The Honda Fit is practical, economical, and roomy, and it remains the most enjoyable to drive of the subcompacts.
All Honda Fit models benefit from improved sound insulation for 2012. Also, the 2012 Honda Fit Sport model is distinguished by some new styling revisions and comes with more standard features. Otherwise, the Fit is unchanged from 2011.
We found the 1.5-liter engine smooth and powerful for an engine that small. It's rated at 117 horsepower at a high-revving 6600 rpm, with 106 foot-pounds of torque at 4800 rpm. There's never an issue with not enough torque, that force that propels you from intersections and up hills.
Mated to the 5-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, it's an exceptional powertrain. The Honda automatic has a Sport mode that holds the transmission in gears longer when you're in Drive, and not using the paddles for manual shifting. This Sport mode is meant for sports car-like driving, which the Fit likes. And the 5-speed manual gearbox is tight and fun, with a clutch that's easy to use.
Fuel mileage is rated at 27/33 mpg City/Highway, or 28/35 mpg for the base Fit with the 5-speed automatic.
The Fit wears the face of the future, with its wedge-shaped front end. It has a presence that reaches beyond its subcompact status.
Underway, the Fit feels like a bigger car to the driver, partly because the dashboard is long, to accommodate the raked windshield, and partly because there's so much legroom in the front, again thanks to that rake. Thanks to the expansive greenhouse and big mirrors, there's excellent visibility in all directions, including out the vertical and unobstructed rear glass.
The Fit's size is just right for many drivers. It's easy to park and maneuver and inside is an amazingly configurable interior. The second row of seats can be folded and flattened for carrying cargo, and the front passenger seat slides way forward and reclines way back, creating a long space from dashboard to liftgate that can hold a kayak.
The standard black cloth seats are wonderful, upholstered in a smooth comfortable material that's pleasing to the touch, and the bolstering is just right, with excellent cornering support. In fact, the seats would work in a sports car. Lots of cubbies and cupholders make everyday driving convenient. Rear legroom is roomier than that of the Toyota Yaris, Mazda2, and Ford Fiesta.
The Fit is relatively expensive among subcompacts. It's the best driver's car among these, so if you're a driving enthusiast, the Fit is the best choice. All models come with Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA). However, if purchase price is more important, then you should carefully compare prices, features and equipment with the Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa, and Toyota Yaris.
Honda Fit ($15,175); Honda Fit Sport ($16,910); Honda Fit Sport Navi ($19,540)
With its wedge-shaped front end, the Honda Fit has a presence that reaches beyond its subcompact status. People wonder whether it's a hybrid or electric car, because it looks like it should be, so small and aerodynamic. It wears red well, especially eye-catching and sporty in that color.
There's very little nose. What there is drops steeply from the A-pillars, which are raked radically down from the roof, hitting the fenders above the middle of the front tires. The roof has a very subtle arc, back to the small spoiler over the rear window on the Sport model, and again the lines speak a graceful language. The window outline is like an elongated horizontal teardrop.
The sides are a bit blocky, and the rear a lot blocky. Sills on the Sport make it look almost too low, and make the 16-inch wheels look small. The ground clearance is zilch, something to keep in mind over sharp driveway transitions and in snow.
Viewed head-on, all the angles are directed inward. The headlights have sharp inside points like exotic eyes, beginning just under the upper sharp corners of the tidy classy grille; on Sport models the horizontal air intake below the bumper stretches outward at the bottom corners, to balance the grille.
On 2012 Fit Sport models the new black-bezeled headlights now integrate with a wider, coarser-textured grille to form a single visual unit, and the side pods flanking the lower air opening seem to contain more grille and less foglight. Although it's a matter of taste, of course, we like the new Sport face even better. It certainly lends the Sport more visual distinction vs. the base model.
Honda calls the Fit a five-door, and not a hatchback. While Europeans love them, Americans don't like the idea of hatchbacks.
From the front three-quarter view, the Fit is more striking than the Ford Fiesta, Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris because of the sharpness of the nose and the mini-wagon body shape. It doesn't have their roundness, and looks more like a tiny wagon than a five-door. It has a wide low stance, slight fender flares and sharp character lines along the sides. Also competing in this class are the Scion xD and Kia Soul, boxy, tall subcompacts.
From the rear, the Fit's liftgate is like that of a mini SUV.
The chassis structure, called ACE (Advanced Compatibility Engineering), is designed to enhance crash integrity. The frame rails are polygon-shaped and computer designed to disperse the forces of crash impact all around the car, upward and downward, instead of allowing them to be jammed at the occupants. The bowed crossmember under the dashboard plays a role. The bumper and sheetmetal forward of the windshield are built to bend and absorb, reducing damage to things you might hit, namely pedestrians.
Compact outside, the Honda Fit is roomy inside. From the driver's seat, it feels like a bigger car than it is. That's due partly to space efficiency, partly to the raked windshield and deep dashboard, partly to the acres of legroom.
The black cloth seats that come standard are wonderful. It's a smooth comfortable material that's pleasing to the touch, and the bolstering is just right, with excellent cornering support. They'd work in a sports car.
Thanks to the expansive greenhouse and big mirrors, there's excellent visibility in all directions, including out the vertical and unobstructed rear glass. But especially through the large windshield. With so little distance between the bottom of the A-pillar and the front bumper, and with that sloped nose, the driver can't see the front corners of the car, but bumping into things is unlikely because the distance to them is so short.
The A-pillar was made especially thin, and those triangular windows just behind the A pillar are as big as possible, largely for driving in Japan, with all its tight spaces and pedestrian crosswalks. But that big windshield is nice here in America, too. We drove one long afternoon for about 200 interstate miles in the rain and drizzle, and with strong wipers and that big windshield, our broad visibility made us more relaxed and safer. Many cars today have thick A-pillars that can block the driver's view of pedestrians and, at times, cars. Not the case here. Those triangular windows are made from thicker glass on 2012 Fit models to help keep noise out of the cabin. For 2012, sound insulation has been added to the floor, front fenders, and A-pillars.
The little things have been well thought out, including molding cubby holes into the plastic at almost every opportunity, from thin slots about the size of a deck of cards, located behind the e-brake lever between the seats; to cupholders on the far left and right of the dashboard. There are also two cupholders forward of the shift lever on the floor, and two more for the rear seat passengers. And two gloveboxes, enabling cleaner organization.
There are comfortable usable armrests on the front doors for the driver and passenger, and flip-up armrests between the front seats. The center stack offers three big foolproof knobs for climate control; it doesn't get any simpler than that and it's a relief.
The plastic and trim materials feel like they belong on a $15,000 car, where they are. However the perforated leather steering wheel in the Sport feels like it belongs on a $19,000 car, where it is. Its controls include audio, cruise and voice command. The paddles for the automatic transmission fit the fingers very nicely, no bigger than necessary, something you can't say about a lot of high-performance cars that have them.
Honda has added a dash of class to the 2012 Sport, replacing last year's two-tone black-and-gray controls with a single, dark-metallic scheme highlghted by chrome rings around the instruments. The instrumentation itself remains basic, with a digital display between in the center of the speedometer that shows odometer, trip odo, average mpg, and oil life. Unfortunately, the range, or DTE (distance to empty), is not included, and for the life of us, we can't imagine why. A Honda rep told us that oil life is a priority to Honda (if not so much owners), because there are so many Fits in rental car fleets, it's about mass maintenance.
The optional satellite-linked navigation system has also been redesigned for 2012. It now features 16GB of flash memory in place of the DVD-based system used previously. Honda promises simple, intuitive operation and an extensive on-board database.
Legroom in the rear is good, at 34.5 inches. Compare that to the all-new Toyota Yaris, 33.3 inches; Mazda2, 33.0 inches; and Ford Fiesta, 31.2 inches. None of these are anywhere near the Nissan Versa hatchback's 38.0 inches, but then the Versa hatch is 7.5 inches longer than the Fit. It's in the same price range, but it's a compact car, not a subcompact.
The Fit beats the Versa hatchback in overall cargo volume, however. With the rear seats folded, the Fit offers a humongous 57.8 cubic feet, to Versa's 50.4 cubic feet, with the other hatchback subcompacts far behind.
This big number comes thanks to the best thing about the Fit's interior, Honda's Magic Seats. They move in a number of ways, from folding flat for utility to flipping up for tall objects. There's even a storage compartment under the seats for small items.
The 1.5-liter engine is very smooth and powerful, for an engine that small. It's rated at 117 horsepower at a high-revving 6600 rpm.
Mated to the 5-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, it's an exceptional powertrain. And the 5-speed manual gearbox is tight and fun, with a clutch that's easy to use.
We drove into a heavy headwind with the cruise control set at 72 mph in a Honda Fit automatic. On uphill stretches, the transmission shifted back and forth between 5th and 4th, and on steeper hills it kicked down to 3rd, but the shifts could not be felt, or even heard with the radio tuned to the news. We watched the tach jump, from 2600 rpm in 5th to 3100 in 4th to 4000 in 3rd, but never felt or heard the shifts. That's smooth. The automatic has a Sport mode that holds the transmission in gears longer when you're in Drive. This sport mode is meant for sports car-like driving, which the Fit likes. The driver can shift manually using paddles.
However that headwind caused the Fit to dance around on the road a lot, because it is so light, even though the aerodynamics are good.
The gas mileage was good at that pace. We started the trip at 25.8 mpg from city driving, and it climbed to 30.5 mpg after 229 miles, despite sometimes pushing to 80 mph. The manual transmission Fit and Fit Sport with the automatic get an EPA-estimated 27/33 City/Highway miles per gallon, while the base Fit automatic manages an even better 28/35 mpg.
The Fit is nimble around town, making driving fun and relaxed. The handling is quick, more precise than that of a Toyota Yaris, although the Mazda2 and Ford Fiesta are good, too. We'd love to see a racing series with those four cars; might as well throw in the Fiat 500, though it would be tail-end Charlie.
For everyday driving the Fit is obedient and comfortable, thanks to the great seats and a suspension that smoothes the ride. There's a lovely firm feel to the brakes, too.
The Honda Fit offers a compelling balance of economy, fun, interior convenience and comfort. It delivers engineering excellence and value. From a healthy list of standard safety equipment to multiple seat configurations and ample storage room, the Fit simplifies your life. It's relatively pricey among subcompacts but it's more fun to drive and the interior is nicely designed and well thought out.
Sam Moses reported from Portland, with NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles, and John F. Katz in south-central Pennsylvania.