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First Sight: Smart Fortwo and Forfour

Mon, 21 Jul 2014

"Dress-down Wednesday," remarked a colleague as Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche walked on stage wearing jeans and no tie. While it was a hot day in Berlin, Zetsche's excuse for his informal attire was the occasion – the new Smart is here. Its prospective owners, he explained – young, urban consumers with an active lifestyle, not the typical members of corporate Germany – adhere to a different, if similarly rigid etiquette.

Both Zetsche and Smart chief Annette Winkler were present for the unveiling of the third-generation Fortwo and the second version of the Forfour – a welcome occasion for a brand that has been starved of new product.

Fortwo: small but similarly formed

The one-box style of the previous Fortwo makes way for a pronounced 'one-and-a-half-box' appearance. Smart chose these proportions not just to mark a departure from its predecessor, but also to better comply with pedestrian protection regulation, according to Smart chief designer Kai Sieber.

Smart has managed to keep the Fortwo's length at the exact same 2,690mm (105.9 inches) of its predecessor. The new car is 100mm wider than before at 1,660mm (65.4 inches); the turning circle, on the other hand, is far smaller at 7,300mm, or less than 24 feet.

The Fortwo's facial expression is no longer just friendly, it looks slightly mischievous - an association that Sieber says is deliberate. One of the nose's most interesting features is the honeycomb grille, which fades away towards its outside edges. The headlights come in two versions, with the optional units featuring U-shaped LED daytime running lights, which look far more sophisticated than the previous model's bumper-mounted units.

Its taillights have assumed a rhombic shape and sit within the contrast-colored Tridion safety cell, which serves as a visual expression of the Smart's safety credentials. Automotive historians will note that a strikingly similar design element first appeared on Marc Florian's 1993 Esoro E301 electric vehicle prototype.

Other carry-over design details include the triangular door handles; the optional fixed panoramic roof; the split tailgate; and the character line that runs through the doors – the latter serves a function, masking the injection points for the molded plastic of the door skin.

Forfour: a longer derivative

At first glance, the three-and-a-half meter Forfour is merely a stretched Fortwo. Closer inspection, however, reveals several changes that lend it a character of its own. The front overhang is modified to make room for a stronger crash structure; the side doors, structurally made from steel, feature their (functionless) character line higher up. The line is intersected by two conventional door handles.

The rear is more tapered and the tailgate swings upwards in one piece. A sliding fabric top will be available, but no panoramic roof. Despite its still-compact exterior, the Forfour's cabin is downright cavernous and the seating concept allows the rear seats and the front passenger seat to be folded, maximizing luggage space.

Inside: back to its roots

The design team tried to capture the spirit of the first-generation Fortwo with the new interior design. The outgoing car featured stark, horizontal lines, perhaps reflecting the grim mood at that brand which, in the words of an insider, "got on everybody's nerves back then."

We've seen indications of the new Smart's soft geometric look in other vehicles, such as the current Fiat Panda and Kia Soul, but the Smart exaggerates this style. Buyers can specify to have the outer section of the dashboard covered in mesh fabric that evokes the look of sneakers, while the color and trim concept plays with contrasting colors.

The HVAC system features a clever temperature selector executed like a magnifying glass, while different levels of entertainment and infotainment systems allow for varying degrees of connectivity and integration. Smart speaks of a "modern, consumer electronics style." The integration of the optional JBL sound system with rear speakers positioned in the roof is especially clever.

After the launch of the Fortwo and ForFour, a convertible version of the smaller car will be added, with a roof concept similar to its predecessor. There will be electric versions of both cars, with appropriate stylistic changes; and Smart will again offer higher-performance variants, co-developed with Bottrop-based tuning house Brabus. Those models will be developed under closer supervision of Smart design than before. But Sieber says that "it is okay if they add their own footprint, even if a spoiler may look somewhat additive."

"Dress-down Wednesday," it seems, could be the beginning of the rebirth of Smart...

Related article:
Design Review: Smart For-US concept

By Jens Meiners