Well, it’s as you’d expect it to be from the stats: spirited, yes, but not quick. Despite Brabus shortening the gear ratios, the revs build steadily in each gear. It will quite happily zip up to 70mph, though, and while it’s limited to 103mph, it’ll get there relatively easily if you find an open stretch of autobahn.
At idle the little turbo triple has an arrant lumpiness, especially as the air-con compressor cuts in and out, but spin it past 1000rpm and it’s quite a syrupy thing as it hums away behind you. Brabus has added a sports exhaust, too, but if you're used to its regular rambunctious creations, the Fortwo is comparatively subdued; other than a bit of boom at idle and on the overrun, it’s not had much of an effect.
Throttle response isn’t ideal. Boost comes in quite abruptly at 2000rpm, but even when you step back on the accelerator at twice this crank speed you wait, then bam, a second later it surges off. This does make smooth driving a learnt art, rather than the intuitive ABC process that better linearity brings.
The dual-clutch automatic gearbox doesn't help matters. It’s smooth enough between the gears – although not amazingly quick by modern standards – but feels clunky when you’re immersed in the snarl of stop-start city traffic. But escape the confines of the urban sprawl and find freedom in fast, flowing country roads and the manual paddle shifts become impressively obedient to each finger twitch.
Open roads show up another limitation, though: poor body control. Brabus may have made tweaks to produce more incisiveness through the twisties than the standard car, but it’s no miniature hot hatch. Turn in to a fast bend and the body seems a step behind, taking a moment or two to settle before ending up at a mildly jaunty angle. Any mid-corner disturbances along the route don’t help, creating little shimmies and wobbles that, if you are on it, induce various clenching actions throughout your body.
With such a short wheelbase it feels super-quick at the helm, too, even though the 3.5 turns between locks would suggest otherwise. With more feedback through the wheel you might learn to enjoy this, but despite the ESP's software changes the wheel isn’t particularly communicative. By the time the front tyres lose grip – of which they can muster a fair amount - it’s only the screech of rubber and the nose scrubbing out wide that tells you what’s happening.
All of which is a shame, because the more liberal ESP settings do provide more movement at the limit. If the Smart just felt more go-kart-like in its responses, this would be something to get excited about. As it is, there’s little to encourage you chase its limits.
The ride hasn’t suffered terribly as a result of the stiffer suspension. However, it wasn't that great on the standard Fortwo, so it still bobs about like a cork on wavy surfaces and thuds over broken ones. The panoramic roof on our car created quite a bit of wind noise at cruising speeds, too.