When Pocket-Lint chatted to Gorden Wagener – chief of design for Daimler (Mercedes and Smart) at the Paris auto show, he told us that Smarts are the iPhones of the car world. Sorry to disagree with you Gorden, but we’ve already awarded that accolade to the new Golf.
Yet in an effort to make the brand have even greater appeal to young people and to seem more digitally switched on, Smart’s taken the unusual step of presenting its "Forstars" concept in Paris with a digital projector mounted in the front of the bonnet, so you can screen your own, er, drive-in movie.
You can read more about the technical details of the car in our news piece, but while in Paris we went hands-on with the Forstars on the show floor. Well, we say we went hands-on, but in truth, motorshows aren’t the best place to screen movies from your smartphone. Especially when there’s precious little Wi-Fi around and earth-shatteringly bright lights everywhere. So the first time we went to have a look at the Forstars, the projector wasn’t hooked up and displaying. And the second time, we couldn’t get near the thing because the President of France was taking a look - and no one would let us within 50ft of him, or it.
Still, we spent enough time with it to give you the lowdown. The Smart’s projector is based around the iPhone as its content platform. You can simply sync your fruity phone device with the Smart’s Bluetooth and play YouTube or video you’ve captured yourself via the projector, which picks up the stream of data from the Bluetooth connection. But while Smart was demoing it with the phone in the user’s hand, the neat bit is that the rear-view mirror has a slot which acts as a holder for the phone. When it’s not beaming movies to the projector - which you can do only while stationary, naturally - the phone displays images from a feed from the rear-view camera.
The integration of the projector in the bonnet itself is quite neat: it sits in the opening that you expect to be an airscoop feeding an airbox or intercooler. But the Smart’s electrically driven, like all concept cars these days, and it doesn’t need anything as old-fashioned as that, so it’s a fake vent - which can be stuffed full of projector gubbins. Smart weren’t saying what make the projector was, but we hope that it comes with a retractable cover for the lens, otherwise the consequences of a stone whacking (and chipping) it while on the move could be a chunk more expensive than your typical touch-up paint tin. Handily, the electric drive motor means you needn’t worry about the traditional, internal combustion engine car problem of the 12v starter motor battery running down while you’re using it to project your movie either.
Jokes aside though, the cinema projector system shows that car makers’ imaginations are starting to free up a bit, thanks to the liberating qualities of digital media. Given most of the content in this Smart comes from the phone, the cabin is otherwise really lovely and spare - with hammock seats and super-cool retro visible fan blades in place of air vents for the ventilation system.
More importantly, this Smart signals that the company is serious about expanding its line up - probably making some kind of coupe/suv cross and also in making inroads into the US market. It’s much longer than the ForTwo city car, at 3550 mm long - the two seater’s about 2600mm - and shares its underpinnings with the pick-up style "For-US" concept that was shown earlier this year at the Detroit motor show. For-US was a play on words, the German firm tacitly acknowledging that to break into the US market properly, it needed to make the Smart a little bigger.
So why "Forstars" as this concept’s name? Well, according to the company, it’s a tongue-in-cheek joke reference to the transparent qualities of the coupe roof, meaning that at night, passengers can look up and see the stars in the sky, which goes to show why the Germans have always been famed for their brilliant sense of humour.
Some of the images in this article are from Brett Patterson and Newspress.