Honda Fit is a perfect...fit, for
renewed subcompact class
By John Gilbert, special to SNS
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (SNS) – It seems as though
Honda has filled every available automotive niche, so when it
brings out a new car, where does it fit? Right there. In fact,
maybe the fact it fits so well is why Honda named its new
subcompact the "Fit."
To demonstrate how tight an area the Fit will fit
through, Honda’s marketing folks created a unique little test at the
car’s introduction in Santa Monica. They put a pair of vertical posts
up, let the media types drive to a starting line about 20 yards away,
then signal how close to put the posts, with the idea we could still
fit the Fit through the gap. It was something of a vertical limbo
dance for a car.
I waved them close, then closer, until I thought
they might be too close, because in my experience, drivers generally
can squeeze through a tighter opening than they think. I was right. I
positioned the posts closer than I thought was possible, and I still
fit the Fit between them, without scraping any paint off the side
Others came closer. But nobody beat my parallel
parking attempt, where I purposely over-steered my attempt to park
between extremely close pylons, trying to compensate for the car’s
compactness, and I made a perfect park, an inch from the curb, on my
Next came a small, tight, pylon-lined course, which
the Honda folks insisted was a not an all-out performance autocross,
but just an agility drill, with a stop, and a back-up part, before the
quick-stop finish. I went through it well, but conservatively, and
though I didn’t beat later drivers who ran it with tire-screaming
aggressiveness as if it were an all-out autocross, I came away
impressed with the Fit’s quickness and agility.
Prior to all that lunchtime fun and frolic, I
already had been impressed with the Fit’s performance zipping around
and through the twisty hillsides of the mountain range inland from
Santa Monica. Along the way, the thought occurred to me that when U.S.
automakers and critics criticize imports, they are missing a serious
point with Hondas, among others.
When Honda builds a new vehicle, critics and
competitors can line up and nitpick all they want, but one thing
remains unassailable: Honda vehicles tend to be a complete package,
with the total far exceeding the mere sum of its parts.
The Fit is a perfect example, because it is a 5-door
hatchback with a futuristic cab-forward design, with an interior that
is remarkably versatile, and with performance that lifts it from
utilitarian to fun.
Ingenious design makes the interior
versatile in a Swiss Army knife sort of a way. Flipping and
folding second-row seats can create a tall mode, long mode and
lounge mode. In tall mode, the surprisingly low floor can house a
bicycle; in long mode, folding the right side front seat and
second row seats makes a 7-foot flat storage surface; in lounge
mode, reclining the front buckets can turn the Fit into a great
place for two weary occupants to grab rest-area naps.
A 1.5-liter engine with multiple valves and VTEC
variable valve-timing has a posted 109 horsepower at 5,800 RPMs, and
105 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800, with EPA gas mileage estimates of
33 city, 38 highway. You can choose a five-speed manual or a
five-speed automatic, and the automatic comes with paddles on the back
of the steering wheel for fingertip manual shifts. How very sports-car
like, for something more resembling a mini-minivan.
Speaking of critics, General Motors is on a
marketing campaign to insist its cars are every bit as good, or
better, than comparable imports that are perceived to be better, and
that it’s the fault of the media for not creating the proper image for
Amazingly, I’ve recently read a couple of syndicated
columns where the creators shamelessly repeat or rephrase exactly that
sentiment. A General Motors official recently informed me that the new
Malibu is every bit as good if not better than cars like the Honda
Accord. I stopped him right there.
The Malibu, and the Pontiac G6, are very good,
possibly the best of a new breed of GM cars. They have tightness, good
handling, decent performance, are priced about right, and they have
almost all the important features. Almost. But when comparing cars,
the last I checked, the engines are part of it. Therefore,
hallucination is a prerequisite for anyone who declares them equal to
or better than the new Accord, or Camry, for that matter.
Unquestioned engine technology is a
major part of Honda’s allure. Honda had multiple valve engines
with variable valve timing – technology transferred directly from
Ayrton Senna’s superb Formula 1-winning Honda engines – on the
entry level Civic back in 1991. That’s 15 years ago. By the
mid-1990s, Honda’s VTEC system expanded to all of Honda’s engines.
When Honda makes a new and improved engine, it
discontinues its obsolete engines, so all its fours and V6es stay on
the world’s cutting edge of technology.
At GM, the Malibu (and G6) don’t get to use the
superb and high-tech Cadillac V6, and are saddled instead with the
newest version of aging pushrod technology, which is cheaper to
When it comes to compacts, Chevy now sells the Aveo,
which is built in South Korea’s Daewoo factory, which General Motors
recently purchased. So GM loyalists continue to push "buy American"
philosophy, and GM is pushing a good – but far from great – Korean
import as its subcompact.
Meanwhile, Honda won 2006 North American Car of the
Year honors with the completely redone Civic. Fantastic car, from
every standpoint. In my tests, I got 37-42 miles per gallon with the
Civic EX sedan, with an automatic transmission. Over the years, the
Accord has grown, and the Civic has grown commensurately, and the
previously subcompact Civic is now larger than the 1985 Accord was.
Still, as gasoline heads inexorably back toward $3
per gallon, U.S. consumers might finally be ready to follow the lead
of savvy buyers in Europe and Japan, and go smaller. If a car can be
built structurally safe enough, then smaller, lighter, more agile and
more fuel-efficient makes a lot of sense.
Toyota is doing it with the Yaris, which is smaller
than the Corolla, adjacent to the Scion fleet, and Nissan is doing it
with the Versa, which is smaller than the new Sentra. The Mazda5 is a
compact van/wagon version of the Mazda3.
If small is going to be large in
our immediate automotive future, Honda, as usual, steps to the
front of the class with the Fit. The Fit is 19.2 inches shorter
and 2.8 inches wider than the 2006 Civic – but it is 18 inches
LONGER, 7 inches WIDER and 7 inches TALLER than the first Civic
was, back in 1973.
The engine has a sophisticated technique of
deactivating one intake valve at low RPMs to create a swirl of more
rapid combustion, and that valve is reactivated at mid- to high-RPM
use for stronger power.
The five-speed stick has closer-ratio gears from
1-4, with a wider gap to fifth, for improved freeway cruising at lower
RPMs for better fuel economy. The five-speed automatic has wider gear
ratios, which is a welcome idea to reduce the need for frequent
shifting. The paddle operation can be done with the transmission in D,
in which case it goes back to normal automatic service by itself, or
in full manual mode.
The Fit’s front suspension is an independent
MacPherson Strut system, similar to the Civic, with the rear switched
from multilink to a torsion beam, which allowed lowering the floor by
3 inches. Another key feature is that the fuel tank is moved forward,
resting amidship, under the front seats, which used to be a vacant
area. That allowed the rear floor to be lowered, 7 inches lower than
in a Scion, for example. Passenger room is about the same as the
larger Civic, and the cargo area expands from 20.6 to 41.9 cubic feet
when you fold the rear seat down.
Honda used the new Ridgeline pickup – 2006 North
American Truck of the Year – for overload crash-tests with the Fit.
The body structure is made of 36 percent high-tensile steel, and with
standard side and side-curtain airbags complementing the front bags,
Honda claims top crash-test ratings front and rear side for the Fit.
Prices are between $13,500 and $15,000, in either
base or Sport form. The Sport gets bigger (15-inch) alloy wheels, and
underbody panel, foglights, paddle shifters, and a better audio system
– essentially $2,400 in upgrades for a difference in price of $1,400.
Any car-buyer interested in quick and agile
performance, great fuel economy, surprisingly good safety,
active-lifestyle versatility inside, and low-price sophistication,
will find that the Fit…fits.
Editor's note: John Gilbert writes weekly auto reviews. He can be
reached at email@example.com.