2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe: Promotes Conservation
January 22, 2009
There are a lot of negative things that can be said about our Long Term Smart: It's ugly. It's pointless. The transmission is lousy. The brake pedal is hinged in the wrong spot. It's uncomfortable. It's too hot because of the giant greenhouse and weak AC. You get the idea.
But what very few here have mentioned (or noticed) is that, when treated appropriately, the Smart can be fun to really drive.
What exactly is meant by "treated appropriately" ties directly into the title of this blog. And not in some lame tree-hugging eco way. Driving the Smart Fortwo teaches conservation of momentum-- A principle that allows Miatas and Elises to keep up on the track with cars running twice the horsepower. Driving the Smart requires the driver to be on the ball. Like a chess match, you need to be thinking ten steps ahead and be able to make decisive changes when that Camry drifts across three lanes with no blinkers and your entire game plan is shot.
In his second opinion of the 2009 BMW 335d, Josh Sadlier wrote: "Flat-foot the 335d at 10 mph and you, too, will be a convert to the Temple of Torque." That mentality is the opposite of the Smart and the opposite of smooth driving. (It is fun, though.) With cars like the 335d, GTR, or G8, thinking isn't always necessary. Get stuck behind some jerk going 15 under the speed limit? Wood it over to the next lane and you're clear. But the Smart's gas pedal is virtually useless, especially at freeway speed. As opposed to real cars where stomping on the throttle makes something happen, prodding the right-most pedal in the Smart is more like dropping a note in a suggestion box. Someone will get to it eventually. To keep pace in a Smart you must be constantly aware of your surroundings and must be constantly modulating the throttle inputs. Coast, half-throttle, 1/10th throttle, it doesn't matter. You do not, at any point in Smart driving, want to slam the brakes or be in a position where full throttle is necessary. If you do the world will pass you in a heartbeat.
Conservation of Momentum is a key to automobile racing not only because going faster is faster, but because it promotes smooth driving and smooth driving promotes longer tire life, better fuel economy and less stress upon vital brake and engine components.
A while ago at a track day I sat down with Chris Walton and asked him what I could do to get faster and be smoother. See, he had just set a lap record at Streets of Willow and I had spun harmlessly off the track. "Buy a motorcycle," he says, "it's all about throttle control, weight transfer, and intelligent braking." But I see another alternative; buy a Smart Fortwo Passion. It's as difficult to drive smoothly and quickly as anything on the market. Master that and the lessons learned are bound to transfer to simpler cars.
Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 13,060 miles