Smart Roadster/Coupe Brabus

Combining great looks, an attractive price and individuality, the Smart Roadster and Coupe would seem to have it all. But there's something that sports car fans have said has always been missing - in terms of performance, the duo could easily cope with more power.

Both Smarts look fabulously chunky and expensive, plus provide masses of feelgood factor - until you drive them like sports cars. We rather suspect that the new 101bhp engine fitted to a standard Roadster or Coupe would have more driver appeal.

Combining great looks, an attractive price and individuality, the Smart Roadster and Coupe would seem to have it all. But there's something that sports car fans have said has always been missing - in terms of performance, the duo could easily cope with more power.

It's a fact that's not lost on exclusive tuning company Brabus, which has sent both machines to its famous automotive gym for a major tune-up. Officially recognised by Mercedes, the conversion will go on sale through Smart dealers in April, fully protected by the manufacturer's warranty.

With 101bhp, the carefully modified three-cylinder, 698cc engines that power both Coupe and Roadster carry a meaningful 19bhp power increase thanks to a new turbocharger, cooling system and engine management chip.

An eye-catching set of 17-inch alloy wheels, a Brabus radiator grille, side skirts and body-coloured spoilers add a high-quality finish to the package. Inside, however, the results are less successful. The cabin - although funky and fresh with aluminium and leather detailing - doesn't share the exterior's attention to detail. The plastics reflect the car's humble beginnings, and the over-sized steering wheel does little to represent its sporting nature.

On the road, the Brabus entertains and frustrates in equal measure. With the neat electric roof folded away, the Smart introduces you to its powerplant upgrades with a high-pitched giggle emitting from the turbocharger wastegate as you shift up through the six-speed sequential gearbox.

The engine note - embellished by a sports exhaust and new silencer - growls like a Porsche's. But while the Smart makes all the right noises, it feels less special than expected when it comes to outright acceleration. The gearchange is a little slow, but it's smooth and matches the car's adequate performance. With a 0-62mph sprint time of 9.8 seconds and a top speed of 119mph (122mph for the more aerodynamic Coupe), there's a feeling the car could handle more power.

That said, the Brabus conversion has had a big effect on the suspension and chassis set-up. Both Roadster and Coupe ride stiffly, but thankfully the modifications deliver handling that is balanced, even at the limit. However, keen drivers who want to fling the Smart around will be disappointed.

Quite simply, the huge tyres offer far too much grip, and the low-geared steering means you're always winding on lock to get through tight bends. We can't help feeling that the original wheels and tyres, combined with standard suspension, would be more effective. The steering weights up suddenly in mid-corner, too, giving an unnatural feel, and the brake pedal is soft and difficult to get feedback from.

Smart has yet to announce a price for the Roadster and Coupe Brabus - but expect to pay £18,000-£20,000. To put that into perspective, you could buy a tidy used Porsche Boxster for the same money. But in Brabus' favour, the newcomers do get close to the perceived value of the German roadster. From the outside it really does have the expensive look of a Porsche, and the brand badging to match.

Sadly though, these Smarts appear to have been sent to the gym to look better, rather than get healthy. And keen drivers will still be crying out for more power, less grip, sharper steering and a faster gearchange.

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