What does Smart stand for? Quirky, small, lightweight trendy transport, perhaps. But that doesn’t necessarily compute when the demands of creating a supermini to match Europe’s best are the requirements. And that’s the new Smart Forfour in a nutshell.
Despite the avant-garde styling that fits perfectly with the more esoteric members of the range, underneath is a thoroughly conventional (and far from perfect) supermini. And one that’s lacking in the character so abundant in the others.
Or that’s what we thought until we drove the Forfour 1.1-litre three-cylinder. Basically, this is the only one that’s going to remotely satisfy if you’ve already bought into the brand.
If you want proof that an engine can radically alter a car’s character, here it is. With the 75bhp three-cylinder under the bonnet, the boominess of the four cylinders disappears, as does the rather ordinary way it goes about its business. Instead, you get a real perkiness – the pleasing, hummy throb that only a three-cylinder petrol can provide – and a shade more flexibility at low revs.
Admittedly, outright performance suffers, especially when you’re attempting to recover from an enforced drop in pace, but the aural rewards are worth it.
So, too, are the benefits to ride quality when the smaller and lighter motor is installed. All Forfours have a tendency to crash over potholes and telegraph too much road scarring into the cabin, but the 1.1 takes some of the edge off this and generally feels more supple. It resists understeer for longer, too.
Elsewhere, it’s business as usual for Smart’s supermini. The cabin can keep four rangy adults in comfort and the rear seat, which slides fore and aft by 150mm, lets you choose between people space and boot space.
We like the way it looks and feels, too. It’s funky without being flash and feels refreshingly unconventional. But if you want the driving experience to match, you’d better stick with the 1.1.