smart fortwo BRABUS review

If you want a Smart with attitude, you need to break out the BRABUS catalogue. Jonathan Crouch runs an eye over a citycar with attitude

Ten Second Review

Want to make a splash with your smart fortwo? This is the way to do it. The BRABUS version has 109bhp on tap to match the most striking looks yet bestowed on a production smart. Urban chic? If you can afford to splash out on one, this car embodies it.

Background

For most, BRABUS is associated with massively powerful Mercedes limousines. Captains of European industry sit in the back and are swept across featureless autobahns at speeds more akin to private aviation than wheeled transport. Fortunately for us, we can now get the BRABUS touch on less than Euro Commissioner salaries in the form of the smart fortwo BRABUS, a citycar with surprising poke that, visually at least, punches way above its weight.

Driving Experience

The 109bhp delivered by the BRABUS's up-rated 0.9-litre turbo powerplant offers a breezy performance gain over the 90bhp offered by this engine in the standard range and a huge one over the 71bhp normally aspirated unit served up by more humble smart fortwos. It's enough to thrust the shoebox sized car to 62mph in 10.5s on the way to a top speed of 96mph. That's very little different to the performance you'd get from a standard 90bhp fortwo model. Despite that, this BRABUS is plenty quick enough to get into quite a situation should you try. Its performance on the flat will see this smart easily keeping up with the cut and thrust of typical British motorway traffic but even in this powerful guise, it's still a little out of its depth on longer trips. Still, criticising the smart for feeling a little out of I ts depth in the cut and thrust of motorway traffic is a little like moaning that a Hummer feels rather clumsy around town. As before, this is a car designed primarily for urban use, where it feels very much at home, enabling its owners to snatch parking spaces that other citycar drivers couldn't even look at: how many other urban runabouts can you leave face-on to the kerb for example? Just as impressive is its astonishingly tight turning circle.

Design and Build

Based on the existing passion model, the BRABUS models add significant styling updates including BRABUS badging, a BRABUS sports steering wheel, BRABUS seats with dinamica inserts, a handbrake and gear shift with the BRABUS logo, BRABUS sports pedals and 16 and 17-inch alloy wheels (front - 16; rear - 17). There are two body styles, a hard-topped coupe and the cabriolet with its electrically-retracting fabric roof and removable roof bars. Otherwise, it's the usual fortwo recipe. The cabin features as many quirky touches as you can stomach and it's good to see smart pushing the boat out a bit with colours and textures. There's even a bit more luggage space on offer, the fixed-top version boasting a capacity of 260-litres to the parcel shelf and 350-litres when stacked to the roof. The two-piece tailgate with its separately-opening glass window is wide-opening and the bottom part is strong enough for you to sit on it during, say, carboot sales.

Market and Model

Here, it's the usual smart recipe - albeit a rather expensive one. The BRABUS coupe is priced around £16,500 (bear in mind that 0.9-litre models in the standard fortwo range start at around £12,000) with the cabrio weighing in at just over £2,000 more. Both bodystyles offer the option of a better-equipped 'Xclusive' trim level for just over 3,000 more. This is comparable to cars like a nicely specified MINI Cooper or one of the plushest Fiat 500s, both vehicles with their own dollop of style and a good deal more day to day practicality than the little smart. The fortwo has its own very individual street presence however - and of course it's smaller for mopre convenient urban use: try parking a MINI or a Fiat 500 at a 90-degree angle to the pavement. On second thoughts, don't. As with all smart models, the BRABUS features standard-fit Electronic Stability Control Programme (ESP): basically, if you get the car out of shape, the electronics will automatically use throttle and brake inputs to correct the situation.

Cost of Ownership

There aren't too many cars that can beat a fortwo in terms of cost of ownership. The key thing driving down the pence per mile figure is the residual value of a used example, and though BRABUS variants aren't the best in the range in this regard, the latest model still looks set to better its predecessor in terms of used desirability. Then there's the fuel economy. Granted, fortwos don't tend to soak up big mileages but they are often used in cities where many conventional cars return lousy fuel consumption figures. Expect a combined figure of about 62.8mpg from this car. This model will also emit just 102g/km of carbon dioxide, making it one of the cleaner cars on sale and therefore very attractive if one is using the car in congestion charging zones. Insurance costs are driven down by the fortwo's ease of repair, the elastic plastic body panels being capable of shrugging off typical parking knocks. The panels are flexible and the colour is deep moulded in, so superficial scratches are hard to spot. It also means that a more seriously damaged panel can be replaced inexpensively without need for costly and time-consuming repainting.

Summary

If they were priced more accessibly, there would be a quite a few reasons to recommend the BRABUS smart fortwo models and, with the latest styling tweaks, they've never looked better. But, unless you're a true smart die hard, the stratospheric asking prices relegate them to the ranks of expensive curios. The novelty wearing off one of these is a rather costly sound.