Every loft-living, plasma screen-watching gadgethead wants a Smart Brabus. First out of the box last year were the Fortwo Coupé Brabus and Fortwo Cabrio Brabus, and now the Roadster and Roadster-Coupé get the treatment.
They’re not cheap, with prices starting between £17,000 and £18,000, but your money buys a 20 per cent power hike, a tuneful dual exhaust, a muscular bodykit and a set of five-spoke, 17in alloys.
The extra power comes courtesy of a new turbo and intercooler, endowing it with impressive straight-line acceleration. Peak power of 101bhp is delivered at 5600rpm, and 96lb ft of torque arrives at between 2500 and 5300rpm. The raw, head-back growl of the engine is very rewarding, particularly in a tunnel. It makes you want to get out of the city and try a few twisty roads.
Once you do, however, the frustration sets in. The Smart has a great little chassis, and promises to handle well. But the first let-down is the dead steering, which uses a bus-sized steering wheel with a turning circle to match.
And – surprise, surprise – there’s that semi-automatic gearbox. It’s supposed to be a little quicker in the Brabus, but it’s not enough to make a serious difference. The paddle shifts on the steering wheel are fun, but to avoid an embarrassing lurch with every shift, your have to lift your right foot on the up-change and keep the revs on to change down; overtaking can be a tad scary.
On fast bends the Brabus understeers under a heavy foot, and the traction control leaps in to cut the throttle, so the car bogs down as you try to accelerate out of the corner. Soon you’re yearning for a slick manual change and quick, communicative steering. Slow down a bit, though, adjust your expectations and your designer sunglasses and the Smart Brabus is fun. The seating position feels suitably sporty, the handling is balanced, and the ride only gets lumpy on those big wheels as you hit the town.
Just don’t buy it in the hope that the driving experience will be as rewarding as the muscular styling.