The Smart brand is coming to America in 2006, and we sincerely hope that this funky two-seater will spearhead the effort. The Smart-Brabus Roadster V6 is a joint effort by Smart and Brabus that will be shown at the 2003 Frankfurt and 2004 Detroit auto shows, but production plans have yet to be finalized. (A Smart compact SUV definitely will make it here.)
The basis of the vehicle is the current Smart roadster-coupe. That car's 80-horsepower, turbocharged, three-cylinder 698-cc engine, however, has been replaced by a 1396-cc V-6 that makes 168 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 162 pound-feet of torque from 2250 to 4500 rpm. The busy twin-turbo unit accelerates the lightweight 1852-pound two-seater from 0 to 62 mph in less than six seconds, according to Smart. Top speed is an equally impressive 137 mph.
Since the twin-turbo V-6 occupies almost as much space as two three-cylinder engines, the fuel tank had to be relocated to the nose of the car, where a luggage compartment used to be. The bigger engine also forced a change from separate coil springs and dampers to concentric units to support the de Dion rear suspension.
Externally, the superfast Smart looks much like a roadster-coupe in sporty Brabus livery. The polished, twelve-spoke aluminum wheels are shod with 205/40R-17 and 225/35R-17 Michelin Pilot Sports. Inside, the roadster looks mighty fine, with slim racing bucket seats trimmed in black Alcantara and red stitching and red four-point shoulder harnesses.
The little red car looks as if it would be a riot to drive, and so it is. If there were ever a reason to polybag a CD with an issue of our magazine, this would be it. The biturbo's array of noises pulls a bigger crowd than any Italian supercar. When the traffic lights change color, this roadster takes off like a rat down a drainpipe. With a power-to-weight ratio of 10.8 pounds per horsepower-a Porsche Carrera 4S has 10.3-the Smart on steroids is a seriously quick tool in virtually any driving environment. It may have relatively short legs on an empty autobahn, but it loves frightening the wits out of secondary roads. As in the regular Smart roadster, the transmission can be used as an automatic or shifted manually via paddles or the center lever.
On the racetrack, the mid-engined sportster is commendably nimble and chuckable. The unassisted rack-and-pinion steering feels a little heavier than expected, but its ratio is quick. The vehicle's evenly balanced weight distribution gives it the handling of a slot car with a central guiding pin. With maximum torque available at low to medium engine speeds, third-gear power slides soon become the preferred cornering attitude. While the strut-type front suspension is quite taut, even for a sports car with a mission, the de Dion rear axle does a fine job of combining compliance and control.
This no-frills roadster has the rare talent of making people smile, whether they are inside or outside the car. It just oozes emotion. It's a winner, if only the key players at Smart and Brabus can get it to market. "We have done our homework," says Bodo Buschmann, founder and owner of Brabus. "Now it is on you to promote the result." Which is what we have just done, emphatically and enthusiastically.