Honda Fit: Versatile and fun to drive

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on November 13, 2009 at 1:37 PM

My life is somewhat dominated by climate and cars. I like inclement weather because it offers a chance to see how a car tackles the situation. On the other hand, it's hard to photograph TV pieces during a cloud burst. Soon after Honda's new Fit graced my garage, snowflakes started to fulfill my children's dream of a white Christmas. No sweat. Just park it for a few days. With a week long loan there's plenty of time to evaluate the car, plenty of time for the slippery stuff to melt away. Right. On day four my parents called from across the country saying Seattle's freak 50-year snowstorm had made the national news.

 

So day six arrives and Honda wants their Fit back tomorrow. No video has been shot. I have only one full day of driving under my belt. The boss expects a TV story. With the Emerald City's streets blanketed in white, it's impossible to do a credible evaluation of Fit's dynamics. A road test with cable chains? Bad idea. Because television without pictures is called radio, I have just one option: An indoor car review.

The weather outside is frightful

Fortunately, KING TV has a sizable underground garage and the storm has kept most non-essential staff at home. Under cover there's room to maneuver Honda's smallest American offering in brisk fashion. Fit starts at $15,420 with destination. My Sport model adds stuff like cruise control, upgraded stereo with USB connection, leather steering wheel, body trim and 16-inch alloy wheels (base Fits get steel 15 inchers with plastic covers). I think the $1,510 bump is worth it. This particular car even has the same optional voice activated nav system as big brother Civic. That and the automatic transmission brings the price tag to $19,600 which is Civic territory. It's tough to go much higher unless you want the fancier alloy wheels.

Familiar but new

Looking like a fighter jet's escape pod, the all new Fit has crisply folded sheetmetal that's more stylish than the outgoing version. It keeps the same usable 5-door design but is now 4 inches longer. The car seems small on the outside but opening the rear hatch is almost disorienting. Seemingly defying physics, Fit looks bigger on the inside. Perhaps there's a standard black hole that Honda's not telling me about.

Running gear

Fit gets its scoot from a 1.5-Liter, 117 horse, 16-Valve SOHC i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine. 5-speed manual transmissions are standard, my tester has the 5-speed automatic. It gets paddle shifters on the steering wheel for manual control. Pretty neat. The facilities manager is snowed in at home so clipping off a few brief acceleration runs will not get my parking privileges revoked. Fit is not a rocket but this hatchback is quick enough to deftly dart through urban traffic when the roads clear up. 0-60 runs would be foolish here so I'll defer to Car & Driver's figure of 8.5 seconds for the manual gear box.

In my tight testing quarters it's good to find Fit a nimble machine. Slicing around the parking garage circuit again and again (and again - and again) is great fun but a bit monotonous. I drove this car on the road for a day before the snow came and on real pavement the ride is a bit stiff. Obviously Honda is targeting enthusiasts on a budget with Fit's well calibrated road feel, not the La-Z-Boy crowd. As a result, rough pavement is definitely felt by your backside.

I still consider Fit more of a city car since road noise is on the high side. Hit a pothole and body structure is remarkably solid but the thump booms acoustically throughout the cabin. The EPA fuel economy average is 32 MPG with the auto tranny. That figure is actually slightly better than the manually shifted car.

Cabin fever

The view from the pilot's chair is scenic. Not only is the instrument panel more stylish this go-around, visibility is very good out of the tall, airy greenhouse. Gauges are nestled into a techy cobalt blue cluster. An MPG gauge makes frugal driving almost fun. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, making it easy for everyone to find their comfy place. Plastics, mostly deep black, have a solid quality look to them and controls are all clearly laid out. Cupholders that are mounted on the instrument panel have air vents mounted directly behind them. Potentially that means the AC will keep your soda cool in summer and coffee warm in the winter. Clever. All chairs are covered with a grippy black cloth which keeps me in place as I bend around the north concrete support pillar for the 40th time.

Deep inside KING's basement, radio reception is spotty. Fortunately, Sport models have both a standard audio jack and a USB connection in the top glove box (yes, there are two). It handles my iPhone's iPod side just fine with controls on the touch sensitive LCD display. Tunes can also be played from a flash memory card slot that lives behind the nav system's LCD screen alongside the CD player. The sound system provides decent clarity but it's hardly a Bose system. Too bad there's no built-in Bluetooth for handsfree phone operation.

The seats are magic

Designing a low cost car that's satisfying is a black art with engineers and accountants constantly struggling with what to leave in or out. Honda made wise decisions here. Fit gives up a covered center console, gradient tinted windshield glass, and high quality carpeting to give an owner features they'll notice and enjoy more. One feature is the Magic Seat in back that will hold three adults. There's enough space to stow school bags under them. The seatbacks split and fold flat like any hatchback but in Fit's case it seems to create a huge cave. Front seats recline all the way back creating a vast bed-like space that should make parents of dating teenagers very nervous. Finally, the seat bottom flips up against the back, creating two separate hauling spaces. The one behind the front chairs looks to be good for a medium sized dog. Built into those seat bottoms are bins to hide Game Boys and iPods. In my tester the plastic doors easily come loose while simply opening them.

The only thing I shot before the blizzard came was the TP test. Most mid sized sedans hold 6 warehouse bundles of bath tissue, the small Fit scores a 7. That's easily best in class.

Fit has front-wheel drive and electronic stability control so it probable does pretty well in the snow. Brakes are discs up front, drums in the rear and provide only average stopping ability. Sure they're anti-lock but I don't want to be the guy that finds out how well Fit's 6 airbags and ACE body structure protect me against some yahoo who shouldn't be driving in the snow but is anyway. The government says Fit does pretty well in crash tests, scoring 5 stars in all categories but side rear passenger and rollover where it earns a respectable 4.

While wrapping up the last of the photography under moody sodium vapor lights I get a call informing me there's no way Honda can pick up the Fit tomorrow. Too much snow. Big surprise. I'm free to keep it another week, only now floods are forecast. Indoors or out, Fit is supremely versatile and fun to drive. It's the most compelling car in its segment and is on my Top 11 List for 2008. Check Fit out - when the weather clears.

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