The small car is king. Truly, in this time of gas price roller coaster rides, environmental activism and economic uncertainty, people who can make the switch to small and efficient vehicles are doing so, and in droves. This is especially the case when you see and drive the thoroughly new 2009 Honda Fit: there's little by way of sacrifice if you choose Honda's smallest car, from its innovative and upgraded interior to its fun-to-drive character and efficient bottom line. Simply put, the Honda Fit fits what many people actually need from their cars.
Of course, Honda sees what's going on, and is aggressively trying to stay one step ahead of an ever-growing crowd of competitors like the Nissan Versa, Scion xD and more. To that end, they've kept the Fit fresh, giving it a redo just two years after its debut in North America as a 2007 model.
Changes for 2009 include a new, more upscale and driver-friendly exterior design and an improved interior with better materials and seats.
About those seats. When it debuted for the 2007 model year, the Fit immediately become known for its amazingly configurable interior. Called the magic seat, because of the multitude of ways in which the second row could be folded, this feature remains largely unchanged for the 2009 model year, the only difference being the deletion of the “refresh” mode as one of the possible configurations, and the addition of a secret compartment at the seat bottom.
Other improvements for 2009 include better performance and slightly more power on the road. Honda's new 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine gives the Fit slightly more horsepower and torque, while upgrades to chassis and suspension components improve the overall ride and handling experience. Of course, larger standard wheels have a little to do with that, as well, but overall the Fit is sized just right for today's fun-minded, economy-required consumer.
The Fit is fuel efficient, earning an EPA-estimated 27/33 mpg City/Highway. The 1.5-liter engine delivers 117-horsepower at 6600 rpm and 106 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm.
Though the Fit has always been considered modern, few people considered the outgoing 2008 model stylish. That changes with the 2009 Honda Fit, thanks to a new style that's functional and attractive, with sharply styled headlights, larger front quarter windows and a more aerodynamic front design.
The improved look makes the Fit arguably the most appealing small car in its class, avoiding some of the quirks found on competitors such as the Scion xD while improving the practical nature of the car, ala more visibility. Additional design changes for 2009 include a wider stance, more aggressive fender flares and sharper character lines along the side.
Since it debuted in 2007, what's inside the Fit has been perhaps its most talked about feature, in good and bad ways. Case in point: while the seats configure into a multitude of handy ways, the quality of the materials left many wanting.
For the 2009 model year, Honda has improved critical elements of the interior while leaving the awesome utility of the little car mostly intact. For example, the Fit gets new front seats and sits taller and wider, providing slightly more room for passengers.
The materials feel more ample and durable, and the center stack layout is among the easiest, most intuitively placed schemes we've seen in some time. The large knobs that control the environment and settings curve around the stereo controls on the driver's side, making the design stylish and easy to reach, though the plastic controls felt a bit thin to the touch.
Another high point of the new interior are the in-dash cupholders and split glovebox, though both upper and lower boxes are too small to be of much use. Even with all these changes, the best thing about the Fit hasn't changed much: magic seats. No, they won't transport you like George Jetson or Aladdin, but Honda's magic seats do move in a number of ways, from folding flat for utility and up for tall objects. There's even a small storage compartment under the seats for small items.
Space inside the cabin ranges is almost-spacious in front and adequate in back, especially for a car this size. Surprisingly, the 2009 Fit offers slightly more cargo volume than even the spacious Nissan Versa.
Comfort-wise, the Fit feels large inside, thanks to its expansive green house and new seats. Visibility from the driver's seat is excellent. The side mirrors are 30 percent larger than those on the outgoing model. The most noticeable difference is up front, where a broader front windshield and close-up seating improve sightlines and feel for the road. Slender roof pillars front and rear minimize blind spots and create a more airy feel to the cabin.
The Fit is fun to drive. For everyday driving it's an obedient and comfortable conveyance, thanks to new seats and suspension changes that smoothed out the previous model's ride.
While the Fit's power supply is modest, we found driving a model with either the manual transmission or automatic with paddle shifters upped the fun meter by allowing drivers to dip down into the vehicle's torque band when needed.
Fit delivers an EPA-estimated 27/30 miles per gallon City/Highway, so it's a nice fit between fun-to-drive and frugality.
Case in point: on twisty corners, the Fit is much more fun, and almost as efficient as the Scion xD or Nissan Versa. Most of the time, the rear of the car nicely follows the front, even under aggressive duress, and with a new electric steering set up that's improved, but still lacks touch, the Fit communicates its intent clearly, if not with authority. We found the Fit to be quite tossable, the kind of car that's easy and predictable under spirited driving, without much wallow or ungainly lean in the corners.
We found that the clutch and throw play on the manual transmission was easy to manipulate and quite fun to operate.
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of driving the Fit is the noise: the engine squeals when you hammer the throttle, whining and moaning its displeasure even during normal driving situations, like accelerating from a stop light. You get a more muted response from the competition.
The Honda Fit offers a compelling balance of economy, fun, interior convenience and comfort. It offers 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. Drawbacks include a noisy and thrashy ride, slightly numb steering and a small (split) glovebox.
Brian Chee filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Honda Fit models in Southern California.