I like kids. As a sage friend says, I couldn't eat a whole one, but I do like them. I'm the kind of person that usually cringes rather than laughs at the kids captured on Candid Camera
. However, I don't think I've ever belly laughed as much as I did when a young lad swerved his BMX into his friend's bike and both of them fell over on the footpath. The reason for this? The poor fellow was straining to see the Smart Roadster Brabus burbling its way through the narrow streets of Stamford.
This was quite typical, as young and old stared and pointed at the micro-sports car. The Smart Roadster is not actually all that new. We reviewed the Roadster Coupe
last year, and even in a subtle green colour it attracted a lot of attention. At the time, I assumed this was due as much to the rarity of the Smart as to the grinning frog-like frontal styling. A year on though, and despite the appearance of many Roadster Coupes on the road (though I have not seen a single Roadster), the little Smart still has what it takes to make people notice it. Being endowed with the full Brabus treatment helps enormously.
The Roadster is fitted with stunning (though cartoonishly big on the Smart) 17-inch Brabus wheels as standard, along with other relatively subtle, but effective differences to the regular Roadster. There is a new radiator grille, colour coded side skirts, front and rear spoilers and a shiny twin-pipe exhaust. The front spoiler in particular gives the Roadster a sharper edge. The same parts are fitted to the Brabus Roadster Coupe; though it is up to you which car you prefer the looks of.
Inside the Smart, the Brabus theme continues with bespoke instruments and a classy Brabus-branded handbrake lever. The Brabus Roadster is also fitted as standard with gearchange paddles behind the steering wheel, which in itself is a 3-spoke leather item. The seats are also leather, and heated. Back to those gearchange paddles...
It seems that no Smart review is complete without a mention of the semi-automatic gearbox. In the Brabus Roadster, the gearchange has been quickened, but it will still frustrate most keen drivers, especially given the potential of a small sportscar with 120bhp/tonne to play with. The venture between Smart and Brabus "aims to offer fans of leading-edge design and technology the ultimate in exclusive and sporty products". I don't know if you've noticed, but that remit makes no mention of the driving experience.
A week with the Brabus Smart revealed something else. Though we are not fans of the transmission, it became obvious that the car may not actually be any better with a traditional manual gearbox. In Brabus specification the engine produces 101bhp and 96lb.ft of torque. These figures are increased by 21bhp and 15lb.ft respectively over the standard car, which may not sound like a lot, but imbue the lithe Roadster with pace: the figures won't set your monitor on fire, but the Roadster always feels quick, which is way more important in the real world.
So outright performance is not the issue. The engine, as an engineered device, is a gem: it revs smoothly, has plenty of mid-range torque and does a good impression of an air-cooled Porsche 911 on the over-run. The Brabus changes are extensive, including a development of the turbocharger releasing higher levels of boost. The clutch and transmission have been reinforced too. Sadly, the characterful chirrup noise indicating turbo stall (present when you lift off the throttle) has been muted a little. The biggest problem we had with the engine was the delivery. Though torquey, boost is often dispensed mid-corner, and suddenly. This is not an issue in the dry at all; the over-sized rubber keeps the car on line, allowing silly cornering speeds, though rarely allowing you to smoothly power through an apex. Traction control is completely unnecessary when the tarmac is dry, but turning it off while raining may not be a great idea. Wide tyres don't work too well on a wet road, and when the turbo spools up, you could easily end up facing the wrong way. The narrow track and lack of proper communication through the steering wheel don't help either.
If you do 'get' the Smart concept though, the on-the-limit driving experience may not be a major issue for you. Most people will revel in the fun that the Roadster is to hustle along at 80% commitment. If you spend most of your driving days in a busy city, the Smart may also suit you. It is, after all, one of the most distinctive cars on sale, all the better in Brabus specification. Its electric sliding roof works brilliantly, though at the expense of the already laughable luggage space. If you are young, or just plain young at heart, the Smart Roadster Brabus may well be just what you are looking for, though at £16,695 on-the-road, you better hope your finances are a little more mature than you are!