Smart: Through the generations

Lots of offbeat city cars from Daimler's
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Smart has officially been around for 20 years. The city-car maker burst onto the scene in July 1998, with a two-seater (the inventively named ForTwo) measuring just over 2.5m long. More than 2.2 million examples have been sold since then, across 46 markets around the world.

Australia was one of them, but the little Smart didn't really fit into our big-car-centric culture, and so the brand was withdrawn from the market in 2015.

Here are some of the concepts from the past two decades of Daimler's city car, initially conceived in partnership with Swatch, along with a quick look at its various iterations.

Smart Eco Sprinter and Speedster

Before it was turned into a production car, Smart was a good idea searching for a good way of executing. Mercedes-Benz proposed a 2.5m-long city car in 1972, and even talked about creating an hybrid city car in 1981, but it took until the 1993 Geneva motor show for a proper concept car to manifest.

The eye-popping Eco Sprinter and Speedster are the forefathers of the modern Smart brand, the former running with a 40kW electric motor and the latter a three-cylinder petrol engine. The body panels were recyclable, too. Although it was initially meant to be a collaboration between Volkswagen and Swatch, Daimler was the partner of choice by the time these concepts rolled around.

It took another four years for the production car to arrive, albeit running with more mundane styling and a less under-bitey front end. It also had a more conventional powertrain than the show cars, but more on that in a moment.

Smart City Coupe/ForTwo (W450)

The first-gen Smart took its inspiration from the Eco Speedster and Sprinter, but toned down some of the styling for production. Three engines were available over the car's life, all turbocharged three-cylinder units: 600cc and 700cc petrol engines, and an 800cc diesel, matched to a six-speed semi-automatic.

On the outside, Smart was keen to highlight the car's safety credentials. Rather than hiding it away, the company put the 'tridion' safety cell on full display, contrasting it with the (interchangeable) plastic body panels.

Measuring just 2.5m long, two Smarts could park in the one conventional parallel spot, although it wasn't necessarily legal everywhere.

Smart Crossblade

The recipe for the Crossblade is simple: take one ForTwo and remove the windscreen, doors and roof. Replace the doors with a blade, trim the interior in orange material and paint the safety cell silver.

Photograph in front of the Monaco harbour. Leave to rest.

Smart Roadster/Coupe (W452)

What's the logical next step from a two-seat city car? A two-seat sports car, duh! The Roadster was much longer than the ForTwo – it measured a positively monstrous 3427mm, for god's sake – and was offered with a 45kW or 60kW three-cylinder engine displacing just 698cc. Brabus also fettled some cars up to 74kW.

The Roadster actually sold well, and was positively reviewed by the media, but there were problems. Leaky roofs and targa tops were a common issue, forcing expensive warranty repairs and, eventually, the car's demise. Smart lost money, and Daimler lost patience with the oddball two-seat sports car in 2006, after just three years in production.

Smart ForFour (W454)

Produced for just two years, the ForFour was an interesting (okay, ugly) diversion from the original Smart ethos. As the name suggests, it had seating for four people, with power from engines offering between 47kW and 130kW.

It was actually a Mitsubishi Colt tie-up, which sold so slowly it was culled after just two years. That's right, two years. Not so, er, Smart.

Smart ForFun

Alright, we're into the good stuff now. Conceived in 2005, the ForFun is exactly what it appears to be: a monster truck based on a 2.5m-long city car. It's actually a Unimog under the skin, with an 5.6-litre OM352 inline-six diesel engine in place of the standard three-cylinder unit.

The car is 3.7m tall and has 650mm of ground clearance, thanks to a set of 26-inch wheels and a custom-built air suspension setup. Rather than worrying about bigger wheel arches to house all that hardware, Daimler made the car so tall it didn't matter.

Smart ForTwo (W451)

Entering the second generation, the ForTwo grew a whopping 200mm longer for improved crash performance. The tridion safety cell carried over, as did the transferable plastic body panels, but new upswept headlights and a two-light setup at the rear created a slightly different look.

Along with the longer body, the engines grew to 800c (diesel) and a dizzying 1.0-litre (petrol), hooked up to a five-speed semi-automatic transmission.

In 2007, a year after launching the base car, Smart debuted a mild-hybrid model using a belt-driven starter-alternator. Similar tech – scaled up, naturally – is now becoming common on cars like the Mercedes-AMG E53 and Audi A6.

Smart ForJeremy

We're into the weird stuff. Released in 2012, the ForJeremy was the result of a collaboration with Jeremy Scott, designer for the likes of Lady Gaga and Kanye, designed to breathe some life back into the ageing ForTwo.

Sure, it started as a concept, but a version of the car you see above actually went into production.

“I wanted to design something out of the ordinary, something that expressed my dreams and fantasies and that transferred my fashion ideas to automotive design," Jeremy Scott said when the production version was announced.

Smart ForTwo, ForFour (C453)

In its third generation, the Smart grew up a bit, with an architecture shared with the latest Renault Twingo. Although it looks more serious, the ForTwo maintained its 2690mm body length for the third generation, while the ForFour (it's baaaack) pushed that figure to 3490mm.

In keeping with tradition, power comes from a 900cc three-cylinder engine making between 45kW and 66kW, mated with a five-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The third-generation car is still in production, but we don't get it in Australia. Boo!

Smart Vision EQ ForTwo

What will the next Smart look like? We're not sure, but this should serve as a decent guide. Designed to blend autonomous and electric technology into the one compact, city-friendly package, the Vision EQ runs without a steering wheel. It's voice controlled, although there's also an app supporting that functionality.

"The Smart Vision EQ ForTwo is our vision of future urban mobility; it is the most radical car sharing concept car of all: fully autonomous, with maximum communication capabilities, friendly, comprehensively personalisable and, of course, electric," said Annette Winkler, Smart's CEO.

What's your favourite Smart?