smart BRABUS: Spicy Collegiate Timbit

smart-fortwo-brabus1.JPGBy Casey Williams

Two of my favorite places to visit in New Haven, Connecticut are Claire’s Corner Copia at Yale and the Canadian-import known as Tim Hortons doughnut shop. I love Claire’s vegan salad with soy chipotle chicken, avocado, organic egg, and balsamic vinaigrette. Afterwards, there’s nothing better than a half-dozen cherry Timbit doughnut holes. If I could combine the spicy no-guilt flavor of Claire’s with moist cherry Timbits and set it to wheels, it would look something like the smart fortwo BRABUS.

smart-fortwo-brabus2.JPGIf not a chipotle Timbit, then the smart BRABUS is at least one coated with little colored sprinkles. It keeps the classic cute smart design, replete with integrated safety cage, but adds a German tuner kit to keep your man card in circulation. Sported-out facias, ground effects, 15″ front/17″ rear alloy wheels, low-profile tires, and center-exit twin chrome exhausts flaunt the promise of a fun ride. A lowered ride height and meatier rubber noticeably improve the BRABUS’ handling over base smarts, making them almost agile on curvy backroads.

Handling is definitely improved, although at interstate speeds, the car is still a pawn in Mother Nature’s game of wind. As with other smarts, the BRABUS runs with a 70 hp 1-litre three-cylinder engine that helps the car achieve 33/41 mpg city/highway — same as less exotic smarts. German burble from the exhaust sounds yummy, but the car waddles from 0 – 60 mph in 12.8 seconds on the way to an electronically-limited 90 mph top speed.

smart-fortwo-brabus3.JPGSmarts cruise happily at 80 mph, although a turbo — available in Europe, but denied to us Yanks — would give the car better breathing through long inclines and mountain passes. European smart BRABUS models not only have classier interiors with fancy leather and chrome, but also add significantly more power. Turbos gain 28 hp for 98 hp total. That lowers the 0-60 mph run to 9.2 seconds. As it is, the normally-aspirated Mitsubishi-built engine gives its all to wisp the Smart down the highway, but that additional 28 hp would make the 1,800-lb. car a spicy little ‘bit without cutting up its green cred.

Engineers obviously worked on the five-speed sequential-shifting transmission’s auto mode, creating a level of smoothness that makes it almost livable. Thinking of the transmission, with paddle shifters on the steering column, as more manual and less automated helps the mind get over its occasional herks and jerks.

All but the very base smarts come standard with speed-sensitive power steering, which feels heavy on the highway. Available heated leather seats, rain-sensing wipers, six-disc CD changer, iPOD input jack, and subwoofer keep the joy coming. Safety is enhanced by dual front airbags, side airbags, electronic stability control, four-wheel ABS, brake force distribution, cornering control, traction control, and hill start assist (which holds the car on hills when shifting from the brake to the accelerator).

smart-fortwo-brabus4.JPGPeople always ask if the fortwo is safe. Besides four airbags, substantial headrests, and a Mercedes-load of electronic stability controls, the car is essentially a crash shell with everything else attached to it. The black or silver outlines you see around the passenger compartment are actually exposed sides of the crash cell. The car was tested against Mercedes’ E-Class large sedan and sports an array of high-star crash ratings. Nothing is indestructible, but the fortwo is one stoutly-built mini-mite that can’t be beat for finding a tight parking space on the Yale campus.

I’ve already driven 10,000 miles in my personal fortwo passion, from Indianapolis to beyond. It’s taken me on vacations in the Smokey Mountains, Memphis, Asheville, and Myrtle Beach. I drove it to snowy Detroit for the auto show in January. It has enough power to flat-foot it through mountains, though I would love a BRABUS with the Euro turbo. It handles well, but some low-profile sport rubber wouldn’t be turned away. I love its style, but some ground effects and twin exhaust pipes would pump some sexy. I love my car, but could go positively weepy over a BRABUS convertible.

One of the best parts of eating at Claire’s is the student-professor get-togethers that stimulate profound thought and new perspectives on the world. Driving a smart fortwo BRABUS will definitely open your horizons — both for the economy it provides and endless conversation you’ll encounter at every gas pump, restaurant, and stoplight. I’ve heard the jokes, ridden the roller skate, and counted the clowns. Dressed in BRABUS attire, it would be welcome at Yale, Claire’s, or Tim Hortons hauling home the ‘bits.

To sample a smart before plunking down at least $17,990 for a BRABUS Coupe or $20,990 for a convertible, check out a Hertz rental to see if eating such fiery dumplings fits your stomach.