By: IOL Motoring Staff
Böblingen, Germany - Seldom has such a small car had such a long gestation period, but here at last is the third-generation Smart - rear-engined in both ForTwo and ForFour formats, as is the Renault Twingo with which they share a platform.
They will be available in Europe from November this year with a choice of three-cylinder engines driving through either a five-speed manual 'box or a six-speed automatic dual-clutch transmission.
Prices aren't yet set in stone, but Smart boss Annette Winkler says the 52kW ForTwo will sell for less than €11 000 (R159 000) while the equivalent ForFour will cost just €600 (R8700) more.
EU safety requirements have come along way since the first Smart was released in 1998, but the designers have managed to retain the original overall length - the car's defining feature - of just 2690mm, and the new ForFour is only 800mm longer.
They've also achieved an astonishingly tight turning circle: the ForTwo will do a U-turn in a space just 7.3 metes wide - and that's not kerb to kerb, that's 7.3 metres wall to wall - while the ForFour can turn around between two walls nine metres apart.
The signature tridion safety cell has been toughened up with a high proportion of ultra-high strength hot-formed steels and maximum-strength multiphase steel; and to 'keep it real' all the car-to-car crash tests were done using Mercedes C-Class and S-Class sedans.
The new Smart also comes with improved active safety programmes, including crosswind assist as standard, and forward collision warning and lane keeping assist as extra-cost options.
Both variants will be available at launch with either a 999cc naturally aspirated three-cylinder petrol engine rated for 52kW and 91Nm (produced at only 2850rpm) or an 898cc turbopetrol three good for 66kW and 135Nm (from 2500rpm), each with idle stop. From early in 2014, there will also be an entry-level 45kW triple - probably the 898 without a turbo.
There are also three trim levels (Passion, Prime and Proxy) and even the most basic one gets features like cruise control and a monochrome LCD display. As an interesting touch, the dashboard and door panels are trimmed with a fabric reminiscent of the mesh inserts in modern sports shoes.
The ForTwo retains the twin-section tailgate of previous Smarts, accessing a 350-litre cargo bay, while the ForFour has a conventional hatch tailgate opening on to a 255 litre luggage compartment, which expands to 975 litres with the rear seats folded, on a flat platform of 1285 x 996mm; fold the front passenger seat backrest and you can slide in a parcel 2.22 metres long.
The new Smart runs on MacPherson strut front suspension and a De Dion rear axle with tywin-tube shock absorbers and separate, barrel-shaped helical springs, proving significantly more travel at both ends than the previous generation - it's even possible to offer a sports suspension package with stiffer springs and a 10mm lower ride height.
While the ForTwo will be made at the original Smart plant in Hambach, Lorraine, the ForFour will be assembled at the Renault Twingo plant in Novo Mesto, Slovenia.
Mercedes-Benz SA says negotiations with Daimler are still in progress but there is anticipation that the new Smart might be released in South Africa late in 2015 or early in 2016.