► Brabus gets hands on latest Smarts
► ForFour uprated to friskier 107bhp
► Can it justify a £17k asking price?
Here’s something to divert your attention from the Shoreditch estate agents’ newly-listed properties: your favourite premium price-tagged, pocket-sized car’s just about to get even more precious.
Enter the Smart ForFour Brabus (and forget that new Bulthaup kitchen).
Brabus? Shall I start rubbing my hands excitedly?
Well it’s faster certainly, but fast? Well...
All three Smarts – both tin-top and peeled-open ForTwos and the more practical ForFour, which sells best in Britain – will soon be available with an uprated 107bhp edition of the Renault-sourced 0.9-litre buzzbox ferreted away under the boot floor.
It’ll reach 111mph, but the blat from standstill to 62mph takes 10.5 seconds. Tepid rather than hot, then. If you want to do it in a sub-10 then you’ll have to stick with the lighter-but-less-practical ForTwo double-seater.
Turbo lag - but a cracking exhaust note
Despite the richest vein of torque being available from just 2000rpm, the Brabus serves up a discernible amount of lag before the turbo comes on song with an accompanying surge forwards. While it doesn’t thrust you back into the leather-shod bucket seats, there’s a decent degree of pace on tap, enough to expel peril when completing overtaking manoeuvres on windier single carriageways.
Snaking around the mechanical gubbins at the Smart’s tail is a special Brabus sports exhaust. Although devoid of Kellogg’s levels of snap, crackle and pop, it nonetheless adds a throatier tune as the ForFour does its thing.
You’ll also spot the Brabused Smarts easily enough without the motor thrumming away, thanks to the beefed-up front bumper, rear diffuser, body-coloured grille and 17-inch Monoblock IX alloy rims in a selection of hues.
If your bespokery fetish demands yet more swank then Brabus’s Tailor Made service allows for even more personalisation of both colours and finishes. At a not inconsiderable cost, natch.
Forget a manual 'box, this one’s Twinamic
If you think that sounds like it might be an automatic, then award yourself a fiver. Strictly speaking, the Twinamic’s a six-speed dual-clutch affair, which has been reprogrammed compared with the similar transmission in more pedestrian ForFours.
Smart claims the revised ‘box is 40% quicker to respond and that the shorter ratios allow the available performance to be metered out to the rear wheels more effectively.
What we found was that in Eco mode the changes feel glacially slow – far better to ping it into the Sport setting if you’re a leave-an-automatic-to-its-own-devices kind of driver, with steering column-mounted paddles for those who prefer to select their own ratio changeover points.
For those moments you fancy showing off at traffic-light grands prix, the Brabus’s transmission even has a race start function. Forget rivals’ systems that are so overcomplicated that they make being initiated into the Freemasons look a doddle; the Smart’s is simply, erm, smart.
Left foot firmly on the brake pedal, right one squeezing the throttle against the bulkhead and then release the former: off the ForFour scurries with minimal wheelspin. Welcome to the shoebox sprint series...
So, bit of a power hike and a light body – the Brabus ForFour's got to be a hoot to drive, right?
Keep a lid on those expectations if you’re hoping to hear that it’s a tail-happy tearaway, because the sheer wealth of electronic on-board wizardry is constantly doing its damnedest to keep the Smart Brabus both upright and pointing in broadly the direction the driver’s steering it.
While the ForFour seems less prone to pitching, diving and rolling than the dinkier Brabus ForTwo twins – themselves notably tauter than the mainstream range – it will default to understeer when you press firmly on, as evidenced by the tyres chirping as the stability systems curb much of the enthusiasm.
Although it’s not going to make you grin inanely through the twisties, you will find it comfortingly planted when employing gentler inputs while driving briskly. There’s a bit more reassurance and chatter through the wheel than in lowlier Smarts, but overall the sensation remains light.
What’s more impressive is the variable ratio of the steering which allows small movements of the wheel to translate into minor directional changes at higher speeds, yet feels as though you could still perform a complete circle in your living room when going slowly.
Fret not about the suspension being 20% firmer than less powerful ForFours, either – it felt compliant enough over the German test route, including dozens of urban-speed tram tracks that hashtagged the highways, that passengers are unlikely to suffer.
For dyed-in-the-wool Smarties, the ForFour Brabus makes perfect sense: minuscule dimensions, even more visual razzmatazz and an appreciable amount of extra oomph for those odd occasions the world outside central London’s explored.
But if you’re considering moving across to the Smart from your usual hot hatch fodder, then it’s likely your initial intrigue will wane away once you’ve driven it. Yes the chassis feels like it could handle more power and yes the stability software could allow it to be more playful at the rear, but here there’s not enough to justify the expected £17,000 asking price.
This or a Fiesta ST? No contest.