This is not so negative, from the Washington Post:
Downsizing SUVs for the City
2004 smart forfour
By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 2004; Page G01
We were tourists in danger of an accident, lost in
the center of Rome in evening rush-hour traffic,
experiencing motorized anarchy at its worst.
There were red lights. People drove through them.
There were stop signs. Motorists ignored them.
There were motorcyclists speeding, darting between
moving vehicles, and riding too close to our 2004
"smart forfour" compact sedan. We could have
Ours was a test drive gone awry. The people at
Smart GmbH, the small-car subsidiary of
Mercedes-Benz, urged us to avoid Rome's legendary
rush-hour madness. But my co-pilot, Paula Champa,
an automotive writer from New York, made the
mistake of asking me to share navigational duties.
I shared. We got lost. Paula took back the map and
told me to drive. Too late! Cars and motorcycles
were coming at us from everywhere.
But it proved to be a fortunate error. After all,
we had come from the United States to thoroughly
check out the smart forfour -- a minimalist urban
runner that even eschews capitalization of its
product and corporate name.
The forfour is the predecessor of smart vehicles
that will begin arriving in the United States in
2006, first as the "smart formore," an
all-wheel-drive model best described as an urban
sport-utility vehicle (USUV), and then as a "smart
fortwo" city coupe and convertible.
The U.S-market smart cars will be bigger and
equipped with more powerful engines than the
European models -- a corporate marketing decision
that seems to undermine their essential value as
fuel-efficient, low-polluting city mobiles.
But European auto manufacturers believe that
Americans dislike small cars. They fear that
small, low-powered cars will be rejected out of
hand in the U.S. market.
Thus, from their perspective, it makes sense to
introduce the smart formore all-wheel-drive USUV
before bringing models such as the smart fortwo
coupe, forfour city sedan, or the smart roadster
-- all of which are on sale in Europe and other
"We first want to establish credibility by
presenting a quality alternative vehicle in a
segment [SUVs] that is popular in the United
States," said Andreas Renschler, executive vice
president of the Mercedes Car Group, which
The smart formore will be built on a different
platform than the tested front-wheel-drive
forfour. But it will retain all of the forfour's
virtues -- fuel-efficiency, unique styling
(dual-tone, dent-resistant plastic panels, for
example), and a city-friendly size.
"City-friendly" means the forfour is easy to park.
For example, Paula and I had no problem finding a
safe spot to pull off road in congested
center-city Rome to look at a map and figure out
just how lost we were.
"City-friendly" also means easily maneuverable. I
am convinced that had we been in anything larger
than the little forfour, we would have been hit at
least seven times. But the forfour has the agility
of a motorcycle. It steers easily, handles well,
and scoots out of harm's way with aplomb.
We were concerned that the forfour's low weight,
approximately 2,123 pounds, and its tiny 100-inch
wheelbase would work against us in a crash. But
our minds were eased by the car's steel-cage crash
structure, steel-beam reinforced side-impact
barrier protection, three-point seat belts, and
dual-front air bag. The forfour also comes with a
stability control system to help reduce the risk
of rollovers. Front-seat-mounted side air bags are
But, as it turned out in nearly four hours of
wandering, we did not need any of those things. We
simply needed a compass.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
2004 smart forfour city compact (DaimlerChrysler)
Nuts & Bolts
Downside: Although it worked wonderfully well in
the city, the forfour needs a bit more oomph and
smoother transmission shifts on the highway if it
(and its other smart car iterations) are going to
please American drivers. The test car came with a
1.1-liter, 75-horsepower, inline three-cylinder,
gasoline engine. A 1.5-liter, 95-horsepower,
inline four-cylinder engine was available, but was
not tested at the time this column was written.
Head-turning quotient: Italy is a big buyer of
smart cars. Italian consumers bought 32,600 smart
fortwo coupes, convertibles and roadster-coupes
last year. That's more than 25 percent of the
124,700 smart cars sold globally in 2003. So the
new for 2004 forfour drew lots of favorable
attention in Rome and environs. Some of the people
ogling the car were happy to give us directions.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Triple aces in
tight, bumper-car city traffic. Competent highway
acceleration. The car is great for scoots about
town and suburbs.
Capacity: The smart forfour, as its name implies,
has seating for four people. There is enough rear
cargo space for four bags of American groceries.
The fuel tank holds 13.7 gallons of required
premium unleaded gasoline.
Mileage: We averaged 38 miles per gallon in
combined city-highway wandering.
Prospective U.S. pricing: Of course, no U.S.
prices have been set yet on the proposed smart
formore all-wheel-drive SUV or on the tested
forfour sedan. But look for prices to range from
about $15,000 to $25,000. Special hot-rod Brabus
smart cars will cost more.
U.S. market prognosis: Both BMW with its Mini
Cooper and Mazda with its splendid Mazda 3 have
proved that Americans will buy premium small cars
if those cars deliver excellent performance and
styling, good packaging, fuel economy, reasonable
safety, and lots and lots of attitude. The forfour
gets a fair grade for city-highway performance. It
gets top marks in styling, packaging, fuel
economy, safety and, most certainly, attitude. It
deserves a shot at the U.S. market along with the
tested smart fortwo and really neat smart roadster.