Honda Fit — A good fit for the masses

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

If we were forced to recommend one — just one — small, family four-door hatchback as the transportation choice of frugal, budget-conscience Americans it would have to be the Honda Fit. It would be a tough choice, indeed, because there are many vehicles in today's market that effectively meet the needs of the masses.

Since its inception the Fit has been a clear choice and now, with the emergence of the third-generation, it deserves more than ever its place at the top of the charts. Honda has addressed the Fit's small number of shortcomings of the past with better fuel economy, greater interior space and new safety features. The all-new 2015 model is now in showrooms at a starting price of $15,525 that includes a surprising amount of standard equipment including full power accessories, a rearview camera, cruise control, and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity.

The Fit sits on a new platform, powered by a new 1.5-liter direct-injection 4-cylinder engine that makes 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque — 13 more horsepower and 8 pound-feet more torque than the outgoing model. Gas mileage increases to 33 city, 41 highway and 36 combined — 5 mpg better combined than the outgoing model.

And a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) feels much like a standard automatic and can be configured with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles allowing the driver to have access to seven "fixed" gear ratios. It's the same transmission used in the 2014 Civic. The Fit can also be found with a new six-speed manual transmission which is a breeze to shift, with short precise throws. It adds a measure of driving entertainment to the car.
A stylish new design smoothes out the prior ungainly wedge-shaped appearance of the past Fit. The new look also includes a bolder grille and headlight design, and a dramatic character line that rises from the front fender connecting with the wrap-around rear taillight. And we discovered that all this exterior dressing was very effectively surrounding far more interior passenger room.

While the car's drivability has markedly improved, Honda it seemed focused more on the little hatch's cargo- and passenger-carrying attributes. Although the car is 1.6 inches shorter at 160 inches than its predecessor, wheelbase has been increased 1.2 inches yielding more passenger room including full-sized-sedan rear leg room of 39.3 inches. This little guy has stretch-out room in back as well as reclining seatbacks making long-distance travel a breeze for four people.

Although cargo space has been reduced slightly to accommodate passengers — we think it is a good trade-off — there is still a very adequate 16.6 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats that can be increased to 52.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. And Honda has retained its trick multi-configurable "Magic Seat" allowing the back seat to be folded in several ways yielding a variety of configurable hauling chores.

But for us the new Fit shined the brightest on the road with its traditional panoramic sight lines, excellent passenger space up front, reduced road and tire noise, a high-quality ride for a small car, and enough performance to keep us in command of all driving situations. Certainly adequate, but  note there are a couple of competitors that are quicker; and while the Fit offers decent handling and cornering attributes there are others that are more entertaining in the road-carving department.

On the inside material quality is good. The look is tastefully modern. Even an abundance of hard plastic surfaces are textured and have a nice appearance.

While most of the switchgear is easy to use and gauges easy to read, we do have an issue with the new radio operation, which has been made more complicated with small virtual buttons. And storing radio presets, once a simple function of pushing in and holding a button for a few seconds, is now a task in futility.

The Fit comes in four trims, LX, EX, EX-L and EX-L with navigation starting at $16,315 including destination charge. A well-equipped EX with CVT is priced at $19,025. You can load a Fit up with all the good stuff available such as our test car for $21,590 including destination charge. That cash outlay brings such desirable things as heated mirrors, leather upholstery, heated front seats, navigation with voice recognition, and HD and satellite radio. Honda safety includes antilock brakes, stability and traction control, a full complement of airbags, active head restraints and in EX and EX-L trim Honda's passenger-side blind spot monitoring system. All-in-all a good “Fit.”

Editor's note: The Fit has just received aTOP SAFETY PICK rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Base price: $16,315; as driven, $21,590
Engine: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 130 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque: 114 foot-pounds @ 4,600 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 99.6 inches
Length: 160 inches
Curb weight: 2,573 pounds
Turning circle: 35.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 52.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 10.6 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 38 highway, 32 city
0-60: 8.0 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent hatch

The Good
• Outstanding fuel economy
• Passenger-friendly interior
• Excellent visibility

The Bad
• Blind spot warning only on passenger side

The Ugly
• Touchscreen interface aggravating