2008 Smart Fortwo: Road Trip to San Clemente
March 19, 2009
I have a lot of LA freeway miles in our long-term 2008 Smart Fortwo under my belt. For reasons not entirely clear to me, I keep coming back to the challenge of driving this car . Perhaps it's because I don't value my own life as much as some of you do yours. Perhaps it's because I'm on the Penske payroll. Perhap it's because I'm simply dumb.
However, I tend to drive the same 25-mile stretch of freeway over and over (because it happens to lead to my boyfriend's house), so I know the traffic conditions and I know where all the ruts and joints are, and I plan accordingly to keep the engine its power band and the suspension relatively settled. Yesterday, I deviated from the plan and drove the car 70 miles from Santa Monica to San Clemente.
Because I am crazy, I found a way to enjoy the trip. The transmission, for example, works well when you call up a downshift at 70-80 mph. I tend to look very far ahead when I drive the Smart, so whenever I anticipated wanting to pass or could see an uphill grade coming, I maintained throttle position and pressed the paddle shifter for a 5-4 downshift. It was quick and smooth, and I didn't lose even 1 mph of speed.
In this one very specific situation, the Fortwo's automated single-clutch gearbox is preferrable to an automatic transmission.
Still, this is not a relaxing road-trip car. Obviously. During lunch, a business acquaintance asked me if the wind noise was really terrible at 70 mph. "No, not really, I don't think so," was my reply.
Then on the trip back, I realized there's a ton of wind roar. It's just hard to make out over the three-cylinder engine at full cry and the rumble of the 155/60R15 Continental front tires directly beneath me. At least, there wasn't much of a crosswind yesterday, so I didn't have to sail the Smart.
Of course, I turn up the stereo to drown out the noise, because, hey, it's a 996cc, three-cylinder engine, so I'm not missing anything.
More bothersome was the way the cabin heated up on a sunny, 80-degree afternoon. This is a problem on any car with a huge glass area, particularly hybrids like the Prius and Insight. I'm not usually an aggressive air-conditioning user, but finally, even I had to blast the A/C at 60 to offset the crockpot effect. I lived in Florida for 4 years growing up. If I moved back, I would not drive a Smart. Or a hybrid.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 14,847 miles