Smart EQ ForFour review
The 2020 Smart EQ ForFour is electric-only and boasts refreshed looks, but it still falls behind rivals for practicality and range
- Seats four
- Entertaining drive
- Nippy urban performance
- Cramped inside
- Pretty short range
- Charging capped at 22kW
|Car type||Electric range||Wallbox charge time||Fast charge time|
|Electric||81 miles||2hrs 45mins (0-100%, 7.4kW)||55mins (0-100%, 22kW)|
Smart has rid its range of petrol-powered cars, and in their place are a selection of pure-electric models wearing parent company Mercedes’ EQ branding. As an electric city car, the Smart EQ ForFour has seasoned rivals like the Volkswagen e-up! and SEAT Mii to beat in this class.
The revised EQ ForFour is priced to compete with these rivals, and while it can certainly match them for stylish looks and a fun urban driving experience, its electric powertrain is essentially unchanged from its predecessor's, so range and charging times are behind the curve. With no battery or motor updates, the differences are mainly visual: an exterior overhaul sees the car get a smooth new nose befitting its electric-only status, as well as new wheel and light designs to keep it looking fresh.
Inside, there are higher-quality finishes than in those VW Group rivals, as well as cup-holders and smartphone storage. The infotainment system sadly hasn't benefited from any upgrades: it dates back to Smart's collaboration with Renault and feels decidedly behind the times, with Android Auto but – initially at least – no Apple CarPlay.
Wide-opening doors make getting into the front or back of the Smart EQ ForFour easy, but once you're in there space is at a premium; there's only so much that packaging cleverness can get around the fact this car is only 3.5 metres long. Boot space is fairly limited, too, at just 185 litres.
Running the same 80bhp electric motor and rear-drive setup as the outgoing EQ ForFour, the revised model feels almost identical to drive. Its 12.7-second 0-62mph time is unimpressive, but it feels far more sprightly when you're accelerating to 30 or 40mph, which makes for an enjoyable driving experience on congested urban roads. A very small turning circle makes tight manoeuvering and tricky parking spaces a doddle, while the electric motor runs pretty quietly most of the time.
The only problem is all this fun driving doesn't last very long before you have to stop and charge. Official testing returns a figure of 81 miles, but it's likely to be less than that in the real world if you mix in cold weather, motorway driving, a full load of passengers and luggage, or heavy use of the heater or air-conditioning. Next to the potential 160-mile range of the VW Group trio, or the nearly 250 miles managed by the (admittedly more expensive) Renault ZOE, that seems pretty poor.
Charging won't be very fast, either: the ForFour's on-board charger limits you to 22kW, even if you're drawing power from a 50kW or 100kW public charging point. At least the relatively small battery means you'll be topped up in less than three hours from a home wallbox, or under an hour from a public charger. This car works best when charged slowly overnight at home and taken on short commuting, shopping or social trips in the day.
Charging it overnight makes even more sense when you consider how little it'll cost on a domestic electricity tariff. It also costs nothing to tax – whether you’re a private or a business user. The Smart ForFour is zero-rated for road tax and for the 2021/22 tax year attracts just 1% Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company-car tax. Furthermore, it’s free from the London Congestion Charge until 2025 owing to its zero tailpipe emissions.
Reliability should be good, despite the fact Smart didn’t feature in the 2020 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. Parent company Mercedes finished close to bottom, but the most common complaints were with regards to running costs – which is clearly not going to be an issue with the EQ ForFour.
Buyers have a choice of three trim levels when ordering an EQ ForFour. There's little reason to look beyond the entry-level 'passion advanced' spec, as for £17,285 you get pretty much all the essential kit, including cruise control, climate control and parking sensors. The more expensive 'pulse premium' and 'prime exclusive' give you features like larger alloys, a reversing camera, LED lights and rain-sensing wipers, but none of it feels strictly necessary, so they're not worth the extra.