2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe: Rain
March 05, 2009
A city car like the Smart is all very cute when the sun is shining and you're motoring on city streets to the local bakery to pick up a load of baguettes. But what about when it's mid-winter and one of those big storms has come in off the Gulf of Alaska and you face a long drive home on the freeway where the water has puddled inches deep between the uneven concrete slabs?
Not so bad. Far better in fact than some of the hot rods around here, which skip across the puddles like stones across a pond, a consequence of summer performance tires that don't have enough tread cuts to evacuate standing water and tire footprints that are far wider than they are long.
The Smart Fortwo doesn't seem as if it should add up for low traction surfaces. It tends to weave down our freeways, since its short 73.5-inch wheelbase doesn't quite deliver the straight-line stability required to resist the influence of the Continental tires, which pick up the grooves that the California transportation department etches in our freeways to keep us all from skidding off the flooded concrete when it rains.
Nevertheless, the Smart gives you total confidence in bad weather, even when the there's so much rain that it's like driving through a carwash. The tires produce much of the magic here. With 155/60R15s in front and 175/55R15s in the rear, the Smart has tire footprints that are longer than they are wide, which is what you want to cut through the puddles. In addition, Continental is based in Hanover, Germany, where it rains a lot, and the Smart's ContiProContact tires are meant to cope with weather that puts the season in your basic all-season descriptor.
It also helps that the view out of the Smart's windshield is expansive and the wipers clear most of it. Of course, it's not enough that you can see them. Even in a car that looks like a bright orange Jujube, you have to wonder if they can see you.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 14,350 miles