, the new 4x4’s future is looking unsure.

Smart has put the introduction of its new flagship model on hold at the request of parent company Mercedes-Benz boss Eckhard Cordes. The new Toyota RAV4 rival was planned to go on sale in the UK late next year at around £17,000, but Smart is trying to reduce costs as part of a programme aimed at boosting profitability.

Despite being placed on hold, the engineering programme for the Formore is continuing, as proved by these exclusive photographs revealing the new junior off-roader. Mercedes’ C-class provides the basic platform, complete with 4matic 4x4 system. A future Mercedes version, probably called the X-class, is expected to share the chassis. Although the car was originally touted as Smart’s route into America – the company has issued sketches of the Formore and said it will be launched in 2006 – the brand could enter the US market even without its top model. At the recent Detroit show, the entire model range of Fortwo, Coupé, Roadster-Coupé and Forfour were present in what bosses claimed was the brand’s ‘biggest ever customer clinic.’ If response is good, launching the current range is a possibility.

That launch could coincide with the second-generation Fortwo’s arrival. The new car, pictured here for the first time testing under heavy disguise, sticks with the rear-engine layout of today’s model.

Among the myriad changes incorporated on the second-generation model is new exterior styling, a reworked interior, a revised rear-wheel-drive platform, more powerful petrol and diesel engines (the latter is not available in the UK) and new suspension and steering, aimed at finally laying to rest the Fortwo’s questionable handling and lumpy ride.

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Due to reach UK showrooms towards the end of 2006, the launch of the new two-seater is planned to coincide with Smart’s bid to expose its cars to a wider cross section of buyers. As with today’s first-generation model, the new Fortwo uses Smart’s Tridion safety cell and removable composite panels but its design has been altered to give it a less upright profile without any significant increase in dimensions; length is said to remain within 100mm of today’s 2500mm.

Underneath the new bodywork, the Fortwo rides on a longer wheelbase that’s been extended slightly to help improve high-speed stability. Allied to this is a revised platform with widened front and rear tracks. The existing MacPherson strut front and de Dion rear suspension has also been redesigned and, with greater spring travel, a reduced centre of gravity achieved by lowering the seats and a more advanced electronic stability control system, insiders are confident that the new car will be a much more engaging drive than today’s model.

Updated versions of Smart’s turbocharged 698cc petrol and 799cc diesel three-cylinder Suprex engines will come with a new version of the much-criticised clutchless six-speed gearbox. Despite calls for a traditional manual, Smart claims packaging restrictions rule it out.

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