• 118 mpg-e is convincing enough all by itself
  • Fit EV can travel up to 82 miles on a charge
  • The electric Fit gets its own color-electric blue-and a few exterior appearance changes to set it apart from the gasoline-powered Fit

The 2013 Honda Fit EV gets the equivalent of 118 mpg. That's a figure the EPA has never used before, making the Fit EV the most fuel-efficient production car around. It might also be the first time that members of the broader motoring community may finally say, "Oh, now I get it."

It's a lot to ask of car buyers that they purchase a vehicle with a propulsion system unsupported by anything like the infrastructure enjoyed by gasoline-powered counterparts. It only adds to the trepidation if that car is an all-new model without a proven track record. So Honda has taken a more sensible approach here than, say, Nissan did with the Leaf or Mitsubishi with its i-MiEV.

The regular Fit five-door subcompact is already held in high regard. It's made well, wonderfully practical and not the dull thing to drive that others in its class can be. Now imagine all that without ever going to a gas station again (except, perhaps, to indulge in a guilty pleasure from the food and drink section).

Where the Fit Fits In

Honda sees the electric Fit not as the sole transport of a household, but rather the second car, a good way of reducing monthly fuel bills. An electric car is not much help when its owner wants to be spontaneous or has to deviate from the plan-for instance, a sudden trip to the hospital or a last-minute request to pick the kids up from school. But at least the Fit can travel 82 miles on a single charge and can be replenished in just three hours using a 240-volt charger. That's about as good as it gets given the current state of lithium-ion automotive battery technology.

Fit for the Purpose

An electric motor under the hood offers a maximum of 92 kW. This is about 123.3 horsepower and 189 lb-ft of torque, providing enough zip for urban cut and thrust, enough muscle to reach highway speeds in a reassuringly short time and enough push to send the front wheels chirping under enthusiastic acceleration. This last aspect might also be the result of special Michelin tires with low rolling resistance. These are on 15-inch alloy wheels designed to enhance aerodynamic efficiency.

There are three driving modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. Eco is a tad sluggish but has the advantage of the greatest range. On the brighter side, Normal mode isn't short of pep.

Electric drivelines usually have no gears, so it's just a question of slipping the lever to P, R, N and D. The Fit EV does have another setting, though: B. It means regenerative braking mode, where energy is recouped. The obvious opportunity to use this function is on long downhill stretches. But a driver can also keep the Fit EV in B while trundling around town or in stop-and-go traffic. It improves range by a couple of miles here and there, and that could make all the difference if there's any range anxiety.

In the meantime, there's still more to appreciate. The steering feels quite informative, there's a tight turning circle and the chassis is poised. The Fit EV doesn't just feel like a regular car, it feels like a good regular car. Without the drone of a combustion engine, other sources of noise might come to the fore, but the Fit EV's cabin remains relatively subdued even over the concrete slabs of a highway's surface. There's a slight whoosh when accelerating and braking, which is supposed to let pedestrians know there's an electric vehicle around, but it's understated.

If there's an element of sacrifice, it's in the cargo area. The seating and stowage versatility for which the Fit is renowned is still more or less in place, it's just that the floor is a touch higher and the rear seats don't fold completely flat. Whereas the regular Fit can accommodate a maximum of 57.3 cubic feet, the electric model offers 49.4. This may seem like a significant drop, but that's still more than the next-size-up Ford Focus Electric (44.8 cubic feet).

All the seats are covered in a bio-fabric derived from sugar cane residue (so it doesn't compete with food production), and rear passenger space is generous.

How to Get Fit

Color choices range from an appropriate electric blue to...well, actually, that's it. But it does help differentiate electric Fits from their traditional stablemates. There are also extra aerodynamic body parts and a happy-looking chrome strip across the nose. A lot of eco-car buyers like their rides to look different.

They also like smartphone apps, so Honda has created one that controls various functions like remote control of the air conditioning while the car is still plugged in, thereby saving battery power. There are some basic controls on the fob; the app (for Apple and Android operating systems) displays more information and has a higher bell-and-whistle quotient.

The 2013 Honda Fit EV is available initially in select eco-aware markets such as California and Portland, Oregon, with a lease-only arrangement. The deal is no money down and $389 a month for 36 months. That sum includes maintenance, collision insurance and roadside assistance, plus navigation, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth and power accessories. According to figures from Honda, the Fit EV could save as much as $3,981 over three years compared with a similar gasoline-powered car.

Potential buyers on the East Coast have to wait until next year; customer demand will determine where else the Fit EV becomes available.

author photo

Colin Ryan has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.

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