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New Smart takes on Mini

Prices for Smart's new four-seater small car will start at about £8000 when it goes on sale in September 2004. Smart says 80,000 ForFour's will be sold annually worldwide taking total volume for the marque past 200,000.

Competitive pricing means the Smart ForFour will go head to head with the Volkswagen Polo and Peugeot 206 while its styling looks set to make it as desirable as BMW's Mini. At 3752mm long it is 83mm shorter than a 206 but is wider and taller, giving room for four people but not all their luggage. Sliding a rear set bench forwards can increase boot space.

While retailers won't get the car until autumn next year, Smart is already sparking interest with a strong television campaign that urges drivers to “open their mind” as well as sponsoring singer Robbie Williams' latest tour.

The car will be launched with five engines. A 1.1-litre (74bhp), 1.3-litre (94bhp) and 1.5-litre (107bhp) unit will be available as petrol while a 1.5-litre CDI oil burner is tuned to offer either 67 or 74bhp.

Engines can be mated to the six-speed sequential 'box or a new five-speed manual, which insiders say could also find its way into other Smart models. Tipping the scales at an airy 963kg – just 213kg more than a Lotus Elise - means the car has a peppy power to weight ratio of 111bhp/ton. That's on par with the Toyota Yaris T-sport and better than a Ford Puma, which should make for lively performance.

The car, built on the same new platform as the next generation Mitsubishi Colt, will spawn an SUV derivative in 2006. Both cars will be built at DaimlerChrysler's Nedcar plant in Holland.

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