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A FRIEND of mine who has an unhealthy obsession with the Smart brand tells me he doesn’t like the new Forfour because it’s lost some of the quirkiness that sets this weird and wonderful niche car apart. Well that’s hogwash.

Purists may lament the fact that this new four-dour, four-seater version of the now fairly iconic little Fortwo shares most of its undergarments with the Renault Twingo but I actually think this is Smart growing up gracefully.959897_RP - Smart Gateshead-106

And, besides, step into it out of, say, a Volkswagen Up! and it’ll seem like you’ve melted into some sort of cartoon. It maybe slightly more mature than the Smarts of old, but it’s not exactly slumped back with its pipe and slippers just yet.

In fact, there’s so much more of the Mercedes-owned trend-setting brand about the Forfour than there is any hint of Renault. They might be similar cars in many ways, but the rear-engined, rear-wheel drive, somewhat back-to-basics feel of it seems to fit better with the Smart branding.959766_RP - Smart Gateshead-18

That’s not to say it’s immature in any way. In some respects I can see what my friend is getting at. It’s more comfortable, more high-tech and more functional than the last Forfour. The tiny three-cylinder engines work better now, although neither the 71bhp version or the turbocharged 90bhp engine will set your trousers on fire with their pace.

While the old Forfour was a slightly dumpy city car in its own right, the new Forfour is actually just a stretched Fortwo. And, for many people, that will be a welcome option as the Fortwo, as its name suggests, is strictly a two-seater.959783_RP - Smart Gateshead-27

This version, while it’s not enormous in the back, can sit a couple of adults with reasonable levels of comfort and has a decent enough boot. Although, with the engine mounted beneath the boot floor, don’t expect it to be too cavernous. It’s not bad though.

On the whole, the interior feels great. It has a slight wiff of the premium, well-built hatchback to it – albeit buried beneath plenty of quirky Smart touches such as the rev counter pod and a comically bulbous central display. It’s all carried off very well though, if you like that sort of thing.959824_RP - Smart Gateshead-63

All this premium, slightly-Mercedes Benz-if-you-squint gimmikry does nothing to harm the asking price, however. The entry-level passion trim can be had for a shade over £11,500, with the plush prime model just £1,000 more and the proxy version priced identically. The passion is fitted with 15″ eight-spoke alloy wheels, automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a choice of either an orange/black interior or a white/black interior.

The prime model I was testing features 15″ five-twin-spoke black alloys and gets a panoramic glass roof with sun protection, as well as black leather upholstery, heated seats and lane-keeping assist.

There’s an optional premium package for around £800 which gives you rear parking assistance, a smart media system with navigation, a height-adjustable steering wheel and heated, electrically adjustable door mirrors and premium Plus includes all of the above, as well as ambient lighting, LED headlamps, rain and light sensors and a rear view camera. You’re now up to the dizzying heights of around £13,000 but it’s surprising how much car you’re getting for your money for something with such humble underpinnings.959844_RP - Smart Gateshead-77

What really sells the Smart Forfour though is its clever packaging. The engine being at the rear frees up a lot of space, as well as allowing the wheels to lock over to 45 degrees, allowing it to turn on a raisin.

It’s actually difficult to find fault with either of the two new Smarts, which couldn’t be said of the previous versions – particularly the old Forfour.

Neither of the engines give much in the way of performance and, as a matter of fact, the non-turbo version is painfully slow, but they are very economical.

So I guess it might have grown up a bit but it’s certainly ageing well. I’d actually go as far as saying it’s a big improvement over its predecessor.959861_RP - Smart Gateshead-85

Sure, I can say that because I’m not a purist, but I’ve taken it on its own merits and, for me, if it were any more quirky it would just be annoying.

It won’t be for everyone, but that was certainly the problem with the last Forfour, which wasn’t exactly a sales success.

There’s no reason why this one, on the other hand, just might be.