If there’s one single area where Honda shows the rest of the industry how it should be done, it’s packaging, and the Fit is Honda’s packaging poster child. Introduced for the 2001 model year, the Fit is regularly compared to the tents from the Harry Potter movies, tiny on the outside, impossibly roomy within.
The 2015 Honda Fit is nominally the third generation, but really the first total makeover of Honda’s smallest U.S. vehicle. And as makeovers go, this goes further than most: new unibody, new interior, new engine, new transmissions, new styling, safety upgrades, improved fuel economy ratings. Essentially there is no carry over from the previous Fit.
Like previous generations, and like its entire competitive class, the latest Fit is a front-drive subcompact. Unlike some competitors, it’s offered only as a five-door hatchback.
The 2015 Fit wheelbase has been stretched, from the previous 98.4 to the current 99.6 inches, but overall length has actually diminished, from 161.6 to 160 inches. Width expands slightly, from 66.7 to 67 inches, and height is unchanged at 60 inches. While there has been some reapportioning of interior volume, the overall impression is unchanged: how did they pack this much space into such diminutive exterior dimensions? Particularly in the rear seat area. Once again, Honda seems to be defying physical laws.
Structurally, the new car benefits from expanded use of high-strength steel, reducing chassis weight and increasing its rigidity. Torsional rigidity is up by 15 percent, according to Honda, and shows to advantage in the Fit’s eager handling traits.
Overall, the new car has gained a bit at the scales, less than 20 pounds when comparing base model to base model, a little more in others. This is due largely to added standard feature content and noise reduction measures. But the slight weight gain, which varies depending on trim level, is offset by a substantial increase in engine output.
The displacement of the Fit’s four-cylinder engine is unchanged at 1.5 liters, but this is a new DOHC 1.5-liter, with Honda’s iVTEC variable valve timing and lift system, direct fuel injection, more power, and improved fuel economy numbers. The Fit’s previous 1.5 was a single overhead cam design with port injection, rated 117 horsepower at 6600 rpm and 106 pound-feet of torque at 4800, and was EPA rated for 27/33 mpg City/Highway when paired with the then-standard 5-speed manual transmission.
The new engine produces 130 hp at 6600 rpm, 114 lb-ft at 4600, and is EPA rated for 29/37 mpg paired with the new 6-speed manual. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) replaces the previous 5-speed automatic, and is the only automatic option offered with the new car. In most trim levels the CVT-equipped Fit is rated 32/38 mpg, though in the basic LX it cracks the magic 40-mpg frontier at 33/41.
Like many contemporary CVTs, the Fit’s new automatic is programmed for simulated steps controlled by paddles shifters, to mimic the up- and downshifts of a conventional automatic. This mitigates the occasional slipping clutch effect that still plagues CVTs, but the new manual gearbox is distinctly more entertaining to employ.
Previous Fits have never been much of a threat in auto beauty contests, but the latest edition looks a little less utilitarian and a little more like a small scale street fighter.
Then there’s that amazingly spacious interior. The change will be instantly apparent to anyone who climbs into the back seat, where the design team has exploited the wheelbase stretch to increase rear seat legroom by a mind-boggling 4.8 inches. Previous Fits stood out for exceptionally voluminous rear seat space, as measured against other subcompacts and compacts. With 39.3 inches of rear legroom, the new Fit is roomier than a good many mid-size sedans.
The Honda Fit had some catching up to do in terms of safety ratings, and this appears to have taken place. An early-production 2015 Honda Fit was originally tested in March 2014 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and earned a Good rating in four out of five IIHS crash test modes but a Marginal score in the challenging small overlap frontal crash test. Honda made a running change to the bumper structure, the Fit was re-tested and earned an Acceptable score in the small overlap frontal crash test, which earned a top rating of Good from the IIHS. Early-production 2015 Fit models without the change can be retrofitted with the update. Honda says no vehicle in its class has received a higher rating from the IIHS than the Fit, which has been named a Top Safety Pick by the insurance industry organization.
Although it's actually slightly smaller than the previous model, the 2015 Fit looks more substantial, due in part to its slightly longer wheelbase and in larger part to a higher beltline. That beltline is accentuated by a strong crease rising from the front wheel wells to the top of the rear fender, and a hint of fender flare suggests a little more muscularity, particularly with the 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels that go with the EX and EX-L trim levels. A small spoiler set above the rear hatch lends a sporty touch.
The front end doesn't look vastly different, although it's been completely resculpted, with headlamp lenses stretched horizontally and covering halogen lights. And the longer wheelbase and diminished overall length conspire to reduce front overhang, and that, plus the sleek, wedgy profile, also contributes to a sporty persona.
The 2015 Honda Fit benefits from upgraded materials, soft touch surfaces, and enhanced telematics. Controls and instruments are typical of Honda, attractive, simple, and intuitive. No need to dig out the owner's manual to figure out how to change radio stations.
The biggest news inside for 2015 is the adult-size second-row seating, big-adult size seating. Here's a five-passenger subcompact that's actually capable of accommodating five passengers and is very comfortable for four. Honda achieved this in part by a redesign of the fuel tank, which rides amidships, beneath the floor. The new tank looks like a misshapen potato, but helped the design team gain space.
The designers also reapportioned interior volume, paring a little from the rear cargo area, which shrinks by 4.0 cubic feet to 16.6, and devoting it to the second row passengers. If that sounds a bit severe in terms of diminished capacity, note that 16.6 cubic feet is bigger than a good many mid-size sedan trunks, and that the Fit's passenger volume and total cargo volume are best in class. Exploiting that 53 cubic feet of total cargo volume is easily achieved by pulling one lever, whereupon the rear seatbacks fold down to create a flat load floor, replete with cargo tie-downs in higher trim levels.
Although we continue to prefer sedans in this country, hatchbacks are far more versatile, and in this class the Fit is the versatility champ.
Honda Fit's all-around usefulness, wedgy good looks, and fuel economy are at or near the top of the subcompact charts, but its most compelling attribute is its athletic soul. The previous generation was best-in-class in terms of quick responses, and the new Fit raises the agility index. It's quick on its feet, handling rapid transitions without a hint of hesitation, keeping body roll to a minimum by the standards of this class.
The new electric power rack-and-pinion steering system could be better in terms of tactile information, but it's sports car quick at 2.5 turns lock-to-lock, and accurate once the driver has logged some seat time on a winding back road. We experienced a fair amount of this on mountain highways east of San Diego during the Fit's press preview program, and emerged with a very positive impression of this car's dynamic credentials, including ride quality and its disc/drum braking system.
We were also impressed by the performance of the new 1.5-liter engine. A gain of 13 horsepower (versus the previous 1.5-liter) may not sound like much, but it represents an 11-percent increase, and adds tangible urgency to the Fit's green light getaways, as well as its passing power on two-lane highways.
As noted, the Fit's new (and only) automatic option is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Honda continues to improve the operation of this transmission type, reducing those occasions when the engine and gearbox seem to be out of sync, although the phenomenon persists when the driver tramps hard on the throttle from a stop or at low speeds. Using the CVT's paddle shifters activates steps in the system's program, simulating actual shifts, and the Fit's best EPA fuel economy numbers are achieved with this transmission.
However, for drivers who really enjoy driving, the new 6-speed manual is the way to go. It replaces the previous 5-speed, and is typical of Honda manuals: short throws, crisp engagements, enhancing the sense of partnership between driver and machine.
Two caveats to the foregoing. One, Honda limits the manual transmission to the Fit's lower trim levels, LX and EX, which means if you want to shift for yourself you won't be sitting on leather and you can't have a navigation system.
Two, while the availability of six speeds allows the driver to keep the engine in its powerband sweet spot, for some reason Honda chose not to change the final drive ratio. In other words, in sixth gear the new Fit is turning the same rpm as the previous Fit in fifth. As a result, the engine is pulling a lot of rpm at freeway cruising speeds, well over 3000 at 70 mph.
The interior of the new Fit is quieter than its predecessor, but even so 3600 rpm at 75 mph gets a little buzzy.
On the other hand, we achieved over 40 mpg with the 6-speed manual during our driving, and would readily trade the leather and navigation options for the engagement that goes with the manual transmission. Garmin anyone?
As more and more luxury options trickle down to the small car sector, subcompacts become more and more plausible as all-around transportation, rather than cheap-as-possible commutermobiles. The new Honda Fit is an outstanding example of this phenomenon, eminently affordable, inexpensive to operate, well equipped, amazingly roomy, versatile, and exceptionally fun to drive. The new Fit takes up where its predecessor left off, at the head of the subcompact pack.
Tony Swan filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of Honda Fit models in the mountains east of San Diego.