Thin-slicing, windows on the world, and driving smart

I am coming up on the two month anniversary of driving my smart car. Should celebrate the occasion, like a junior high school romance.

What seems strange to my Friends That Drive BIG Cars (FTDBC) is that, I have to say, that this is one of the best cars I have ever owned. Come on, are you kidding? Nope.

Most of us have (or have owned) other cars. It's funny reading the forums. We have them and we feel a little guilty insuring, but not driving them. Know what I mean?

Okay, I loved my BMX 325e (1984). It was great ride. Sun roof back. Driving home from LA on PCH. This was the life.

The Subaru Outbacks have been similarly well-made cars. The AWD definitely made me feel in control and safe, especially on one of those made-from-hell snow-driving-days in Upstate NY.

VW. Good. Mercedes E320. Honestly, not so good. Shows you that you can spend a hunk and be disappointed. And, I was. Soft, spongy ride. Uncomfortable driving position over long hauls.

Not in this Mercedes, however. There are so many things about this car that I love. I experienced them instantly in the test drive.

You know how you just know. You can't explain the feeling. The gut instinct. Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Blink, terms it thin-slicing.

That's the sensation I had about smart. Was it the amalgamation of driving experiences ... VW, BMW, Subaru models for 30 years? I don't know.

The funny part is I started thin-slicing when the smart car was first announced as US-market bound. I remember being disappointed that it was going to take two years to arrive, in a world that moves in nanoseconds. When I saw the Da Vinci Code, the car chase scenes were tragically brief.

So, when Parade Magazine announced that company was signing up prospective customers and taking $99 deposits, I filed my order that day.

What surprised me, and sold me, on the test drive was the cabin. Cavernous may be over-the-top, but that's what it felt like. Perhaps it is the contrast between your initial impression, TINY!!!, and your seated one.

There was an amazing restaurant in the World Trade Towers, North Tower, called Windows on the World. What a place this was. In retrospect, an honor to have been seated there in the early 80s. But, honestly, for me, that was the sense I had sitting in the front seat of the Passion ForTwo.

Yeah, I know that there are blind spots to be aware of, but you feel like you can see everything. All of your attention is focussed on the windows on the world, not the corridor behind you. That's vital to safe driving.

Too often, our vision strays to the rear and what we cannot control. You could say that this is metaphoric for driving smart. Staying present. Looking ahead.

I like driving. Scratch that. I love it.

Driving the smart is real driving. Again.

We've been making cars for the last two decades that are nothing more than vibrating lounge chairs, equipped with remote controls, that can jump to 60 mph in a flash. The newer ones might even save on gas.

But, you are not driving.

You are sitting in your living room, watching TV, texting on your cell phone, and you can't remember the road you just travelled.

Not in the smart. It's impossible. Aside from the possibility that you are aware that fellow road warriors are pointing, smiling, laughing, gawking, maybe mocking, you are having a driving experience every single time you go for a spin. The forgotten Sunday Drive is back.

Some experiences you just cannot adequately describe. I can't. I just know that if a person needs a ride, I will take them.

And, my other favorite things. Unlock the car with the high tech key. Open a real car door. Turn it on, in between the seats. Click the seat warmer. Connect the ipod. Roll back the sun screen. Decide which manual mode I will use on this special trip. Get ready for fun.

And, when I arrive. I like going through the motions, like a commercial airline pilot, of deliberately turning everything off, and then the key. Pausing for a moment to reflect. Exiting, closing a real car door, and flicking the key's lock, lighting my way home.

Yep. It's been two months. Driven my smart every single day, almost. Fill it once a week. Consistent 40 mpg around town. Have re-confirmed my first instinct, thin-slicing, many times, on a touch of the wheel.

I am not a smart salesman. I just like to drive. I'll bet you do too.

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Comment by Wally Gullang on March 26, 2009 at 2:12pm
Great Corey. I can hardly wait for mine to get here. At 67 I still love to drive. I am retired from a major airline and can fly free but I still love to drive. In fact we just returned to Northern Illinois after driving to Disney World and back via the Smokie Mountains. Just over 2800 miles, Great Drive
Comment by Frances & Jack Whitaker on March 26, 2009 at 1:08pm
Bravo!!!!!!! Cory. You took the words right out of my mouth. Just a great article.



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