Day 3: Picking Up the Pace
Fancy AirScarf features and massaging, heated seats, but where’s the challenge in that?
Provinces Checked Off
Local Cuisine Sampled
Crepes with maple butter
It would be easy to simply snag the keys to the big money Benzes, day after day on this trip, with their fancy AirScarf features and massaging, heated seats, but where’s the challenge in that?
No, as good journalists, my driving partner and I instead secured a bright red Smart Fortwo Cabrio, despite facing a mad-dash, 600 km, cross-country drive, all in the interest of bringing you, kind reader, the real facts.
As you probably know, the Smart is intended to be a city car. Its diminutive size means it’s easy to navigate through traffic congestion (and it was today in a very busy downtown Ottawa), and easy to park in over-crowded parking lots. Its tiny three-cylinder engine is frugal with fuel, but not overly powerful (only 89 hp), suggesting that it might struggle a bit to keep up with traffic at highway speeds.
Where the previous-generation Smart was a handful at speed – bobbing and weaving around from the turbulence caused by other vehicles – this new model represents a dramatic leap forward. At only 975 kg, and with such a tall profile and short wheelbase, the Smart Cabrio still demands the driver keep two-hands-on-the-wheel attentiveness at all times, but it is neither as demanding, nor as frightening as it was before.
What’s more impressive is that with the top down (a somewhat convoluted process that requires the removal of rigid upper door frame panels and a two-stage retraction of the cloth top), the Smart Cabrio maintains a cabin pleasantly free of buffeting, even without the tedious mesh wind guard affixed behind the seats. Calm enough, in fact, that with the warm sun shining down and the music playing, I may have even caught a brief nap while my co-driver motored along.
It’s a good thing the new Fortwo Cabrio is so much better at highway speeds, since a late breakfast in Ottawa meant a mad dash toward Quebec City. It also unfortunately meant we had precious little time to see anything that wasn’t a blur from the main highways today – an injustice to the many cultural and historic stops especially around Quebec City that deserve much more time and have me already planning a return trip to both our nation’s capital and the old Ville de Quebec for later this year.
Lacking the amenities and dynamic capabilities of its Mercedes-Benz cabriolet cousins, the Fortwo Cabrio will be overshadowed for much of this Canada-wide journey. But for urbanites looking for a little extra vitamin D with their city car, the Smart has grown up to become a more serious driving machine, which in Cabrio form is still a lot of quirky, frugal fun.