Driving impressions below. Seems like a nice little car. Smart should be coming to the U.S market soon, and this model might be in the lineup. Only closest competitor that i can really think of is the MiniS.
German tuning house Brabus has been taking stock Smarts and turning up their temperature since 2002. The latest hotted-up Smart, the Forfour Brabus, makes its debut in Geneva in March. Take a quick glance at the Forfour Brabus and you could be forgiven for failing to spot its hot hatch intentions. After all, it has four doors and a bodyshape most resembling a compact MPV. No lairy big spoiler hangs off its back, no threatening scoops rise up from the bonnet. In fact, the only tribal markings on this Smart are its slightly thicker wheelarches, lower front airdam and modest twin chrome exhaust pipes. It's blink-and-you-miss-it stuff. Even the exclusive alloys are unassuming by performance car standards.
But make no mistake, this flagship Forfour - much more than the fun Brabus Roadster and the quirky Brabus Fortwo - deserves to wear the halo in the Smart range. Not only is this the fastest Smart yet, it arrives minus a couple of problems which bedevilled earlier Smart Brabuses, as we'll see.
First, the performance. The 1.5-litre engine has been developed from the standard Forfour's largest petrol unit - itself no slouch - and has had a turbocharger bolted on. The effort on Brabus's part - redesigning the cooling system and introducing a sports exhaust to name just two modifications - has lifted power over the standard 1.5 by around 70bhp, to 177bhp. That's quite a lot on the face of it. However, it's worth noting that the Brabus version has been purposely designed to sip premium fuel; fill up with 95 unleaded, and that power sags to around 160bhp. So will peak torque of 170lb ft, accessed from 3500rpm.
Fuel concerns notwithstanding, the Brabus feels urgent and enthusiastic right through the rev band. Brabus claims that mid-range thrust beats the new Golf GTI, and its 0-60mph time tops those of plenty of its more immediate rivals. We'd believe it too. Nought to 62mph takes a fraction under seven seconds, and the top-dog Smart will crack 149mph if you fancied losing your licence. And since the Brabus will also return 40.9mpg on the combined cycle, you'll recoup some of the cash you spent buying that super-unleaded fuel... Emissions, by the way, are a low 159g/km, and the engine meets Euro 4 pollution emission levels.
The tuned Forfour doesn't feel unable to cope with its newfound muscles, either. Brabus's engineers have overhauled the suspension, lowering it by over an inch and beefing up the stress points on the wishbones and struts. Dampers have been firmed up for extra stability through bends, though the regular Forfour didn't suffer too much bodyroll despite its tall stance. Brakes are bigger, meanwhile, and slight adjustments have been made to the standard traction control system to kerb wheelspin, too. Inside, leather sports seats have been bolstered on the sides to keep the driver and passenger snug during heavy cornering - though not quite enough in our experience.
Bugbear antidote number one: Brabus no longer needs to work with Smart's dim-witted semi-automatic transmission with its toy-shop paddleshifts for a proper manual gearbox. On the Forfour Brabus, Mitsubishi's manual gearchange has been toughened up. What a difference this makes. We got a chance to take a semi auto-equipped Brabus Roadster for a loop along the same long section of gloriously snaking bends that we tried the Forfour. Its little engine snarled away agreeably, and the sportster's low centre of gravity helped it stay cemented to the road through corners. But no matter which way we tried it - either with those paddleshifters or via the rinky-dink lever - the semi-auto 'box just couldn't keep up. It practically telegrammed its messages to the transmission, completely bulldozing any attempt at an engaged drive. By contrast the Forfour Brabus's buttery manual gearchange, whilst heavy at times, felt smooth and robust. The sound firing out of the sports exhaust wasn't quite as tuneful as the Roadster's, but that's an indulgence we could happily barter for the better drive.
But the good news doesn't end there. Where the Roadster Brabus's steering is overly light and late to bite, the Forfour Brabus turns in when you ask it to, and sends back just the right amount of information through bends. Unluckily, on the test route, too often that information was tyres scrabbling for purchase. The mountain roads had been dealt a blast of snow the day before we arrived to test the latest Brabus babies - so winter tyres were fitted as a precaution against the odd patch of slush in the higher elevation areas. The extra traction these bestow in snowy conditions can be a life-saver, but as it turned out, the snow had all melted on the roads we travelled, some parts of which form stages of the Monte Carlo rally; so the winter tyres instead became a slight source of irritation, scrabbling on the many hairpins as we carved up and through the valleys.
So, the Brabus-tuned Forfour has its steering nicely weighted up, a torpid gearbox exchanged for an accurate, slick stick-shift and enough verve to thrill on twisty roads. But how does it weigh against the other worthies in this class? It may not have the Mini Cooper S's sharpness, or the well-roundedness of Renault's Clio 182; but then those cars can't seat four without major acrobatics. Indeed, apart from a breezy cabin space and a decent appointment of kit (such as the panoramic sunroof and colour-screen sat-nav on the options list), the Forfour has class-leading room for legs and shoulders. Other virtues include its handy sliding rear bench.
But there's a catch, of course. Who's likely to be tempted into the Forfour Brabus? Most would agree that the typical hot hatch shopper is looking for a mean-looking, tough-talking streetfighter. And whilst DaimlerChrysler execs enthuse about the 'youth' buyers that have been attracted to the Mercedes' group's newest range, and the Forfour does have a certain design-led chic to it, we're not quite sure the Forfour Brabus is, well, badass enough for its target group. Plus, it'll most certainly be more expensive, at an estimated £18,000, than many of its putative rivals. Time may prove us wrong, though - Britain is Smart Brabus's number one market. The monied, fashionable youth may just come out in droves when the Forfour Brabus arrives in showrooms this spring.