The Honda Fit is already a small icon, in the second year of its third generation. Its redesign for 2015 stole much of the originality of the styling, and some of the car’s character, while gaining cabin room in the small footprint. The latest Fit is not as much fun to toss around, and its continuously variable transmission is sometimes a drag, but it there’s more horsepower, torque, and miles per gallon.
The wheelbase is 1.2 inches longer while the length is 1.6 inches shorter. But this efficient package has lost cargo capacity, from 57.3 to 52.7 cubic feet, possibly from the rear seat being pushed back to gain legroom from 34.5 to 39.3 inches.
The Honda Fit is a winner in flexibility, fuel mileage and safety for small five-door hatchbacks, among them the Chevrolet Sonic, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris.
The Fit uses a 1.5-liter engine with direct injection that makes 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. A sweet 6-speed manual gearbox is standard, replacing the former 5-speed, but most Fits will have the CVT that can (and often needs to be) shifted manually, using paddles that trigger seven speeds.
With the CVT, the Fit is EPA-rated at 33/41 mpg City/Highway mpg. In 430 miles, about 360 of them at 74 mph, our Fit averaged 34.9 mpg.
The 2016 Fit gets 5 stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The Honda Fit has gone mainstream with styling and tries too hard to be edgy. It still looks cute in red, but silver makes the Fit look like a corrugated tin roof in the sun. It doesn’t draw eyes, it makes people shield them. The previous grille, black eggcrate in a tidy wing, has been replaced with a mouthful of licorice chewing a chrome H. Now it looks more like other Hondas, mission accomplished.
Some people think it’s better looking because it’s crisper and there are more aerodynamic lines, but we think it’s more cluttered than crisp. Either way, the Fit is wedgiest of all, from the steep short nose to the steep high beltline.
There’s a new and distracting deep groove that starts from the unfortunately edged front fender, arcs in contradiction to a wedge, and zooms upward through the door handles to the enlarged taillights. Being shorter and with a wider stance in profile, on its longer wheelbase with bigger wheels and tires, it should look more muscular, but the groove blows it.
Bigger glass makes it adult and capable. Use your wild imagination and it looks almost like a Volvo from behind. Except for the chrome.
Honda calls its rear seat Magic. The split seat folds flat with one drop, and also clicks into other positions called Tall and the futon-like Refresh. The rear legroom of 39.3 inches blows the competition out of the water, and even beats many much larger cars.
The front passenger seatback reclines to the horizontal position, for sleeping at a rest stop or for carrying everything from a kayak to a stack of two-by-fours. And that is kind of magic, for a car this small.
The latest 1.5-liter engine is direct injected, and makes 130 horsepower compared to 117 before, with 114 pound-feet of torque vs 106. It saves weight in the crankshaft and intake manifold.
The manual transmission gains a sixth gear; it’s more fun and more work than the CVT. The desirable 6-speed gearbox is standard equipment but less common than the CVT.
Acceleration is smooth and good at mid-range, when you’re on the freeway going 60 and want to go 70, but when you floor it at slower speeds, the CVT struggles to find the torque and get the car going. The engine’s peak torque is way up there at 4600 rpm. The engine is also loud in the cabin at those hard-throttle low-speed times, heard emanating from the firewall area.
There’s a tremendous amount of tire noise in the cabin, on grainy freeway pavement. So much you can’t have a conversation. The suspension is too stiff on freeway bumps. Despite its 35 miles per gallon at 75 mph, and its room for bags and gear, we worry about the Fit EX-L’s road-trip worthiness, with its hard seats, stiff suspension, cabin noise and frustrating radio tuning.
But the main thing is, when you think about it, we’re talking about a 1.5-liter engine that can fly in the fast lane without working too hard.
Shifting the 6-speed manual transmission is short and tight, smooth and precise; and the clutch release is effortless. When most cars go from a 5-speed to 6-speed transmission, usually it’s just a sixth gear added on top, another overdrive for fuel mileage. But the Fit’s new sixth gear has about the same ratio as the old fifth gear, meaning that the six gears are spaced closer. The engine likes that.
The CVT has seven steps, or speeds, actuated by paddles. When you use them full time in Sport mode (set at the floor lever), it can be great, almost like a manual transmission with the clutch. But if you leave it in Drive mode, you’re well aware you have a droning CVT. One time we were droning in Drive uphill at 55 mph, and we flicked the lever to downshift, and the car came alive with acceleration. Totally transformed.
The redesigned Fit doesn’t handle with the precision of the old one. There’s now electric power steering, and the front suspension was totally redone; it’s less quick and sharp, as the turning circle grows from 34.4 to 35.1 feet. The ride is probably better than before, even though we just said it was too stiff on rough freeways. The longer wheelbase helps.
The Fit is not without its flaws, and the new styling loses all subtlety, but for the money you can’t get more value in a subcompact five-door hatchback. We’d buy an LX with the 6-speed for less than $16k, in red or black, and call it a steal.