What Car? says...
A city car needs two key characteristics – nippy performance and tiny dimensions – but what if you need to fit the rest of your family in too? That’s where the little Smart EQ Forfour comes in.
Just how small is the Forfour? Well, despite having five doors and four seats, it measures just 3495mm in length and is 1665mm wide. In fact, the ForFour is only around a metre longer than its minuscule two-seater sibling, the Smart EQ Fortwo.
To take care of the nippy performance, Smart gives you an all-electric powertrain consisting of an 80bhp electric motor and a small battery. You get plenty of zip to weave your way through congested streets while also dodging ultra low emissions zone (ULEZ) charges.
That all sounds mighty promising, but the Smart EQ Forfour has some tough competition to beat if it wants to be the small electric car of choice. Its rivals include the MG ZS EV, Mini Electric, Renault Zoe and Volkswagen e-Up.
Read on over the next few pages of this review to find out just how well the Forfour fares when it comes to key areas such as performance, practicality and reliability. We'll also tell you which of the two trim levels we prefer.
When you’re done, you can use our free What Car? New Car Buying service to see how much we could save you off the list price of your next new car (it could be thousands on some makes and models). It's a good place to find the best Smart car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Right, let’s begin by answering the burning question: how many miles will you get out of a Smart EQ Forfour on a full charge? Smart says 78 miles officially, which isn’t great when you consider the equivalent figures for the Mini Electric and Renault Zoe – 145 miles and 245 miles.
Things get even more bleak when you consider real-world range, which we expect will be significantly lower. The smaller Smart EQ Fortwo managed just 57 miles (instead of its official 81 miles) in our Real Range tests, which replicate real-world driving on a mix of roads.
That pretty much limits it to being a small electric car purely for city driving, where its regenerative braking means you’ll get the most miles-per-charge. The braking tech returns energy to the battery as you slow down, and can make the pedal feel inconsistent and grabby, but the Forfour's brakes aren't too bad, and you find yourself adjusting to them quite quickly.
What about traditional performance figures? The 80bhp electric motor, juiced up by a 17.6kWh battery, is quiet and smooth, accelerating as soon as you put your foot down. Even so, its leisurely 12.7sec 0-62mph sprint is much slower than the Zoe R135’s 9.5sec and the Mini Electric’s 7.3sec.
The Forfour feels less adept at motorway speeds. Its rate of acceleration drops off markedly the nearer you get to the top speed of 81mph, and the car drops further behind the pack when it comes to handling and comfort.
The Zoe tackles bumps surprisingly well for something so little, but the Forfour jiggles and jostles around over pretty much every imperfection the road throws up. It's mainly just annoying, but becomes rather uncomfortable over sharper speed bumps, although it feels more settled the faster you go.
The Zoe and Volkswagen e-Up provide greater dynamism along twisty roads, with more direct steering and less body lean. The Forfour's light steering and compact proportions make it a more nimble city car than the Zoe, though.
All electric cars offer near-silent acceleration, due to their whispering electric motors, but as you pick up speed in the Forfour all that quietness is undone: the shrill wind noise and copious road roar become wearing over a long trip.
The interior layout, fit and finish
You sit quite high in the Smart EQ Forfour, giving you a good view forwards. Its thick rear pillars and narrow rear screen obstruct over-the-shoulder visibility compared with a Volkswagen e-Up, but that's is negated by rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera that’s standard with all trim levels.
The steering wheel and driver's seat have height adjustment as standard, allowing for a driving position that's decent, but far from perfect. The driver's seat is hard, flat and narrow, and there's no steering wheel reach adjustment, a feature you'll find in the Renault Zoe.
The interior feels solid with an attractive array of materials, including glossy plastics set against a fabric dash. It's a nicer place to be than the e-Up, but the Zoe's interior is even plusher, and the MG ZS EV is just as solidly made.
All versions of the Forfour come with an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system, DAB radio and Bluetooth. Smart also gives you Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring so you can use your phone apps on the screen, which makes up for the lack of built-in sat-nav on any trim level.
An app is available for your smartphone that lets you check remotely on a number of features, such as the car's location and how much charge it has.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Happily, getting in and out of the Smart EQ Forfour’s front seats is easy, thanks to the car’s wide-opening doors, large apertures and low sills. There’s a decent amount of leg room, too, while head room under the standard panoramic roof is generous enough for those over six feet tall.
Next to the gearlever are two cupholders and some coin slots for parking change, but there’s not a lot of storage space for odds and ends in the narrow door bins and titchy glovebox.
The Forfour’s small rear doors make getting in and out of the back more awkward, and the leg room is tight for two average-sized adults. Here the panoramic roof makes a big difference, chopping down the head room to the point where anyone tall will really struggle. The Renault Zoe and Volkswagen e-Up offer better rear-seat accommodation, but if you want something with really generous back seats, have a look at the MG ZS EV.
The front passenger seat doesn’t have a height adjuster but the rear-seat bases can be flipped up to create extra storage without resorting to folding the rear seatbacks down. You can fold the rear seats fully, in the same 50/50 split you get with the e-Up, leaving a completely flat floor – most of the Forfour's rivals have a large step in the floor when their rear seats are folded.
You might find yourself folding the rear seats down rather a lot because the boot is tiny. At 185 litres, it's much smaller than an e-Up's boot (you'll just about get two carry-on suitcases onboard), while the Zoe and ZS EV offer considerably more luggage space.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
What about charging times the Forfour? It can charge at up to 22kW from a commercial charging point, which will take the battery from 10% to 80% in 40mins. From a home wallbox you're looking at 3.5hrs to do the same charge, or 8.5hrs from a standard three-pin plug.
We'd suggest sticking with the entry-level Exclusive trim level to keep the Forfour good value. It comes with LED daytime driving lights, 16in alloy wheels, heated seats, a heated steering wheel and automatic climate control, plus the infotainment features, and parking sensors and camera.
If you want more gear and don’t mind spending a bit more, stepping up to Exclusive trim isn’t too much of a leap and adds full LED headlights, automatic wipers and leather seats.
The Forfour hasn’t been tested for safety by Euro NCAP since 2014, and that was in petrol guise. Back then, it received a four-star rating, which isn’t as good as the five stars (out of five) that the Zoe scored. The e-Up scored only three stars overall, but that was based on much more stringent tests carried out in 2019. Smart fits automatic emergency braking (AEB) to all Forfours.
The standard warranty is three-years with no mileage limit, while the Zoe's warranty is five years or 100,000 miles. The Forfour, like the Zoe, comes with an eight-year battery warranty, but where the Forfour's cover ends at 62,000 miles, the Zoe's remains at 100,000 miles.