All-new subcompact is fun, inexpensive and practical.



By Mitch McCullough

Introduction
Subcompact cars are not the penalty boxes they once were. A raft of totally models brings comfort and happy motoring at bargain prices. Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Chevrolet have launched new subcompacts for 2007, while Kia and Hyundai barely beat them to the party with new models for 2006. They come with wacky names like Fit, Yaris, Versa, Aveo, Rio and Accent. For the most part, they're all delightful, get excellent gas mileage, offer comfortable, reliable transportation, and are highly space efficient. There's not a bad one in the bunch.

The Honda Fit distinguishes itself with agile handling, zippy performance, and impressive practicality. A four-door hatchback, the Fit is amazingly comfortable, given its dimensions, even in the back seats. It's a particularly pleasant car for running errands. It's easy to get in and out. It's easy to park. It does indeed fit, just about anywhere.

Perfect for the big city, at home in the suburbs, the Honda Fit offers a smooth ride on bumpy streets and easy manueverability. The five-speed manual is smooth and easy to shift, while the five-speed automatic has paddle shifters, useful when you feel like Rubens Barrichello driving flat out through Eau Rouge. The 1.5-liter engine features Honda's VTEC techonology, giving it a free-revving 109 horsepower, while achieving an EPA-estimated 33/38 mpg City/Highway.

The Honda Fit offers five-passenger seating and comes with a sporty, two-tone fabric interior. The rear seatbacks can be flipped down to create a big, flat cargo hold. Most of the other cars in this class don't offer such a big, flat floor, and that's crucially important when trying to transport a big box. Alternatively, the seat bottoms can be flipped up, creating a nice cargo hold behind the front seats, handy for groceries and errand running or for tall items, like framed art. Fold down all the right-hand seats and you can transport a surfboard. Recline the front seats and they form a couch. Plug in your iPod, lay down and relax.

In short, the new Honda Fit is an exceptionally good package that should please anyone shopping for an inexpensive new car. It retails just below $14,500. Even more compelling is the Sport model, which adds 15-inch alloy wheels, a nice stereo, sporty styling cues, and the all-important keyless remote for less than $1,400. Adding to its sensibility, the Fit comes standard with six airbags and anti-lock brakes. And it looks like fun. The Fit presents a smart ambience, especially a Sport model swathed in Vivid Blue Pearl, Milano Red or Blaze Orange Metallic paint to highlight its massive and colorful headlamp assemblies.


Model Lineup
The Honda Fit is available in two trim levels, the base Fit ($13,850) and the Sport ($15,170). All 2007 models are four-door hatchbacks powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive and a choice of five-speed manual or five-speed automatic ($800).

Standard features include fabric upholstery, air conditioning with air filtration system, power windows and door locks, dual power mirrors, 160-watt AM/FM/CD with four speakers, four cup holders, interior, map, and cargo lights, remote fuel-filler release, 60/40 split fold-flat rear seats, a rear wiper, body-colored power side mirrors, rear wiper/washer and 14-inch steel wheels.

The Sport upgrades with 15-inch alloy wheels and 195/55R15 tires, front and rear spoilers and side skirts, AM/FM/CD/MP3 with six speakers and steering wheel controls, remote keyless entry, fog lights, and anti-theft system.

Safety features that come standard include dual-stage front airbags, front side airbags, and side-curtain airbags. It also comes with three-point safety belts for all positions with tensioners for the front seats. Be sure and wear those seatbelts because they form your first line of defense in a crash. LATCH child-seat tethers are provided in both rear outboard seats, while the center seat has a built-in, ready-to-use upper tether, allowing child safety seats to be installed in any rear seating location. The Fit comes standard with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution to help drivers avoid crashes in the first place.

     

Walkaround
The Honda Fit was designed to offer an active and smart appearance and we think it succeeds. It's aerodynamically sleek and is engineered to make efficient use of interior space.

The interesting headlight bezels match the exterior color of the vehicle. Standard on all models, this body-colored headlight bezel gives the Fit a sporty appearance. Squint at the front corner and you can convince yourself it's a Ferrari.

The front doors open wide, to nearly an 80-degree angle, making it easy to get in and out of the car. The doors have three distinct detents to hold the door open at various degrees.

Unique among subcompacts, the Fit mounts its fuel tank in the center of the car, under the front seats. This allows the floor for the back-seat passengers to be lower, thus increasing space behind the front seats.

The unit-body structure is highly rigid, which is helpful for developing crisp handling response and a smooth ride quality. Stuctural rigidity is also useful for protecting the people inside and Honda expects top ratings from the government and insurance industry. Honda achieved strength while keeping weight down by using high-strength steel. A Honda Fit Sport with a manual gearbox weighs 2,471 pounds. That's comparable for the class and considerably lighter than a Nissan Versa.

 

Interior Features
The Honda Fit is comfortable front and back and the interior can be quickly configured to carry big boxes or tall items. All in all, it's a great cabin.

The front seats are supportive, even sporty, far better than what's usually found in subcompacts. The front seats have lots of seat travel, so short and tall people fit in the Fit. All models have the same fabric upholstery and it's nice. The seats are done up in an attractive two-tone design that cleverly matches up when the seats are fully reclined. The fabric itself appears nicer and more durable than that of the Nissan though not quite as nice as that of the Scion xA. The drivers gets lots of headroom, 40.6 inches, which is as good or better than the other cars in this class, lots of legroom, nearly 42 inches, and hip room, both comparable to the other cars in the class, though the Versa is a standout in hip room with its giant front seats.

The back seats are impressively roomy, given the size of the car, and surprisingly comfortable. We put three adults back there for a short drive to lunch and all three were quite content. There's lots of headroom front and rear.

Even more impressive are the cargo-carrying options. With the seats in place and ready to take on five people, the Fit offers 21.3 cubic feet of cargo space, more than the Versa (17.8) and Yaris (13.7 for the sedan, 9.5 for the liftback).

Flip the seatbacks down and the Fit offers a low, perfectly flat cargo floor with nearly 42 cubic feet of cargo space. By comparison, the Toyota Yaris offers less than 26 cubic feet in the three-door Liftback, a huge difference, while the Yaris four-door sedan trunk holds less than 14 cubic feet. The Nissan Versa offers just over 50 cubic feet of space, but the back seats don't fold down nice and flat the way they do in the Fit. This makes the Fit better for a dog or anything else that benefits from a flat floor without pitfalls. The Kia Rio5 is also impressive with nearly 50 cubic feet. The Fit's rear seats can even be folded down without removing the headrests, but you'll likely have to scoot the front seats forward to make that happen; or you can easily pull the headrests off, which is what we did. Now, recline the front passenger seat and you can load long objects down the right side of the cabin, which is quite handy.

But wait! There's more: Fold the rear seatbacks down, then lift the seatbottoms up again. Voila! The trunk area is back to the way it was with the seats up, but a big cargo area is now revealed behind the front seats. This is perfect for hauling tall objects, like that Renoir you just inherited from your great aunt or maybe a plant or a bicycle. This area measures 50 inches from floor to ceiling.

The back seats are split 60/40, so you can also have one down, one in place. Leaving the seat behind the driver in this position might be quite useful for grabbing groceries and running errands.

And that's not all! Starting with put the rear seats in their normal position, you can also recline the front seatbacks until they are flush with the rear seatbottoms. Essentially, this turns your Fit into a couch that's sheltered from the elements. Honda calls this the relaxation mode. You (and a friend) can slide back and lean against the rear seatback with your feet on the front seat bottoms, sort of like a chaise lounge. Relaxing, indeed. It would work well at a drive-in theater if they still existed. It would also be useful when stopping in a rest area for snooze on a long drive, much safer than trying to drive when sleepy.

Visibility from the driver's seat is good, with good mirrors and a panoramic windshield, though there's a bit of a blindspot. The Fit has a comfortable steering wheel. All of the switchgear (headlights, wipers, power windows, etc.) works well. The center dash is logical.

Audio controls are easy to operate. We liked the giant volume knob and the big buttons for the selecting AM/FM, CD and sound quality as well as the big buttons for pre-set stations. Unfortunately, the pre-sets cannot jump across bands like those in GM cars, more efficient when switching from an FM music station to an AM talk radio station. Also, satellite radio is not available. But we liked the 200-watt, six-speaker stereo that comes on the Sport. A mini auxiliary jack is provided for the Apple iPod and other MP3 players, and the Honda Apple iPod Music Link allows an iPod to be controlled through the main audio interface. The the accessory kit, toss your iPod in the glovebox and it will read out on the dash. Pritti kewel.

Heating and ventilation is controlled with three big knobs, though they're not as easy to grab as it first appears. Neither a sunroof nor a navigation system is available, but the Fit comes with a high level of standard equipment.

The driver gets a big speedometer flanked by a tachometer on the left and a giant fuel gauge on the right, all ringed in silver trim. At night the instruments are backlit in blue. The cruise control switches on the steering wheel are backlit to match the rest of the interior. At night, blue interior lighting comes on when the doors are unlocked and fades when the ignition is switched on. Honda offers accessory footwell lighting kits to add ambient light. The cup holders work well. Cubbies of varying sizes are scattered about and the glovebox is a decent size. Cargo nets and a tonneau cover are available as accessories. In short, this is a friendly, easygoing car.

 

Driving Impressions
The easygoing nature of the Honda Fit is even more apparent underway. The engine is smooth and responsive, shifting is easy and it rides nicely.

The Fit gets good gas mileage, achieving an EPA-estimated 33/38 mpg City/Highway with the manual gearbox and 31/38 mpg with the automatic. It's a flexible engine that's comfortable for running errands and commuting, yet ready to squirt away from any situation. It's smooth and quiet, very pleasant.

The Fit is acknowledged to be the quickest car in its class. And, indeed, the 1.5-liter engine delivers brisk acceleration performance, revving smoothly to 6500-rpm, generating 109 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque. That's a little shy of the Nissan Versa, but the Fit is lighter. Its all-aluminum engine comes with Honda's VTEC variable-valve setup, four valves per cylinder and single overhead-cam, though it doesn't produce the explosive burst of power associated with the larger VTEC engines in Civic Si models.

The five-speed automatic is popular and fun. Put it in drive and it does a good job of responding to the driver's wishes. Select the manual mode and the automatic can be shifted manually using paddles behind the steering wheel. Touch the one on the right with your fingers and it shifts up a gear, touch the one on the left and it downshifts. Do this in the normal Drive mode and it shifts up or down temporarily, a great feature when you just want a little boost going up a hill or for passing or when you want to short shift for better economy and smoothness. Put it in the Sport mode and it won't shift again until the driver shifts up or down. It's a nice setup.

We like the five-speed manual gearbox. It's smooth and easy, efficient and very enjoyable. The shift throws are short, giving it a sporty feel and the shifting is silky smooth.

The ride is smooth and comfortable, possibly the most refined in the class. Noise and vibration levels are low, thanks to extensive effort on Honda's part in these areas. At times the Fit feels like an econobox, as it jostles about, tossing the heads of its occupants. But it's a pleasant car, one that we feel like we could live with happily.

Handling is excellent, the best in the class. This is a highly maneuverable car, able to zip around traffic. It would be our choice among subcompacts for an autocross. The steering is precise and accurate, allowing the driver to steer the car exactly as intended. Front wheelspin is likely when accelerating from a standstill on wet, slippery pavement; there's no traction control. The turning radius is relatively wide at 34.4 feet for the Sport, nearly two feet wider than that of the Toyota Yaris, so it takes a wider road to make a U-turn.

Braking is easy to control. The driver can easily modulate the brake pedal for smooth, accurate slowing or stopping. The brake system uses drums in the rear, less desireable than four-wheel discs, but they work fine for this lightweight car.

 

Summary
The Honda Fit is probably the best car in its class, particularly when measured in terms of performance and handling as well as interior packaging and versatility. It's quick, smooth and enjoyable to drive. It gets an EPA-rated 38 mpg on the highway. It's cute. And it's extremely practical, with back seats that flip fore and aft, allowing it to carry long items, tall items and just lots of stuff.

NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough performed test drives of manual and automatic Honda Fits in Pasadena and Redondo Beach, California.

 

Model Line Overview

Model lineup: Honda Fit ($18,350); Sport ($15,170)
Engines: 1.5-liter sohc 16-valve inline-4
Transmissions: 5-speed manual; 5-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard): front airbags, side curtain airbags, LATCH child-seat tether system, child-proof rear door locks; electronic stability control, ABS, EBD
Safety equipment (optional):
Basic warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in: Japan

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): Honda Fit Sport ($15,170)
Standard equipment: fabric upholstery, air conditioning with filtration, power windows and door locks, dual power mirrors, AM/FM/CD/MP3 with six speakers and steering wheel controls, remote keyless entry, fog lights, anti-theft system, map and cargo lights, remote fuel-filler release, 60/40 split fold-flat rear seats, a rear wiper, body-colored power side mirrors, rear wiper/washer; 15-inch alloy wheels and 195/55R15 tires, front and rear spoilers and side skirts
Options as tested (MSRP): none
Destination charge: 595
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested (MSRP): 15765
Layout: front-wheel drive
Engine: 1.5-liter sohc 16-valve inline-4
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 109 @ 5800
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 105 @ 4800
Transmission: 5-speed manual
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 33/38
Wheelbase: 96.5
Length/width/height: 157.4/66.2/60.0
Track, f/r: 57.3/57.1
Turning circle: 34.4
Seating capacity: 5
Head/hip/leg room, f: 40.6/51.2/41.9
Head/hip/leg room, m:
Head/hip/leg room, r: 38.6/51.0/33.7
Trunk volume: 41.9
Payload:
Towing capacity:
Suspension, f: independent, MacPherson struts, stabilizer bar
Suspension, r: independent, torsion beam, stabilizer bar
Ground clearance:
Curb weight: 2471
Tires: P195/55HR15
Brakes, f/r: disc/drum with ABS, EBD
Fuel capacity: 10.8

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of 2006-08-01 00:00:00.0 .
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 800-999-1009 - www.honda.com


Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.
New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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