And while the boy racers may have grown up (a little at least) the cars have also evolved, sporting more extreme looks and harnessing more power under the bonnet. With its new ForFour Brabus, Smart has managed to squeeze an incredible 177bhp from the little 1.5-litre unit, making it the fastest and most powerful production Smart ever built (alas, the manic Roadster Coupé V6 bi-turbo never made it into production).
Brabus represents the top end of every Smart model range and as the manufacturer looks to be taken seriously as a premium brand in the small car sector, the increase in quality is very noticeable, particularly in the cabin. The plastics used on the dash are better quality and details such as the Brabus-styled handbrake and gearstick give an upmarket feel.
If you can forgive the unsupportive seats, once behind the wheel the ForFour Brabus is great fun to drive and the handling is superb, with well-weighted steering and plenty of feedback from the front wheels. One criticism is that the ride is too harsh, and on any less than a smooth road surface, it can be back-jarring.
Smart has big hopes for the Brabus, particularly in the UK, which is the largest market for Smart Brabus models. It expects it to account for 10% of ForFour sales, (customers have bought 4,122 ForFours since the model was launched in September 2004).
As a package, the ForFour Brabus seems a good proposition, apart from one small factor – the price. At a shade over £17,000 it is expensive: more than £1,500 costlier than the Renaultsport Clio 182 Trophy, which is a better car all round, while the Mitsubishi Colt CZT, which shares the same platform, is a full £4,000 cheaper. For this money customers could even opt for a quicker Honda Civic Type-R and still have £800 spare.
Strengths: Fun to drive and plenty of pace.
Weaknesses: Harsh ride, seats are not supportive enough
Opportunity: Gives the ForFour a sporty edge
Threat: Price means customers will look at cheaper rivals
The USP: Good performance hatch, but at a price
Engine: 1.5-litre turbo, 177bhp
Transmission: Five speed manual
Performance: 0-62mph: 6.9sec; top speed: 137mph
Efficiency: 41.5mpg combined; 159g/km CO2 emissions
Rivals: Mitsubishi Colt CZT, Ford Fiesta ST, Peugeot 206 GTi, Renaultsport Clio 182, Seat Ibiza Cupra