Smart cars stack a tall, upright cabin on top of a chassis that’s short in the wheelbase, narrow in its track widths and necessarily quite crude in places – hence some obvious compromises in the way these cars have gone down the road for the past two decades.
Even here, with the longer wheelbase of the four-seater and a handy lowering of the centre of gravity brought about by the battery positioning, you can’t miss the dynamic quirks and shortcomings.
The steering is unusually low-geared and light at the rim. It’s that way as a gesture to make the car easy to manoeuvre around junctions and into tight spaces – but the Forfour doesn’t always feel that way because of the amount of arm twirling needed to make your way around a multi-storey car park or in and out of a parking space.
That 9.1m turning circle is certainly handy at parking time but doesn’t seem a massive improvement on what most city cars need when it comes to it. If anything, the car feels slightly less wieldy than the class average.
At higher speeds, meanwhile, you begin to feel the effect of the Smart’s rearward weight distribution: the stability-biased geometry settings of its chassis and the unsprung mass and coarseness of that rear axle.
While the extra weight of the Forfour Electric Drive’s battery does seem to add a note of calm to the car’s ride compared with that of other Forfours we’ve tested, it remains restless and unsettled over larger intrusions and noisy and abrupt over smaller, sharper ones.
Handling response is below par, too, with grip balanced in such a way as to keep the weight-bearing rear wheels from ever being overloaded with grip. Lateral body control is actually a good deal better than you’d expect it to be, and the car’s electronic stability control is tuned for subtle, almost imperceptible intrusions as the car starts to understeer – which it does only when you begin to push quite hard.
And yet you can’t help but conclude that the Forfour’s hold on the tarmac is notably more slight than that of most city cars – although its stability is never really in question.
A battery that empties its charge at an alarming rate is just one more reason you’d be unlikely to drive a Forfour quickly by choice.
Grip and handling in extremis are just about good enough to count as competent, though, and the car relies on a well-tuned stability control system that is always on and keeps a lid on throttle-on understeer without feeling like it’s intervening much.