According to smart interior designer Matthias Gottwald, if you drive a smart you should become part of the city. With this goal in mind, he spent a long time reflecting on the perfect relationship between inner and outer values. The result: The latest smart is still the world’s smallest city car – although inside, it feels two sizes bigger.

The smart design studio in Böblingen is a great place for working on innovations. Even though Matthias Gottwald occasionally seems only present in body. In his mind, the brand’s lead interior designer explores places that exhibit special bionic phenomena: gardens, forests, and mountain ranges boasting a flora that suggests new forms and shapes. Or Iceland with its magical volcanic formations. In this spirit, a design detail of the new smart also drew on one of nature’s strongest symbioses of form and function: the honeycomb.

smart magazine: Mr. Gottwald – the new smart is available as a two-seater, the fortwo, and also as a forfour four-seater model. How did you counter the sense of restriction often associated with subcompact cars?

Matthias Gottwald: Faced with the compact external dimensions, we really did not want to compromise on how spacious the interior felt. The new smart – especially the forfour – now feels like a medium-sized car. Our team managed to give passengers a sense of freedom.

Matthias Gottwald smart magazine
The smart design studio is a great place for working on innovations.
Photo: Daimler AG
Matthias Gottwald smart magazine
“We really did not want to compromise on how spacious the interior felt.”
Photo: Daimler AG
Matthias Gottwald smart magazine
“The new smart – especially the forfour – now feels like a medium-sized car.”
Photo: smart magazine

smart magazine: How do you achieve this sense of freedom on such a small footprint? After all, the new smart forfour is only 3.49 meters long and 1.66 meters wide.

Gottwald: To give you an example, we have hollowed out the “loop” of the instrument cluster to make it appear more lightweight. We also used a concave architecture for the design of the passenger space. This extra space gain creates more leg room for the passenger. We also focused on practical stowage solutions: You can now store a 1.5-liter bottle in the doors and enjoy integrated cup holders in the center tunnel – something that is not even standard in compact cars. Taken together, all these little features ensure that you don’t feel cramped inside the smart, yet on the outside become part of the city.

“We also focused on practical stowage solutions.”
Matthias Gottwald

smart magazine: The interior’s architecture and materials are quite extraordinary. Which aspect of city life inspired these choices?

Gottwald: From the start, we have collaborated very closely with our colleagues from the color & trim department. The smart dashboard is covered in a mesh fabric; a high-tech fabric often used for sneakers. Our customers really appreciate that their small, affordable car has more to offer than plain plastic surfaces. Here, we deliberately incorporate different contrasts and textures. From rough fabrics and soft surfaces all the way down to smooth and hard high-gloss design elements. Experts call this a “fabric ID,” i. e. an identity created by the choice of fabrics. The result: Almost anyone who gets into the new smart first touches the surfaces.

Matthias Gottwald smart magazine
“Our customers really appreciate that their small, affordable car has more to offer than plain plastic surfaces.”
Photo: Daimler AG

For Matthias Gottwald, the interior design of the new smart fortwo and forfour started with a playful exercise. To try out some new ideas, he created a test sculpture. Yet when he returned to the studio after a few days of absence, his team had picked a favorite from several design sketches: Gottwald’s test. Thanks to its cavity, suitable for embedding different functions and storage options, it became the template for the current models’ dash panel.

smart magazine: How important is a design’s functionality for you?

Gottwald: Designing a smart interior, functionality, pure joy and the user’s needs are at the center of my work. Here, too, we follow nature’s example: Landscapes, plants, and trees not only look appealing, but many of their important functions are facilitated by their underlying form – and vice versa. We tried to create a contrast between these natural, playful shapes and the precise, premium details and finish.
The trick is to research these specific interfaces and then to unearth something new. Yet either aspect couldn’t do without the other: In product design, mere function without appeal is just as futile as something stunning that has no use at all. Honeycomb combines the best of both worlds – that’s why the design team chose it as a recurring stylistic element for the new model’s grille, front lamps and speaker covers.

smart magazine: Do you get these bionic inspirations at the office or do you go for field trips in nature?

Gottwald: I love to travel and try to take some time out once a year. When you immerse yourself in different cultures and landscapes, you often find inspiration where you least expect it. But it’s not like I’m filling the interior with volcanoes when I come back from a trip to Iceland … these inspirations tend to be more subconscious.

Header image: Daimler AG