By Tony Whitney

2005 Smart Fortwo
Click image to enlarge

Since the dawn of motoring, pioneering drivers have staged long-distance trips to prove one thing or another. At one time, it was getting to a destination before the entire vehicle fell apart or the crew ran out of tires or even food or shelter. On other occasions – the famed Cannonball Run, for instance — it was all about speed and a chance to prove driver and co-driver could drive from one location to another in the fastest possible time.

In more recent years, fuel economy has been a dominant factor. The desire to prove that motor vehicles can still be the cheapest way to cross a continent has been paramount in the aims of many expeditions.

The Smart Fortwo two-seater, produced by a division of Mercedes-Benz, is an exceptionally economical vehicle with its tiny diesel engine, but it’s generally regarded as a “city car,” even if it does have enough performance and comfort for freeway forays. Whether it would be a practical choice for a cross-Canada trip is another question altogether. For most of us, the Smart wouldn’t be at the top of our lists.

But the editor of Montreal-based “Le Guide de l’Auto” thought differently. Denis Duquet approached Mercedes-Benz with the idea of planning a Smart drive on a demanding cross-country route from Victoria to Halifax. (Once again, Newfoundland and Labrador have been left out, but please, no angry letters: you’ve got the Targa, remember? Ed.)

Mercedes liked the idea. Even though the trip had been tackled before in a Smart by Transport Canada before the car was certified for sale in this country, the idea of doing it in a production car with a couple of unbiased jockeys appealed to Mercedes.

Duquet’s notion was to prove that the little Smart, of which more than 4,000 have now been sold in Canada, could run 6,500 km coast-to-coast with two people aboard on less than $300 of fuel. The driver for the trip was Guy Desjardins and co-pilot and navigator, Lucienne Chenard. They used a Smart cabriolet for the drive with no modifications at all.

2005 Smart Fortwo
Click image to enlarge

The route took the intrepid duo from Victoria to Kamloops, on to Calgary, Moose Jaw and Winnipeg and thus to Sault Ste-Marie. Continuing to Ottawa and Quebec City, the drive wrapped up in Halifax. For ten days, in all kinds of weather, the little car rolled on, traversing mountain passes and windswept prairies alike, humming along with its 799 cc, 3-cylinder, 40-horsepower diesel engine.
The pair averaged 660 km a day and fuel consumption averaged a remarkable 4.02-litres/100 km. Diesel fuel prices ranged from $0.922 a litre in some western provinces to $1.149 in the east. For those planning such a trip in a diesel-powered car, the average price was $1.004/litre. The tiny car must have looked way out of place among those big Kenworths and Peterbilts at the Trans-Canada Highway truck stops, but more than likely, it overtook a few of them on the long passes.

Driver Desjardins was surprised at how well the diminutive car handled the lengthy trip, proving, perhaps, that it’s not just fancy GT models that can handle long jaunts like this. “The trip has proven that a small car can actually be a pleasure to drive over long distances,” he said. Fuel costs for the entire trip were slightly less than the $300 target – an amazingly modest sum. Said editor Duquet: “There is now proof that small and economical cars can find a place in plans for a transcontinental trek. The Smart is not an object of curiosity, but rather a well-conceived vehicle capable of transporting its occupants in surprising comfort…the results should make us reflect.”

2005 Smart Fortwo
Click image to enlarge

Of course, there are several models on the market which could give a good account of themselves on a trek like this – even if they couldn’t get that close to the Smart’s blockbuster economy figures. And not even the most passionate Smart fan could describe the vehicle as a load-hauler, so anyone planning to drive one across the country should be a good hand at packing light.

Hopefully, the Guide de l’Auto expedition might prompt other drivers – journalists or otherwise – to try something similar with alternative vehicles. For example, how about an economy run with a Ford Escape Hybrid or Toyota Highlander hybrid to prove once and for all that SUVs aren’t all “gas guzzlers.”

There’s a detailed account of the cross-country Smart trip at www.thesmart.ca and this could be helpful to anyone planning a long road journey – whether at the wheel of a Smart or some other vehicle.

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