The Honda Fit is the most enjoyable to drive of the subcompacts. It's also practical, economical, and roomy. The Fit was redesigned for 2009, just two years after its introduction. There were no changes last year, but the 2011 Fit adds electronic stability control, cruise control, remote entry, and USB interface to its list of standard equipment.
We found the 1.5-liter engine very 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. Most other subcompacts have 4-speed automatics. 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 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. However, if purchase price is the prime consideration, then you should carefully compare prices, features and equipment with Versa, Yaris, Fiesta, and Mazda2.
The Honda Fit wears the face of the future, with its wedge-shaped front end. People ask if it's a hybrid or electric car, because it looks like it should be, so small and aerodynamic. It has a presence that reaches beyond its subcompact status. 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 almost make it look too low, and make the 15-inch wheels look small. The ground clearance is zilch.
From head-on, all the angles are directed inward. The headlamps have sharp inside points like exotic eyes, beginning just under the upper sharp corners of the tidy classy grille, and the horizontal air intake below the bumper stretches outward at the bottom corners, to balance the grille.
Honda calls Fit a five-door, and not a hatchback, probably because Americans don't like the idea of hatchbacks. From the front 3/4 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, looks more like a tiny wagon than a 5-door. It has a wide low stance, slight fender flares and sharp character lines along the sides. Also in the class are the Scion xD and Kia Soul, whose boxiness is another way to have fun. From the rear, the liftgate is like 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.
The first thing you notice when you climb in a Fit is how much room there is inside. It 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.
The standard black cloth seats are wonderful. It's 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.
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 still 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, 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.
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. Our 2011 test model was a Sport with Navigation, and we found it easy to set a destination, the guidance accurate, including turn-by-turn information. If only radio, at least in the Sport with Navigation, were as easy to tune as climate control.
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.
The instrumentation is 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.
Legroom in the rear is good, at 34.5 inches. Compare that to the Toyota Yaris, 33.8 inches; Mazda2, 33.0 inches; and Ford Fiesta, 31.2 inches. None of these are anywhere near the Nissan Versa's 38.0 inches, but then the Versa 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 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, even some uphill stretches, and the transmission shifted back and forth between 5th and 4th, and on steeper hills it even 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.
Most other subcompacts only have 4-speed automatic transmissions, so it's big advantage Honda, right here. Plus, there's 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.
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 too. We started the trip at 25.8 mpg from city driving, and it climbed to 30.5 mpg after 229 miles, despite our sometimes pushing it to 80 mpg on the 70-mph freeway. The manual transmission Fit and Fit Sport with the automatic get 27/33 city/highway miles per gallon, but the base automatic manages an even better 28/35 mpg.
The Fit is nimble around town, making driving fun and relaxed. Even up at 80 mph, the handling is quick, more precise than a Toyota Yaris, although the Mazda2 and Ford Fiesta are good, too. We'd love to see a racing series with those 4 cars; might as well throw in the Fiat 500.
There's a lovely firm feel to the brakes, too.
For everyday driving the Fit is obedient and comfortable, thanks to last the great seats and suspension that smoothes out the ride.
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 Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.