Honda Fit, purely functional and completely affordable

It is possible — no, I should say “easy” — to carry an adult bicycle in the 2009 Honda Fit. Between the front and back seats.

No big deal, you say?

Think about it. I said between the seats, not behind in the cargo area.

All you need to do is take off the bike’s front wheel, flip up the bottoms of the Fit’s rear seats (this can be done with one hand, while you hold the bike in your other) and slide that upright bike in through the back door. That’s the same back door people use to get into the back seat.

The Fit’s exterior design is a bit goofy, but this car is sensible and fun to drive. (HONDA)

Get the idea? The Fit ($14,980 base price) is a smart and versatile econobox that redefines the segment.

Here’s more of why.

The front seatbacks recline almost completely flat. Sure, sleep there if you like.

Or fold down the backs of the rear seats — this happens in a 60/40 pattern — and you have yourself 1,186 litres of rectangular and astonishingly usable cargo space. That is more than the cargo hold of a Honda CR-V with its back seat up.

Oh, you can fold down the rear seats without having to remove the headrests, all at the flick of a latch, too.

Yes, the Fit’s exterior design is a bit goofy and the standard 15-inch wheels on the base model are barely bigger than skateboard wheels. And that stretched overhang past the front tires is not a work of stylistic genius, though it surely helps with the Fit’s best-possible five-star crash test rating.

But eye-catching, perfect design proportions are not what the Fit is all about. Someone out there is shouting, “What about the new, larger headlamps and the larger mirrors now mounted on the door? They help the car’s look.”

Sure. But let’s face it. The Fit is purely functional and completely affordable urban transportation.

This is a hit with buyers, who continue to snap up Fits even though Honda offers nothing in the way of discounts — in a marketplace full of them.

No need. Honda does not juice sales with rebates because Honda doesn’t have to. Honda does not boost sales by shipping fleets of cars to daily rental companies, either. If you want a Fit, and just about any other Honda short of the Pilot, you’re paying full price or something close to it.

Price? Toyota offers the comparable Yaris four-door hatchback for less at $14,360. The Yaris is not as fun to drive as the Fit and less versatile, but it is a reliable little runabout, so this Toyota is a player.

Kia has the Rio5 four-door hatchback and it sells for $13,995 — less if you look hard for discounts. Definitely worth a look now that Kia is steadily moving up among the big boys in the latest quality research. The Fit is still more functional and more entertaining to drive, though.

Nissan has the Versa four-door hatchback. It is a bit more powerful than the Fit (122 horsepower versus the Fit’s 117) and fuel economy is close, too — 7.2 litres/100 km in the city, 5.7/100 km highway for the Fit, and 7.9/6.3 for the Versa, with both using regular gas.

The Versa feels more solid than the Fit; however, its four-star crash test rating is not as good and the Versa’s interior is not nearly as novel and appealing as the Honda’s. Still, with the back seat flat, the Versa has the most cargo room of all these.

The truth is, on balance I’d argue the ’09 Fit is the best subcompact on the market. Sure, the exterior design is a bit homely, but it grows on you.

What matters most is how reliable and utterly clever this car is. Almost as important is the 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine.

While not overpowering, the four-banger is a high-fuel-economy affair that starts every time with a twist of the key. Let me warn you that the power plant works best with the basic five-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic with paddle shifts is available for $1,200, but it makes the Fit feel less powerful and responsive.

You might be surprised to hear that the Fit is fun to drive in town. It’s quick to make a turn, so dodging traffic, zipping in and out and through whatever the commuter grind throws at you, is entertaining. The electric power assist rack-and-pinion steering is not only responsive, it helps with fuel economy, too.

Truth be told, the Fit could use more juice for passing on the highway and you’ll need to plan high-speed merges in advance. If you catch the engine in a low-rev dead spot, it feels sluggish. So work it.

What is tough to criticize, given the price, is the cabin. All that glass area — the “greenhouse” in car business lingo — opens up what could be a cramped little cockpit.

Honda has dressed things up with little surprises, such as a blue-lit instrument cluster and three asymmetrical knobs that make it easy for the driver to manage the climate controls even in winter, wearing gloves.

At each end of the dash are deep pockets that Honda says can carry bottle holders or other largish items. The sharply angled windshield has allowed Honda — out of necessity, no doubt — to create a dashboard with a shelf on top. There is also an under-seat compartment, cubbyholes on the dash, a back-row cup holder, a double glove box and even a map pocket on the passenger’s seat that the driver can easily reach.

In addition, the steering wheel tilts and telescopes; front, side and curtain airbags are standard; and even the least expensive Fit comes with a two-speaker, MP3-capable stereo with CD player. Power windows are also standard.

Honda has nailed the grocery-getter formula with the Fit and that’s high praise. It is incredibly tough to build a small car that makes sense, that people want, that does not break and makes a profit. Honda has done it.

So as far as I am concerned, the Fit should be among the finalists for 2009 car of the year.

Article Information

  • Source: Globe Auto
  • Author: Jeremy Cato
  • Date Posted: November 14, 2008

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