If I tell you rare mid-engined European sports car, 18-inch wheels, 47 inches tall, and a center exhaust, what do you think? Lotus, Ferrari, Lamborghini, maybe Porsche or McLaren? What if I told you that it has a 0.7 litre engine? Yeah, I know you have seen the cover photo and the title already, but imagine if you hadn’t, you’d be rather confused, and understandably so. The car I’m talking about is the Smart Roadster Brabus, and don’t be ashamed if you’ve never heard of it, most people in North America haven’t.
Based on a stretched Smart Fortwo chassis, the Smart Roadster was offered in two body styles, the Roadster and the Roadster Coupé, the car I’ve had the chance to test is a Roadster. It was inspired by classic British roadsters like the MG B and the Triumph Spitfire, and it was only offered with one engine, a 0.7L turbocharged 3-cylinder, yep. The base model had 61hp but it could be upgraded to 82hp. If that wasn’t enough for your inner Jacques Villeneuve, there was also the 101hp Roadster Brabus.
The Smart Roadster was produced from 2003 to 2006 and around 43,000 of them left the factory. Out of the 43,000 built, 1,150 were like the ones I’ve driven, so a left-hand drive Roadster Brabus. All of them are equipped with the same transmission, which is a 6-speed automated manual. I’ll go into the driving experience after I’m done with the specs. You might have figured out by now that the reason you have never seen one before is that it was imported, and yes indeed, from France. In most of North America (I’m not sure about Mexico), Smart has only offered the Fortwo, but they’ve been offering other models in other parts of the world, like the Forfour, the Roadster, and the crazy Crossblade. People here associate the Smart brand with the Fortwo and nothing else which made for some pretty funny reactions when I was asked what kind of car it was while driving around.
This very Roadster Brabus is owned by a friend of mine and it is a 2004 model, it features all of what made the Brabus, a Brabus, including the 18-inch Brabus monoblock wheels, which look massive on this tiny car, the center exhaust, the lower suspension, the aerodynamic enhancements, aluminum pedals and handbrake handle as well as the very rare Brabus steering wheel, most of them got the regular Smart wheel.
So how is the car? Fun! With 101hp, it’s not very fast, but it’s enough to have fun on some curvy roads and for zipping around downtown. The face of everyone as you’re passing by is priceless, no one knows what it is and you get thumbs-ups, smiles, questions, and people taking photos everywhere. I had the car for a whole day and couldn’t stop driving, I would have loved for it to have a manual, but after some time, you get used to the automated manual transmission, it has an old-school charm to it, like the BMW SMG, and it really drives like an actual manual. I was on a pretty steep hill downtown and didn’t fully press on the gas and it started reversing as if I was holding in the clutch, really took me by surprise. There are 3 different ways to drive it, automatic mode, floor-mounted shifter, or paddles, I only tried the latter. (I wasn’t really sure how to change modes, quite frankly).
As I said, it has 18-inch wheels, which is massive for such a small car, it has 245s on the rear—hilarious. Such wide tires made for some pretty impressive handling, especially since it only weighs 790 kg. The suspension is pretty rough, it is definitely not a comfortable ride, but it’s not meant to be either. The steering wheel, no power steering may I add, is very precise and you need that because those Brabus monoblocks are known to crack easily and you gotta avoid the potholes. If you’ve ever spent time in an MX-5, the seating position is pretty similar. You’re pretty much sitting on the floor and the steering wheel is flat in front of you with little to no angle.
Sitting inside the Brabus, you don’t have much. You have what you need to drive it, controls for the air, and a radio — that’s it. It is a Roadster and I drove it as such, top down the entire time. Fun party trick with that car, it has an electric fabric sunroof that goes behind the seats with a push of a button, but once that’s done, you can remove the pillars on either side of it and you get a targa top, but panic not, in case of rain, both pillars can fit in the frunk.
To conclude, the Smart Roadster Brabus is a lot of fun, way more than I thought it would considering the power. I think it looks very cool, with the odd shape and the big wheels, really toy-ish, which is what it is, a 3.4m-long toy. It’s a refreshing alternative for someone considering an MX-5 or maybe a Toyota MR2 Spyder, yes you need to import it, but you definitely will end up with a charming, unique rig. We believe this is the only Roadster Brabus Canada, and I’m thrilled I had the opportunity to spend the day with it, especially since, besides the owner, I’m the only one who has driven it since he bought it, a few years ago.
Article & Photography by Olivier Lessard