Great Smart Car Road Trip: A Smart in Malibu on PCH

Great Smart Car Road Trip: A Smart in Malibu on PCH

Continuing the Smart Car Series this month (see yesterday’s article), we investigate a question that seems to be on everyone’s mind: Is it safe on the highway? Now this is a question we can answer from many angles like safety, ability to keep up highway speed, emergency maneuvers, etc… However, there is a part of the answer that comes from a different place, a place that is deeper. It is a feel of security and comfort—the real crux of the question we just posed. After picking up the 2009 Smart Passion Cabriolet from the rental agency at LAX, we (my passenger and I) set out on a 200-mile journey up the Pacific Coast Highway to the 101 and on to San Luis Obispo.

Like most people I had the same reservations as to whether driving a Smart car this far was truly a sane idea. Some of you may already be telling yourself that I am off my trolley. The reality, as it turns out, is that the Smart car is very capable of merging into traffic on both the 405, the 10, PCH and later the 101. Two things are noticeable almost immediately—the brakes and the semi-automatic gearbox. One you get used to, the other is always reminding you of the quirkiness that is a Smart. The brakes you get used to; they are firm and apply vigorously with little force. The pedal position is a little awkward if you are used to driving most newer cars because the pedal is hinged from the floor. It is comparable to the pedal action of a ’47 Cadillac. The gearbox takes a bit more to get comfortable with.

The semi-automatic gearbox feels a bit like a one-legged sixteen year-old learning to drive a manual transmission. It has quite the lag (kind of like turbo lag) between gear changes, so much so that the noise dips up and down. I am assuming this is normal because this Smart only had 7600 or so miles on it. A piece of advice for those driving one for the first time: don’t pull out in front of traffic in L.A. when you aren’t used to the lag between gears. Moving on to the power, I was a little concerned that the 70 horsepower inline three-cylinder 1-liter engine might not have enough to get us up to speed and cruise to our destination. Pleasantly, I found the acceleration time to 60 mph reasonable and not that much different than the feeling in my daily drive, a 2002 Hyundai Elantra. What is more is that the Smart will cruise above 65 without hesitation. I am not saying we tested it, but it is capable of getting to the upper end of its 100 mph speedometer.

Bottom line—the Smart has good road manners, reasonable power for an economy minded car and most of all you don’t really notice its size until you look over your shoulder. Since most of the car is missing from behind you, it feels safe, secure and much nicer to drive than the original GEO Metro. What kind of gas mileage did it get, tune in next time for our SLO to San Francisco Leg where we discover how far it will go on a tank and what happens at the top of Divisidero in San Francisco when you have to stop at the top of the hill.


Be sure to check out the Top 5 Reasons to rent a Smart car.