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My late brother-in-law, William McDonald Reed Jr., once lectured me on the Theory of Farm Life as Related to Highway Driving. His talk was occasioned by my hubris. I had driven to his home in Arlington, Tex., in a Hummer H1, the biggest Hummer available when Bill was fighting pancreatic cancer nine years ago.

I thought he would be impressed. Bill was a truck-loving Texan, as were all of the Reed men and women. But he smiled wryly and shook his head when I rolled into his driveway in the H1.

“Damn it, boy, you don’t know nothin’ ’bout farms, do you?”

Say, what?

“Farms,” Bill said. “On farms, you got your chickens, your cows, your horses. If you’re a chicken, you stay the hell out of the way of the cows and horses. You think you’re bad runnin’ ’round in that Hummer? I just hope you’re smart enough to know there’s always something bigger and badder. To an 18-wheeler, you ain’t nothin’ but a chicken.”

I recalled Bill’s wisdom while doing what many of you might consider a very unwise thing. I am a longtime advocate of the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz-sponsored Smart Fortwo micro-car in the United States, which, thankfully, has now gone on sale in this country.

I’d seen the little Fortwo cars running all over Europe, especially in Italy, where narrow streets, scarce legal parking and very high fuel prices have made their numbers legion. Smarts are city cars. But I’ve also seen them moving along Germany’s Autobahn (in the right lane, of course) and Italy’s Autostrada (in the same lane). I was so convinced of their safety, with their remarkably strong, patented Tridion roll-cage cell construction, I vowed to one day drive a Smart across the United States.

I bugged the Mercedes-Benz people about doing this. They initially laughed, reminding me that Smarts are built expressly for urban commuting. But they later relented, thinking it might be a fun thing to do. They put together a cross-country jaunt, replete with safety crews and backup vehicles, running from Los Angeles to Detroit following (as much as possible) old U.S. Route 66.

I joined the cross-country drive group — mostly Italian and German automotive journalists — in Amarillo, Tex. My Smart Fortwo of choice was one not yet on sale in the United States, the Fortwo Passion with Micro Hybrid Drive.

It is a tiny car, nearly three feet shorter than the Mini Cooper my wife, Mary Anne, drives at home when she can’t get her hands on a truck. It weighs 1,660 pounds (tested Micro Hybrid Drive version). It can carry two people, two crushable overnight bags and two laptops. With its one-liter, gasoline-powered, three-cylinder engine assisted by a belt-driven starter/generator, it can crank out 71 horsepower and 68 foot-pounds of torque and hustle up to 90 mph on the highway . . . eventually.

Warning: Don’t drive that fast in a Smart, especially not on moribund roads such as Route 66, and definitely not on wind-swept, multi-lane highways such as Interstate 40, whose construction rendered Route 66 obsolete. Steering the lightweight, tall-bodied Smart under those conditions is akin to steering a kite. The Theory of Farm Life as Related to Highway Driving applies: You are a chicken. Stay out of the way of the stampeding bulls and horses. Make peace with the right lane.

If you understand that, you’ll love the virtuous little Smart, which gets about 44 miles per gallon in the regular gasoline version (under the tougher 2008 Environmental Protection Agency mileage rating system) and which, so far on this drive — scheduled to end in Detroit this weekend on cue with the opening of media days for the North American International Auto Show — has been getting nearly 55 mpg on the highway.

The tested Smart Fortwo Passion MHD is a neat little car, highly maneuverable, which means it’s adept at scooting out of the way of larger vehicles, which it must do frequently on expressways.

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