Hyundai i10, Renault Twingo, Smart Forfour, VW Up 34 Photos Zoom

Smart Forfour, Twingo, i10 and VW Up compared: The city quartet

Like its platform brother the Renault Twingo, the new Smart Forfour relies on the rear-engine principle. Whether they can make established front-wheeler break out into a sweat is answered in the comparison test against the Hyundai i10 and the VW Up.

It now really cannot be said that the developers of the Smart Forfour wanted to make things easy for themselves. To tame a rear-engine four-door car with driving dynamic properties, this is something that even Beetle pioneer VW gave up on at some point – without meaning to offend the 411 from 1968. And a front-wheel drive platform could certainly have been found at collaborating partner Renault, which could have then been converted in to the larger version of the two-seater Smart car. In Japan, however, Kei cars such as the Mitsubishi i demonstrate that a great deal of interior space can fit onto a limited base area, if you hide the engine beneath the boot.

Smart Forfour with a 185-litre boot capacity

And in actual fact: although it is the only one of the four to keep its length below 3.50 metres, the Smart Forfour offers sufficient space for four adults, with even 1.90-metre-tall beanpoles able to sit upright in the back. The clever details in the interior are no less impressive: if the rear seat bases are rotated 180 degrees, the height in the back seat increases by twelve centimetres.

Flat screens or bicycles with the front wheel removed can thus be stowed upright and can be easily loaded and unloaded thanks to the doors open almost to right angles. Added to this are the large door compartments, a folding passenger armrest or the large compartment beneath the gear lever, which opens to the right. In the ideas-per-centimeter rating, the Smart Forfour is thus way out in front, however, the rear-engine concept shrinks the boot space to 185 litres.

Smart Forfour from 0 to 100 in 12.3 seconds.

But it compensates for this with a sensational turning circle. Because the front wheels do not transmit any power, they can turn really far on their axle: with a value of 8.90 metres, the Smart Forfour requires more than one metre less space to turn than the front-wheel drive faction. Those who view short parking spaces or tight multi-storey car parks as an enemy to freedom, will live the Smart with its light steering.

And its great that shorter intercity trips don't detract from this love. Thanks to the turbo-charging, the Smart Forfour drives forward courageously, sprinting to a speed of 100 km/h in 12.3 seconds, and only at higher speed is it accompanied by levels of wind noise that saw away at your ear canals. In order to bring the weight at the rear axle (axial load distribution of 45 to 55 percent) under control, the Smart developers did, however, have to make use of a few tricks: if the driver is over-ambitious as he enters a corner, the ESP applies the brakes rigorously. When performing double lane changes, the car can nonetheless occasionally intervene, to annoying effect. In case of emergency it decelerates with the most powerful application of the brakes, which do not let up - even under high load.

Good standard equipment in the Renault

The Twingo, with its noticeably firmer suspension, doesn't press down quite so vehemently with the rear axle when weaving, but resists any sporty ambition with similarly back-heavy handling and equally sterile steering. No wonder, as at the end of the day it does share the majority of its technology with the Smart Forfour, including the flakey 89 HP turbo. Thanks to the larger standard fuel tank, however, Twingo owners will be required to refuel less frequently.

For this the Renault allows itself a few extravagances with regard to bodywork: its conceals its rear door handles within the frames of the windows and makes the boot more easily accessible via the wider opening. To the front there is more storage space and a compartment that can be taken with you as a shoulder bag – the best glove compartment idea since the invention of the battery-powered torch. However, the Twingo must also forego the rotating rear seat base feature and many of the high-quality ideas found in the Smart Forfour: as such, there is a black & white display rather than the colour on-board computer display, hard plastic rather than fabric in the doors and keyed locking rather than central-locking luxury when opening the fuel cap.

The Renault makes up for this minor shortcoming with a much better range of standard equipment: In the tested Luxe version, everything important is on-board, from heated wing mirrors to cruise control, whereas in the Smart Forfour Passion even the air-conditioning and radio cost extra.

The Smart Forfour is less economical than the VW Up

At this point we get down to some book-keeping: at 14,080 Euros, the well-equipped High Up is the most expensive, and at this without the material finesse found in the Smart Forfour. Also painted blue, the great deal of exposed steel in the interior feels more sparse than peppy. Nevertheless, the Maps & More sat nav attachment that connects to the vehicle electronics, including practical online functions holds its own against the Smart and Twingo guidance systems.

Furthermore, the Up demonstrates why front-wheel drive and transverse engine have worked their way up to the mid-size category in recent decades: in spite of dwarf-like dimensions, it provides its passengers with airy accommodation and features a boot that combines stepless loading with a large additional compartment beneath the height-adjustable floor. The differences become even more clear when driving: because there is no rear engine to be compensated for by means of harder tuning or ESP intervention, the Up can roll along in relaxed fashion, with balanced suspension even when laden.

What's more, only small adjustments to its sensitive steering are required to corner briskly and glide through corners with ease. Impressive dynamic feats are prevented by the ropy three-cylinder with 74 HP, on account of which the Up has to let the competition past. But at least it is the most economical.

The comfortable i10 impresses

The i10 is the only car in the test to feature a four-cylinder engine with more than a one-litre engine capacity. Which only sounds old-fashioned until, when refuelling, you realise that the with regard to consumption the naturally aspirated engine is on a par with the similarly powerful turbos in the Smart Forfour and Renault Twingo, but is much more refined.

With the exception of the moderate brakes, the Hyundai seems altogether more grown up, transporting five rather than four people, holding the greatest load and with lowering rear side windows, which in the other cars fold open at best. Whereas the competition confesses to its small car imperfection with witty ideas, the i10 would rather stand out by delivering a well-rounded vehicle, including suspension that is capable of long journeys and comfortable seats with adjustable head rests, rather than integrated seats.

The fact that the infotainment lucury is limited to a CD-radio shouldn't matter to the majority of prospective customers, as long as Hyundai keeps up its five-year warranty and continues to offer practical equipment packages: thus, the tested Trend version does without visual embellishments such as aluminium rims and instead spoils passengers with conveniences such as heated seats and steering wheel. At 12,120 Euros, the best car in the test is therefore also the cheapest.

Smart Forfour and Renault in the Guldes Connectivity Check

The Smart Forfour and Renault Twingo also share the vast majority of their technology when it comes to infotainment. Those who opt for the screen rather than the simple radio will receive a high-contrast and sensitive seven-inch touchscreen, alongside an integrated VHF tuner and TomTom navigation device. However, its voice control didn't manage to impress in the test, as it only accepted address inputs that followed a specific, predetermined pattern and often failed to understand when driving due to the high level of ambient noise.

The guidance system, with its integrated SIM card does receive online traffic information services, without a mobile phone having to be paired as a data modem. Additional TomTom services such as weather forecasting and speed trap warnings are also on board. In the Twingo there are also apps from Renault's own R-Link Store (messaging, social media, additional countries for the navigation system), some of which cost extra.

The fact that there is no longer a CD player shouldn't trigger panic among the younger target customer base, as at the end of the day, the media systems do receive music from a smartphone paired via Bluetooth or via the USB interface, and can also be supplemented by a digital radio tuner. Smart asks 600 Euros for the radio with the screen, which costs 990 Euros in the Renault as part of the "Technp Package" with better speakers and a reversing camera. Annoyingly: those wishing to jazz up the cheap basic Twingo with the Infotainment package are left out in the cold. The Techno Package is only available to buyers opting for the top-of-the-range Luxe version.



Achim Hartmann


20 May 2015
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