2008 Smart Fortwo: Editor Loses All Credibility in Tiny Car
August 20, 2008
Last night I got on the freeway in our long-term 2008 Smart Fortwo, and I made the mistake of enjoying myself.
By any reasonable and modern standard, the Smart is not a good car. But I like driving not-good cars. Even downright bad cars are sometimes OK. And I can think of at least one way in which our Smart is better than my stepfather's '92 Civic VX hatch: It doesn't feel like it's going to shake itself apart at 85 mph -- in fact, with no crosswinds on a calm evening, the Fortwo feels relatively stable. Of course, it hops and crashes over expansion joints, but what do you expect from a car with a 73.5-inch wheelbase and rudimentary suspension?
The main reason I like driving the Smart at freeway speeds is that I feel like this car needs me. It's not a 3 Series or a Passat. In trite terms, it's not going to "drive itself." It needs me to pay attention and drive defensively.
I realized that around town I've gotten in the habit of short-shifting (I never, ever use "D"), because the 3-cylinder makes decent low-end torque (relative to the weight of the car, obviously). But to merge onto the freeway safely, you need to draw out the revs more. And because there's no tachometer, you need to listen and make sure you get your paddle-executed shift in at the right time (the transmission will try to upshift on its own if you stray too close to the rev limiter) -- with an ever-so-subtle lift off the throttle to minimize the interruption in power delivery.
For a lot of people, this would be boring. But consider this: I'd say more than 50 percent of LA drivers cruise down entrance ramps at 40 or so and then hammer on the gas at the end of the ramp. Works fine if you're driving a V8 Tundra, but not so well in a Smart, which needs time to build up speed. So your heart rate fluctuates a bit.
Bottom line: There's risk and ingenuity involved in driving this car that none of the other cars in our fleet require -- at least not at typical traffic speeds. And I like that.
Erin Riches, Edmunds Senior Editor @ 8,317 miles