Honda Fit – another home run

By Ted Biederman and Jim Meachen

After spending about 60 miles and a couple hours behind the wheel of a 2009 Honda Fit on the Saw Mill River Parkway and other vistas north of New York City, we were itching for a head-to-head comparison with a few competitive cars.

Honda was ready to oblige.

Honda not only supplied several vehicles made by Toyota, Nissan and others at a driving event, but had a couple of 2008 Fits on hand for comparison with the all-new 2009 edition.

We would have bet that a sub-compact introduced a couple years back would stack up well despite the obvious advances in the second- generation Fit. A competitor — we’ll keep it nameless — has been our segment favorite since it entered the marketplace as a 2007 model.

We liked it better than the first-generation Fit. But jumping from the new Fit to our nameless favorite, proved to be an eye opener.

We were able to drive the Fit more aggressively on a winding mountain road than all the available competitors. And the Fit, we discovered, has more forward momentum on the open highway, feeling more invigorated than you would expect from the extra eight horsepower it has gained over the first-generation car.

The five-speed manual is simply silky and the clutch was smooth and forgiving making the Fit easy to drive in the city and responsive out on the suburban back roads. The set up reminding us of taking the daughter and her friend out to learn how to drive a stick, and how easy the clutch was for them to operate and how easy the shifter worked so that even on an uphill start the girls quickly caught on and where successful in getting that little Honda up the hill, more than 25-years ago.

Simply, the Fit offered a more rewarding and fun driving experience.

The Fit offers better than reasonable mileage, decent space for four adults, AND an entertaining drive.

If you wonder like we did why Honda is introducing an all-new Fit less than three years after the introduction of the 2007 model — vehicles usually go through five-year cycles before being significantly upgraded — it was explained that the first generation had been sold globally for several years before it made its way to our shores. So it’s time for the second generation and U.S. consumers will get in on the ground floor this time.

And we are the better for it.

While the Fit styling is still in place — a tall sub-nosed little hatchback station wagon — the car has been enlarged with a more aerodynamic, wedge-shaped appearance. The front end has been enhanced with larger, more artful looking headlights.

Sixteen-inch alloy wheels found on the Sport trim level give the Fit an extra measure of, well, sportiness.

The interior has been revised as well including improved seat fabrics.
While the top line Fit gets Honda’s excellent navigation system — an unusual amenity in a car under 20 grand — there are still no leather or power seat options available.

Even with the horsepower increase from 109 to 117 from the same 1.5- liter engine found in the first generation, the little Honda is no speedster. It’s an economy wagon that will yield 27 city and 33 highway mileage with the five-speed manual shifter and 28/35 with the five-speed automatic on regular gas.

Honda improved the tiny four-cylinder engine by upgrading the i-VTEC variable valve system leading to the small gain in horsepower while improving overall fuel economy by one mile to the gallon.

Unlike small engines of a decade or two ago, the modern powerplants in small cars today can very adequately keep up with traffic whether from the stoplight or merging onto the highway.

And we found in back-to-back comparisons that the new Fit is better than most of the segment including the Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Aveo and Scion xD in moving forward quickly. For comparison purposes, it can complete a 0-to-60 full-throttle run in from 9 seconds to just a tick over 10 seconds in the manual and automatic versions respectively.

The Fit’s new-found handling and cornering prowess is partly the result of a stronger, more rigid platform and a redesigned suspension system. The electric power steering also seems to have gained some refinement offering a more precise, sporty feel.

It’s rewarding to purchase a car for its relative roominess and its stellar fuel economy and then discover as a bonus an elevated fun factor.

We discovered its passenger-friendly nature while spending a week with a Fit Sport at home; carrying a full compliment of four adults — technically but not practically you can squeeze three people in the rear seat — the rear passengers had scads of head room and very adequate leg room. The new Fit is 4.2 inches longer and about an inch of that has been added to rear leg room.

One of our usual riders piped up with an unsolicited comment during our drive, noting that the rear shoulder belt was the most comfortable of any car she’d ridden in over the past year, not binding on her neck and falling at just the right spot.

If you need cargo space, what Honda calls the rear “Magic Seat” can be configured in several ways. What probably will be the most used is the one-hand flip of the seatback levers that instantly flops it forward. The rear seat cushions can also be flipped up to create a slender, but tall load area behind the front seats. We call this practical magic.

In passenger configuration, luggage capacity is a healthy 20 cubic feet and with the rear seats stowed, cargo capacity increases to a very spacious 57 cubic feet.

The Fit is well equipped, but Honda has dropped the ball on its “safety for everyone” mantra. Stability control comes only the with top-of-the-line navigation-equipped models. They need to rethink that configuration and at least offer stability control as an option on all models.

That being said, there’s considerable standard safety including antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags, full-length side- curtain airbags and active front head restraints.

The Fit comes in three trim levels, base starting at $15,220 with manual transmission, Sport, and Sport with navigation. Our Sport with navigation manual transmission Fit carried a bottom line of $18,580 including destination charge. Figure another $850 to add the automatic transmission, which comes, by the way, with paddle shifters.

All models come with full power accessories, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, air conditioning, and a four-speaker audio system that includes CD and MP3 player. The Sport adds 16-inch wheels, cruise control, fog lights, a rear spoiler, driver’s arm rest and an upgraded six-speaker audio system.

We discovered quite convincingly that the new Fit not only delivers great gas mileage and very useable interior space, but an exciting driving experience. Honda has hit it out of the park once again.


Base price: $15,220; as driven, $18,580
Engine: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 117 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque: 106 foot-pounds @ 4,800 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 98.4 inches
Length: 161.6 inches
Curb weight: 2,534 pounds
Turning circle: 34.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 20.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 57 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 10.6 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 33 mpg highway, 27 city
0-60: 9.2 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Scion xD

The Good
• Reasonably good fuel economy
• Flexible and spacious interior
• Fun to drive

The Bad
• One of the highest priced nameplates in the sub-compact segment

The Ugly
• Stability control comes only on the highest-priced trim level