There is no doubt that the Brabus Roadster Coupe is special and it will go down in the history books for something. Hopefully, as David Yu has previously commented, a modern classic.
However, I fear that the history book entry may read, ‘a surprisingly quick car that grips well and has catastrophically numb steering’.
A good epitaph it is not. When I first acquired the Brabus, I had to re-learn how to drive. All my other cars were front wheel drive and were quite communicative through the steering wheel (despite being Vauxhalls). At low speeds, the Brabus communicates nothing. All the information comes through your eyes and your backside via the seat.
The tyre change following a blow-out on the M1 made the car very twitchy, made even worse by driver overcorrection through the steering. I thought it was just being sensitive and throwing a tantrum because it didn’t like the new tyres.
After a while I got used to the car again but to drive the coupe with enthusiasm requires you to adopt a different ‘sensing’ style. You don’t get that ‘touchy feely’ sensation through the steering wheel, so you become aware of how much lock to put on and feel for the cars reaction through the seat of your pants and using your eyes. Now after 18 months of ownership, I am used to it and could be accused of being ‘over’ confident.
But the confidence is well placed, the car has phenomenal grip in the dry and I just take it for granted that it will stick. However, no matter how it’s driven, the steering remains distinctly mute and you really rely on your inner ear and your butt to tell you when something is going awry. A little more warning would do wonders in smoothly bringing the car back from a ragged edge.
I felt that I couldn’t be the only one suffering with this and figured there had to be a resolution. I did find a potential fix on the Roadster.net forum. I was searching for information about fitting a completely different steering rack like a quick rack but there are no quick racks manufactured for the Smarts. (Please someone correct me if I am wrong).
The main problem causing the numb feel is that the steering is too light. Upon further investigation, the cause is the exceedingly over the top power assisted steering (PAS). So boot out and an adjustment later, the PAS had been reduced.
Elise it is not but the difference was significant. Slow speed manoeuvring requires a little more effort on the steering wheel but I had to re-programme my own senses when it came to cornering as I now had lots of information transmitted through the steering wheel.
There is a piece of road in rural Buckinghamshire, that has been nicknamed ‘The Lanes’ culminating in a 3 mile stretch from the last village until my own turn off for home. The whole road is typical ‘country lane’ but this last stretch has a brilliant combination of sweeping curves, tight corners, rising and falling roads – it’s fantastic (ask Phil James).
The first set of corners is usually a ‘throw it in and wait for the slide’ chicane, not any more! The grip levels were the same and the sliding of the car was communicated as per usual through my derrière but this time I knew how the front of the car was reacting. The rest of this 3-mile piece of motoring nirvana was superlatively enjoyable. For the first time, I could feel the front of the car through my hands and not just using my knowledge of how much to turn the wheel.
My journey home was a thrill; it renewed my enjoyment of the car and made me feel more connected to the driving experience. After I parked up, locked it and walked to my front door, I realised I was grinning in the same manner as when I first drove one.
I’m still grinning now!