IT'S BRABUS TIME! Calvin Fisher gets behind the wheel of the Smart ForTwo Brabus. Image: YouTube
Cape Town - Imagine my excitement when I discovered that you could now buy a Brabus in South Africa.
If you're even just a bit of a petrolhead, have just an inkling of 95 octane in your veins, then you'll know the name well. For most of their existence they were the second largest fettlers of hot Mercedes-Benz saloon cars, trumped only by AMG which would eventually go on to be absorbed by the Merc mothership.
Managing my expectations
Firstly there’s the key, and there’s a good reason why it says Smart on it - that’s because this is Smart ForTwo Brabus. It's not cheap, yours for R308 200, but in a world where you can buy Fiat 500s for R415 000 you couldn't really bat an eyelid, could you?
If you want leather, however, you'll need the Xclusive trim, which bumps up the price to R360 000. That’s hardly cheap, but then it does come with heated seats, a sporty steering wheel and premium tinsel of that nature.
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With the Brabus badge you now get 80kW and 170Nm in a car that has rear wheel drive and a wheel base so tiny it would make an ant feel claustrophobic. It’s no powerslide sensation; you’ll still struggle to break traction from those rear rubbers. No, the only drifting you could accuse it of is from one lane to another in strong crosswinds.
That being said, it's as comfortable as you like in here, has an interesting looking cabin and I even enjoy that space bug exterior aesthetics as well. Think of it as a sort of a SMEG bar fridge with wheels. It also has a sporty five speed auto gearbox complete with paddles. Gone is that lethargic three speed automatic of Smart cars of old what with this being a shared platform between Merc and Renault.
So on that note, this could be a decent preview of what a Twingo RS might have been like.
But how does it drive? Well, well enough. Brabus have done just enough to justify the badges on its tin, emphasis on just enough. This is no mental V8 engine conversion of course, instead a warmed over three-pot engine with a tiny turbocharger and about 900cc of combustible volume.
That's infinitesimal! I mean it’s really, really small. It's almost certainly the littlest engine Brabus have ever worked on. They probably didn't even use a whole work bench. They had their tiniest engineer just sort of work it in his lap.
But is it quick?
No. Not in a meaningful way I suppose, but I suppose a sub ten sprint to 100kph is to be commended in something this pocket sized. That it will do so all the way up to 220km/h even more so. But it revs well, the helm is accurate enough and the suspension does a great job of keeping the tallboy upright.
There's something about the handling that unsettles me. It's not imprecise, it just requires a lot of concentration from the driver in order to be driven with precision, like threading a needle - which reveals another shortfall, a nervous disposition brought about by vigorous steering inputs. Methinks it’s the less favourable side of the coin that makes that tiny turning circle such a virtue at the mall.
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I might have poked fun of the power outputs earlier, but they represent a 70% hike in power over the standard car - that's fairly impressive. There's something special about a low-powered car that you can drive till the nuts fall off versus something that's crazily overpowered forcing you to pussy foot around its million horsepower. This is that, an insanely chuckable toy, something you'd get in a Happy Meal.
I once drove all the way to Simon's Town to drive a supercharged Smart ForTwo that someone had built in their garage. It was bloody horrible. This isn't. I like this. The hardest thing to swallow is its lack of a rear bench which would ultimately rule it out from duty in the Fisher household. But I suppose that’s why they do one in the Smart ForFour range too. Lucky.